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alexander pope Essay Examples

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Published: Tuesday 29th of October 2013

Alexander Pope Essay Example

Alexander Pope was one of the most renowned authors of the 18th century and is, in fact, the second most highly quoted author in the English dictionary after Shakespeare. He is most famous for his use of the iambic pentameter style of poetry, his translations of Homer, his satirical verse and for embracing the heroic couplet style. Pope was born in London on the 21st of May, 1688 into a disadvantaged oppressive Roman Catholic family at a time when the English government severely restricted Catholic rights and liberties. Unfortunately, Pope was barred from attending any university because of his religious background, but he felt determined to succeed and was taught something about Latin and Greek authors from his Catholic school education. Pope really began to get interested in Latin and Greek authors by translating a lot of authors work and then moving on to writing his own verse himself. Pope was particularly inspired by the works of other authors such as Waller, Chaucer, and Cowley.

Pope is said to have commanded the greatest influence on classical poetry in the 18th century, wiring an eclectic mix of intellectual, satiric, didactic poetry, almost always written in the heroic couplet style. At the time of his writing, his poetry served as inspirational and ground-breaking to many that read it.

Pseudo classicism

Pope’s work took elements of classicism on board but also adapted its own unique take on this period of art. Unlike many other classical poems, Pope’s poems lack the ardor and energy, yet they are written with a solid command of classical style and form, being both restrained and formal in its style. Although Pope is often regarded as a classicist in his work, it would be wrong to call him a classicist author because his poetry is largely the product of intellect, and does not adhere to the true classicist spirit. Pope’s work, instead, can be viewed largely as pseudo-classicism, i.e. taking elements of classical style and sticking true to this yet putting his own spin on it.


It is clear from reading many of Pope’s poetic works that his style is very much one that is born of an intellectual mind. Pope writes a lot of his poetry aiming to appeal to an intellectual audience, using clever wit and pithy remarks that express ideas in amusing and clever ways. Pope’s style and capacity for writing were as intellectual as Shakespeare’s, and it was not surprising that many scholars and academics at the time embraced Pope’s work to be so deeply intellectual.

The Rape of The Lock

This poem serves as a powerful mock-narrative and piece of social satire, the word “rape” coming from the Latin “rapere” meaning to grab, not using it’s conventional modern meaning. This poem is an example of true satirical genius at work and, perhaps, the most highly cited case of high burlesque literature. In this poem, Pope exposes the absurd nature of high society for the audience, using hyperbole and exaggeration to dramatize a minor incident as an epic one. The high stature of traditional classical epics is used to emphasize the poem’s triviality. Pope targets the aristocrats and snobbish gentlemen of his time, and makes fun of their ways in a brilliant mocking manner, for instance, likening the hearts of the aristocratic females as ‘moving toy shops’.

Essay on Man

Alexander Pope’s work here is a largely philosophical work published in 1733. The poem was intended by Pope to serve as a centerpiece for a new moral system to be brought into the poetic world. Pope, originally, intended for this essay to be much longer than it is but, unfortunately, he did not live to finish it in its entirety. Essay On Man tries to justify God’s ways to the man from an anthropocentric worldview. The poem assumes that man’s experienced downfall and so must work to secure his own true salvation.

The poem shows the audience an insight into Pope’s view of the universe. Pope is claiming that the world may appear to be rather imperfect, inscrutable and complex, yet ultimately natural laws cause the world to function rationally and with an order. Such natural laws are a testament to God’s creation of the world and to humans, this law may appear to be imperfect and evil, yet God has a plan for good ultimately. It is because of our far inferior intellectual capacity compared to God’s that we may feel as though the world’s natural laws make it a harrowing and evil place at times, but we cannot understand God’s reasons.

Pope’s poem is a true tribute to his faith – the world may seem to be a chaotic place, but Pope can make sense of this through his belief in the divine and natural laws according to the rule of God. While reading this poem we can see just how intellectual Pope really was, as he opens up his inquisitive and philosophical mind for all to witness.

An Essay on Criticism

This essay was, originally, anonymously published by Pope in 1711, and took him a whole three years to write, arguably considered to be Pope’s most ambitious work. The poem, actually, attempts to criticise Pope’s own position as a critic and poet, orchestrating a response to a debate about whether or not poetry should serve to be natural, or whether it should be written based on predetermined rules that are inherited from classicism but are changed to become more artificial.

This poem starts with a discussion of whether or not standard rules governing poetry should be adopted before moving on to a critique of the different standards that are being used in poetry at the time. Pope also discusses how critics should critique poetry, and what standards should be in place for appropriate fair judgment. Alexander Pope points to the need for a good critique of work in society in order to help facilitate better poetry, aiding poetry writers with their writing, to be constructively critical as opposed to attacking work outright. The final section of Pope’s Essay On Criticism talks about the moral and ethical attributes of a good critic, and how respectable critics should adhere to be.

Subject Matter and Style

Pope’s style was largely witty and the subjects of his poetry reflected his wit. The majority of Pope’s work is artificial poetry, meaning that which deals with artificial life. This contrasts with a lot of other writers at the time and influences, such as Chaucer who was more of a realist, Shakespeare who wrote more about ideal life, and Spencer whose work focused on imaginative life. Pope managed to pull off artificial life so well because of his ability to express himself in an intellectual manner, and because of his perfect use of a phrase. It wasn’t that Pope’s work dealt necessarily with original themes, and many say that Pope didn’t have a lot to express, but his characteristic style and success as a poet was because of the way that he could express and give life to the things he was writing about.

It is, perhaps, surprising that Pope has also been described by some to be a master in prose since most of his work was poetry, yet Pope deserves this description because qualities and style of Pope’s work resonate with good prose writing, i.e. his use of lucidity, imagination, creativity, wit, balance, logic and much more.

Much of Pope’s poetry is limited in its range of subject matter, much of his work pertaining to society, city life and other most basic themes. His style is also fairly rudimentary at times in the way that it does not offer any warmth, and is rather dry in characteristic – Pope sticks to what he knows and writes about it well, with great eloquence and flare.

Heroic Couplet

Pope’s use of the Heroic Couplet sets him apart from many other renowned poets. He is, perhaps, the godfather of this poetry style or the unchallenged master, with almost all his poetry being written in this way. This style consists of a pair of rhyming lines in an iambic pentameter, and Pope does it justice though the smooth style of rhythm employed in his poetry, with a perfect regularity of phrasing. Most of Pope’s work features a ‘stop couplet’, i.e. a short pause at the end of every couplet, breaking the rhythm apart so that two separate couplets don’t flow together structurally and rhythmically. This style can limit the poetry as it is largely limited to the couplet size, so there is, perhaps, less room to expand on points, but Pope was able to let this structure of limitation breed creativity – you can tell how precisely his thoughts are condensed and how even two or three lines express more than anyone could tell in a whole page of text.

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