Discuss and show the relevance of the supernatural machinery to the main theme of The Rape of Lock Pope’s chief object, when he wrote the first version of The Rape of the Lock, was to ‘diminish the pretty quarrel over the lock of

Ans. The supernatural machinery in the poem

The Supernatural Machinery, an addition to the Revised Edition :

Pope’s chief object, when he wrote the first version of The Rape of the Lock, was to ‘diminish the pretty quarrel over the lock of hair, and not to ridicule the heroic kind of poetry, or to provide a humorous parallel to all the principal ingredients of epic.’

But the immense and unexpected reception of its first version led Pope to enlarge it in the second edition of 1714 by giving it a better form and structure. In this edition, Pope increased the length of the poem from two cantos to five by adding further ‘allusions’ to the epic as the visit to the Cave of Spleen (Parodying the epic visit to the underworld), the game of ombre (paralleling the arming of Achilles) and above all, the extensive ‘machinery’ of the Ariel and the style. The Rape of the Lock

Meaning of the Machinery

The word ‘machinery’ has been defined by Pope himself in his dedicatory letter to Mrs. Arabella Fermor: “The Machinery, Madam, is a form invented by the critics to signify that part which the Deities, Angels, or Demons are made to act in a poem.


Hence, in connection with epic poetry, ‘machinery’ means an interposition of some supernatural agency or personage in a poem. It means the control of the affairs of men by gods. Its importance in the epic had been stressed for a long. The theory of Aristotle and the practice of Homer and Virgil were upheld supreme regarding epic poetry. The Rape of the Lock

So every poem began with a stereotyped invocation of the Muse, it invariably contained episodes, machinery, and all the rest of it, and ended in a well-recognized fashion. Le Bossu had said that the ‘machinery crowns the whole work’, while Dryden concluded that ‘no heroic poem can be writ on the Epicurean (that is, atheistical) principles. So it was strictly following the fashion of the day that the pope added the supernatural machinery to his poem.

Rosicrucian Doctrine of Spirits as the foundation

“These machines,” said Pope in his dedication, “I determined to raise on a very new and odd Foundation, the Rosicrucian Doctrine of Spirits.” This theory, which Pope goes on to outline, had first been formulated in 1614 in the fama a fratenitatis in Germany.

It had been used to provide fashionable exotic entertainment in Le Cornie de Gabalis (1670) by the Abbe Montfaucon de Villars. An English Translation of this appeared in 1680. The theory, then, was familiar enough by 1712-14 when Pope grafted it onto his first version of The Rape of the Lock.

According to the Rosicrucians, the four elements – fire, water, earth, and air were inhabited by four kinds of spirits Salander’s, Nymphs, Gnomes, and Sylphs respectively.


They had their origin from the elements of nature and their temperaments were suited to their elements. They were of both sexes but did not take a lively interest in the affairs of human beings. The Rape of the Lock

Fusion of the Rosicrucian theory with other elements

With the Rosicrucian theory as formulated by de Villars, Pope fused other familiar notions, always intending to improve his epic parody, He took over the nation that angels and devils are the souls of the departed and thús his spirits have a preexistence as human beings like the shades in the Virgilian underworld.

He used the idea that such transmigrated souls interest themselves in the fortunes of their friends and enemies on earth, just as the Olympians do in Homer.

He followed a traditional habit of making his gnomes “bad’, although they are not so in Le Comte de Gabalis, and was thus enabled to parody the celestial quarrels in Homer. He stuck strictly to contemporary science to describe the cosmos which the sylphs inhabited.

The machines (spirits) as diminutive beings

The machines, i. e., the spirits introduced in the poem are diminutive beings. They have insect wings; they can change their shape and sex, can see the future, can inspect the heart of the mortals. They are airy and unsubstantial and remain invisible to the human eye. Ariel is their chief.

The role of sylphs and gnomes

The sylphs and gnomes, nonetheless, play a very significant role in the scheme of the poem. They are the “guides and guardians of the purity of melting maids” whose ‘honor’ they preserve by shifts that embody all that is most superficial in the coquette’s life, by playing on her concern with sword-knots, wigs, coaches and men, by playing off Damon against Florio, by shifting ‘the moving toyshop of her heart,’ by stimulating what the world calls ‘levity’.

Their action cannot be matched with human action. Their function is more delicate than that of a human being. They help Belinda in farming her for the conquest of beauty and love. They preside over the toilet, ‘save the powder from too rude a gale, steal from rainbow a brighter wash, curl their waving hair, assist their blushes.’ The Rape of the Lock

They hang about Belinda’eaearringsand watch her petticoat. Umbriel gives the ‘vapors’ to Belinda, opens over her head the caskets of melancholy and ill-nature. If the sylphs are the embodiment of good, then the gnomes are of evil.


The chief of the sylphs, Ariel (named by Pope after Ariel in Shakespeare’s romance The Tempest) enumerates the duties and functions of these supernatural machines in a speech delivered to them in Canto II (lines 22- 238) in the following manner:

Some in the fields of purest ether play,
And bask and whiten in the blaze of day,
Some guide the course of wandering orbs on high,
Or roll the planets through the boundless sky.
Some less reformed beneath the moon’s pale light
Pursue the stars that shoot athwart the night,
Or such the mists in grosser air below,
Or dip their pinions in the painted bow.
Or brew fierce tempests on the wintry main,
Or o’er the glob distills the kindly rain.

So some spirits play in the region of purest ether and bask and enjoy themselves and glow white in the bright sunlight. Some spirits guide the course of comets or planets through the limitless regions of the space above.

Some spirits, who are less refined, are entrusted with the task of following the shooting stars in the pale night of the moon. Or, they suck in mists out of the crude air nearer the earth, or, again, they dip their wings in the rainbow to gain colors.

Or, again they cause the furious storms to blow on the ocean during the winter seasons, or, cause the benevolent rain to fall on the earth which is below us.

Some others attend on than race on the earth to watch the actions of human beings and to take constant care of the welfare of the British throne in particular. But above all-


Our humbler Province is to tend the fair.
To save the powder from too’ rude a gale,
Nor let th’ imprisoned essence exhale;
To draw fresh colors from the vernal flowers:
To steal from rainbows ere they drop-in showers,
A brighter wash; to curl their Waving hairs,
Assist their blushes, and inspire their airs;
Nay oft, in dreams, an invention we bestow,
To change a flounce, add a furbelow

If any of them fails in their duties the same receive severe punishment from their chief. That particular day when the rape of Belinda’s lock is going to take place, they have been assigned particular duties to act as the guardians and protectors of Belinda.

Criticism of The Machinery

The machinery of the poem has also been criticized. Mr. Dennis fInds several faults with such employment in” this poem. In this opinion, the author of the Rape has run counter to his practice both of the ancients and moderns.

He has not taken his machines from the religion of his country; nor any other religion or morality. His Machines contradict the Christian religion, contradict all sound morality, there is no allegorical nor sensible meaning in them; and for these reasons they give no instruction, make no impression at all upon the mind of the sensible reader.

Mr. Dennis goes on enumerating the faults of these machines. He says, “Instead of making the action wonderful, and delightful, they render it extravagant, absurd and incredible.

They do not in the least influence the action; they neither prevent the danger to Belinda, nor promote it, nor retard it; unless, perhaps, it may be said, for one moment, which is ridiculous.

And if it is here objected, that the author designed only to entertain and amuse, to that I utmost care to write his poem probable.”

Moreover, there is no just subordination, nor any just proportion, between their function. And the last defect, according to Dennis, is that the Machines in this poem are not taken from one system; but are double, nay triple, or quadruple.


In the first canto, we hear nothing but Sylphs and Gnomes and Salamanders, which are Rosicrucian Visions. In the second we meet with Fairies’, Genii, and Daemons, beings that are unknown to those fantastic sophisters.

In the fourth, the en and the Phantoms, about, are derived from the powers of the NaurNatured area of a separate system. Fate and Jove, which we find in the fifth canto, belong to the Heathen religion.

Defence of the Machinery

Whatever the criticism it cannot be denied that by the introduction of ‘machinery derived from an unwonted source Pope made by poem far more complete and mock-heroic.

“It is Pope’s use of this machinery moreover, which, more than any other single feature makes the poem the single success that it is.” (George Holden).

Pope wanted, by this device, to heighten the mock-heroic effect and to lessen the personal element, distasteful to the Fermor family.

He himself was pleased and proud of the new production and afterward spoke of it as ‘one of the greatest proofs of the judgment of anything I ever did.

Pope contrives, with wonderful fact, as French critics pointed out, to let Belinda see that she was not entirely free’ from blame in the matter which had given rise to the trouble.

“In the sylphs,” says Cunningham, ‘we witness a delightful down-scaling of the Epic machines.” The machinery also gives Pope’s imagination a chance for a full display.

It also offers him an unrivaled opportunity of indulging his descriptive powers. The passages which describe the sylphs are marvelous and artistic pieces of description.

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