AIOU Course Code 9054-2 Solved Assignment Autumn 2021

Course: Classical Poetry (9054)

Semester: Autumn, 2021

Level: BS (English)

Assignment 2.

Q.1 His (Pope’s) social scene is private and the vices ridiculed, and the moral offered belong to public life’. Compare or contrast Pope’s The Rape of the Lock’ in the light of this statement with the work of any other satirist.

The Rape of the Lock is a mock-heroic narrative poem written by Alexander Pope. One of the most commonly cited examples of high burlesque, it was first published anonymously in Lintot’s Miscellaneous Poems and Translations (May 1712) in two cantos (334 lines); a revised edition “Written by Mr. Pope” followed in March 1714 as a five-canto version (794 lines) accompanied by six engravings. Pope boasted that this sold more than three thousand copies in its first four day  are talking about Alexander Pope. He was one of the foremost British authors and satirists of the 18th century. He, in a highly relatable way, built his reputation on the foundations of a sharp satirical tongue and a love of bringing classical Greek and Roman literature into the modern day (as we all do).

Alexander Pope was awesome and hilarious, and we’re going to talk about his most famous work, which is rather unfortunately titled The Rape of the Lock. I’d like to specify right now that, in this instance, the word ‘rape’ does not imply sexual assault – I just really want to get that out of the way. This work is really entertaining. It combines both his foundations of satire and his influences from the Greek and Roman traditions to really make something awesome but also trivial at the same time. Let’s just jump right into The Rape of the Lock and find out why it’s so great and why it’s so funny and still enjoyed today.

This work was originally published anonymously in May of 1712, but Pope would

eventually expand The Rape of the Lock and publish it again under his own name a few years later. That’s the version – the second version – that we’re going to look at today. It’s known as a mock-epic or a mock-heroic, which should be pretty self-explanatory. It’s a work that takes on the form of a classic Greek or Roman epic, like Homer’s Odyssey, but with a satirical twist, and that’s where the ‘mock’ comes in.

Satire, remember, is a literary form that uses exaggeration and ridicule to expose truths about society. In The Rape of the Lock, the satire comes from the fact that Pope is using high-and-mighty classical epic form – the tradition of Homer – but he’s really telling a story that is incredibly trivial.

Before we get into that story, there are three other things you should know about the poem. First, like typical epics, The Rape of the Lock is divided into cantos. That’s the standard division for epic poems that comes from the Italian word for ‘song.’ If you’ve read any of Dante’s Divine Comedy or if you are a fan of Ezra Pound (as so many of us are), you’ll be familiar with that term. Unlike an epic, though, The Rape of the Lock is not incredibly long – it’s just 5 cantos and only about 600 lines. I guess he figured satire would wear out its welcome after a while. Also, it’s a mock-epic – it’s not a real one.

Second, the poem is written in heroic couplets, which means rhyming pairs of iambic pentameter – so if Shakespeare had rhymed all of his lines, that would be heroic couplets. Pope was an early adopter of this form and should deserve a lot of credit for making it popular. Heroic couplets make a very pleasing, melodious reading and listening experience; you’ll find that the passages of this poem have kind of a song-like quality to them.

Finally, just an interesting side-note – The Rape of the Lock is based on real events that Pope had related to him by a friend. That same friend had asked Pope to write this mocking poem in an attempt to show the groups involved how silly they were being and hopefully get them to reconcile. But of course Pope ends up the real winner here, because The Rape of the Lock is considered one of the greatest satirical poems in English literature. If you write great poems, you don’t need friends. You heard it here first.

The Rape of the Lock recounts the story of a young woman who has a lock of hair stolen by an ardent young man. Pope couches the trivial event in terms usually reserved for incidents of great moment—such as the quarrel between the Greeks and the Trojans. The poem marries a rich range of literary allusions and an ironic commentary on the contemporary social world with a sense of suppressed energy threatening to break through the veneer of civilization


mock-epic, also called mock-heroic, form of satire that adapts the elevated heroic style of the classical epic poem to a trivial subject. The tradition, which originated in classical times with an anonymous burlesque of Homer, the Batrachomyomachia (Battle of the Frogs and the Mice), was honed to a fine art in the late 17th- and early 18th-century Neoclassical period. A double-edged satirical weapon, the mock-epic was sometimes used by the “moderns” of this period to ridicule contemporary “ancients” (classicists). More often it was used by “ancients” to point up the unheroic character of the modern age by subjecting thinly disguised contemporary events to a heroic treatment. The classic example of this is Nicolas Boileau’s Le Lutrin (1674–83; “The Lectern”), which begins with a quarrel between two ecclesiastical dignitaries about where to place a lectern in a chapel and ends with a battle in a bookstore in which champions of either side hurl their favourite “ancient” or “modern” authors at each other. Jonathan Swift’s “Battle of the Books” (1704) is a variation of this theme in mock-heroic prose. The outstanding English mock-epic is Alexander Pope’s brilliant tour de force The Rape of the Lock (1712–14), which concerns a society beau’s theft of a lock of hair from a society belle; Pope treated the incident as if it were comparable to events that sparked the Trojan War.

Most mock-epics begin with an invocation to the muse and use the familiar epic devices of set speeches, supernatural interventions, and descents to the underworld, as well as infinitely detailed descriptions of the protagonist’s activities. Thus, they provide much scope for display of the author’s ingenuity and inventiveness. An American mock-epic, Joel Barlow’s The Hasty Pudding (written 1793), celebrates in three 400-line cantos his favourite New England dish, cornmeal mush.


Q.2 Discuss some of the metaphysical conceits used in ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’ by John Donne for their combination of singularity with aptness.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” shows many features associated with seventeenth-century metaphysical poetry in general, and with Donne’s work in particular. Donne’s contemporary, the English writer Izaak Walton, tells us the poem dates from 1611, when Donne, about to travel to France and Germany, wrote for his wife this valediction, or farewell speech. Like most poetry of Donne’s time, it did not appear in print during the poet’s lifetime. The poem was first published in 1633, two years after Donne’s death, in a collection of his poems called Songs and Sonnets. Even during his life, however, Donne’s poetry became well known because it circulated privately in manuscript and handwritten copies among literate Londoners.

The poem tenderly comforts the speaker’s lover at their temporary parting, asking that they separate calmly and quietly, without tears or protests. The speaker justifies the desirability of such calmness by developing the ways in which the two share a holy love, both sexual and spiritual in nature. Donne’s celebration of earthly love in this way has often been referred to as the “religion of love,” a key feature of many other famous Donne poems, such as “The Canonization” and The Ecstasy. Donne treats their love as sacred, elevated above that of ordinary earthly lovers. He argues that because of the confidence their love gives them, they are strong enough to endure a temporary separation. In fact, he discovers ways of suggesting, through metaphysical conceit, that the two of them either possess a single soul and so can never really be divided, or have twin souls permanently connected to each other. A metaphysical conceit is an extended metaphor or simile in which the poet draws an ingenious comparison between two very unlike objects. “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” ends with one of Donne’s most famous metaphysical conceits, in which he argues for the lovers’ closeness by comparing their two souls to the feet of a drawing compass—a simile that would not typically occur to a poet writing about his love!

Author Biography

Donne was born in London in 1572. His family was of Roman Catholic faith (his mother was a relative of the Catholic martyr Sir Thomas More), and he grew up experiencing the religious discrimination of the Anglican majority in England against Catholics. It has been speculated that it was this very discrimination that prevented Donne from completing his studies at Oxford University. After leaving Oxford, he studied law in London and received his degree in 1596. Seeking adventure, Donne sailed with the English expeditions against the Spanish, and his experiences inspired the poems “The Storm,” “The Calm,” and “The Burnt Ship.” The following year, Donne returned to London and became secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton. In December, 1601, he clandestinely married Egerton’s sixteen-year-old niece Ann More. When the news became public, More’s father unsuccessfully endeavored to annul the marriage, but did succeed in imprisoning Donne for a short period of time. In 1602 Donne was released and, now unemployed, spent the next thirteen years trying to gain financial security for his family. Eventually, he converted from Roman Catholicism to Anglicism, and was enlisted by Sir Thomas Morton to aid him in writing anti-Catholic pamphlets. In 1610 he published his first work, Pseudo-Martyr, which attempted to induce English Catholics to repudiate their allegiance to Rome (home of the Catholic Church) and take an oath of allegiance to the British crown. From 1611 to 1612 Donne accompanied Sir Robert Drury to France on a long diplomatic mission, during which he composed some of his most acclaimed verse letters, funeral poems, holy sonnets and love poems, in particular “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.” Returning to England in 1612, Donne considered becoming an Anglican minister, but hesitated because of self-doubt. He was finally ordained in early 1615 and quickly became one of the most respected clergymen of his time. He was elected dean of St. Paul’s in 1621 and devoted the majority of his life to writing sermons and other religious works until his death in 1631.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning is persuasive as Donne asks his wife not to grieve at his going, but to remain calm. Such calmness is much more likely to be a support to him than any show of distress, however natural. The gentle persuasion is done through a series of conceits, and so this is a good poem to study as an example of Donne’s method of arguing by analogy through such images. It is useful also to consider it alongside other examples of Donne’s use of conceits.

The first conceit

The first conceit, or image of leave-taking, is that of dying men. It was generally accepted in Donne’s day that good men make good deaths, and the mark of a good death is just slipping away quietly from life. It was reckoned evil men would be so troubled by their sins and the prospect of going to hell that they would fight to stay alive, and be very distressed.

The second conceit

This runs easily into the second conceit in stanza two. Donne says: our love is a sacred love, having its own mysteries. If we weep at parting, then people will see it and we shall thus profane our love (to profane is to treat something sacred with disrespect or contempt, or to downgrade something special and exclusive by making it accessible to everyone).

The third conceit

The third conceit, in stanza three, is a combined geographical/astronomical one. Earthquakes cause damage and attract a great deal of attention but ‘trepidation of the spheres’ (movement of the planets), though involving greater forces, are imperceptible and harmless.

The fourth conceit

In stanza four a them/us scenario is introduced, though you could say it has been implicit all along. The ‘them’ are the ‘Dull sublunary lovers’.

Ordinary lovers cannot manage absence, since they depend on physical presence, as physical attraction holds them. Donne wrestles with absence elsewhere, especially in A Nocturnall upon St.Lucies day. Here he is certain they are ‘so much refin’d’ they can face it, through the unity of their love.

The fifth conceit

In stanza six, Donne introduces his next conceit, drawn from metallurgy. Gold has the property of being ductile (it can be drawn out almost indefinitely) and malleable (it can be beaten until it is very thin, as in gold leaf). So there is no real separation.

The sixth conceit

The final conceit, taking up the last three stanzas (a very long analogy for Donne) is that of geometrical compasses. The word itself is plural, interestingly enough, though it is basically a single instrument, which remains united even when the two parts are carrying out different functions. The analogy is not perfect but it is powerful. The fixed foot (the woman) remains at the centre while the other (the man) moves away to create a circle, yet it also leans outwards following its mate. In time, the second foot, the circle (and its roaming) complete, returns to the centre. The idea of the circle provides a neat little ending to the poem: he’ll come home again soon.

More on sublunary: The belief in Donne’s day was that change, or ‘mutability’ only occurred in that which existed beneath the moon. The picture is the medieval one of the earth being the centre of the universe, and the moon, sun and planets going round the earth in circles. The moon is the first circle out from the earth, so all change takes place in that space. Beyond the moon, the other spheres are ‘immutable’. Change was seen as a sign of imperfection.

The theological argument ran: God created the universe perfect, hence the circular nature of it – as circles were the perfect shape. Though the earth had been affected by the Fall of humankind, God had limited the effects to the earth and to the space between it and the moon. In Donne’s day, this was being discredited, as the planets’ orbits were known to be elliptical and not circular. Galileo first published his findings on a sun-centred universe in 1610. But in terms of the popular imagination, the picture was firmly rooted. A slightly later poet, John Milton, when describing the creation of the universe, uses both the old medieval system and Galileo’s new system.


Q.3 What epic conventions does Pope employ in The Rape of the Lock’ to amplify his trivial theme and with what result?

The Rape of the Lock is a mock epic poem written by Alexander Pope who was one of the most influential writers of the eighteenth century. Alexander Pope was one of the best satirist of the Augustan age who also aims to educate and entertain readers at the same time. The Rape of the Lock was first published in the year 1712 with only two cantos. In the year 1717 however the final form of this poem was published and it had five cantos and in heroic couplet too. The poem is based on a true story about two feuding aristocratic families, the Petres and the Fermors. “The young lord Petre had cut a lock of hair from the head of Arabella Fermor, a fashionable young society lady, and both she and her family had taken offence. Pope had been told of the incident by his catholic friend John Caryll who asked if he could write a poem to make a jest of the division between the two families and laugh them together again” (scribd).

The epic poem also known as the heroic poem tells a story of a hero whose actions are of great importance and have a national significance too. It is usually a long narrative poem written in a grand style to suit its important subject matter. Some of the examples of the heroic poems are Homer’s Iliad, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, King Arthur by Richard Blackmore, Joan of Arc by Robert Southey and Hyperion by Keats. Mock epic poem on the other hand is the parody of the serious epic poems. It uses the structure of an epic poem where the language is grand but on miniature scale and the meaning of the subject is trivial. Mock-heroic poetry combines the characteristics of various discourses such as epic, comedy, parody and satire. Alexander pope uses the mock heroic style in The Rape of the Lock is not to ridicule the heroic genre but to mock and satirize the fashionable society of his time.

In the beginning of an epic poem, the writer usually invokes and prayers the muse to afford him with divine encouragement to tell the tale of a great hero. Usually the writer calls upon one of the “nine daughters of Zeus [1] ” (homepage) to sanctify his poetry. The hero of an epic poem is always a grand figure of national importance or even cosmic significance. “He often has superhuman or divine traits.  He has an imposing physical stature and is greater in all ways than the common man” (homepage). However in The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope invokes his catholic friend John Caryll instead, as a muse to provide him with blessings to narrate a story of not a great hero but a rich, vain woman called Belinda. Alexander Pope uses Belinda and the Baron as his main characters in his poem to poke fun at the men and women of the aristocratic families. Belinda is not a powerful hero but a beautiful young woman from a fashionable society who has no other responsibilities but looking presentable in front the society every day. For instance Belinda only wakes up around twelve o’clock, has a lapdog and servants to dress her for every occasion.


“Sol thro’ white Curtains shot a tim’rous Ray,

And op’d those Eyes that must eclipse the Day;

Now Lapdogs give themselves the rowzing Shake,

And sleepless Lovers, just at Twelve, awake:

Thrice rung the Bell, the Slipper knock’d the Ground,

And the press’d Watch return’d a silver Sound.

Belinda still her downy Pillow prest” (Pope).

Hence it is clear that Pope is satirizing the fashionable society for not being responsible and doing things as they please. They waste money for they were rich and even needed maids to look after them as though they were infants.

Next, in an epic poem a hero will get well prepared for a great battle by armoring himself with chain mail, shield, sword, axes, daggers, bow and arrows. These weapons and armor will not only protect a hero but also make his enemy fear of him. For example in Iliad the arming of Achilles by Thetis for the battlefields of Troy was described with great grandeur. Belinda on the other hand armors herself with beautiful brocade, make-ups, Arabian perfumes, and glittering Indian jewelries and uses combs and pins made out of elephant tusks and tortoise shell in order to face the upper-class society every day. She goes through the long process of beautifying herself with the help of her maid Betty in order to look presentable and attractive to the young men and make women envious of her beauty.

“The Tortoise here and Elephant unite,

Transform’d to Combs, the speckled and the white.

Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,

Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.

Now awful Beauty puts on all its Arms;

The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,

Repairs her Smiles, awakens ev’ry Grace,

And calls forth all the Wonders of her Face;

Sees by Degrees a purer Blush arise,

And keener Lightnings quicken in her Eyes”.(Pope)

In these lines of The Rape of the Lock, Pope mocks the vanity of the fashionable society, where they put a lot of importance in physical beauty rather than intellectual. They spend several hours in front of their mirrors preparing themselves as though they were getting ready for a great siege; but in reality they were only going to meet their friends and have fun. Belinda in The Rape of the Lock went through the long arduous dressing up session just to meet up her friends and play a card game of ombre and attract possible suitors. In the poem Pope even states that when a person looks at Belinda’s beautiful face all her faults will melt away further emphasizing that beauty is far more valuable than knowledge for the aristocrats of his time.”Yet graceful ease and sweetness void of pride Might hide her faults, if belles had faults thide; If to her share come female errors fall” (Pope).

In an epic poem the hero always prays at his altar to receive blessings from gods and goddesses such as “Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Hera, Aries, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis and Hephaestus”( GreekMythology) in order to succeed in everything they wished for. For example Odysseus prays to the goddess Athena [2] so that he could finally return to his wife and son again after years of battle. In The Rape of the Lock on the other hand we find that Belinda worships and admires her own heavenly image in front of the mirror every day. Her maid then becomes the priestess who, perform beautifying rites day by day for her. Instead of gods and goddesses, Belinda’s altar is filled with “Files of Pins extend their shining Rows, Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux” (Pope). However Baron keeps garters, gloves, love letters and trophies from his former lovers on his altar. Now he plans to add Belinda’s lock in his collection at the altar as well. In these lines of the poem, Pope seems to say that religion and faith for the women and men from the upper class is insignificant. They treasure their beauty and material stuff way higher than education, religion and morality. For Belinda, the Bible is just an unimportant object placed among on her make ups and love letters. Further more in canto two of The Rape of the Lock, we can see that Belinda wears a cross around her neck as a piece of jewelry and not on act of piousness. “On her white Breast a sparkling Cross she wore, which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore”(Pope).

The divine characters in epic poetry are family of gods living Mount Olympus who intervene often in lives of humans observing and influencing their lives and decisions. They help guide humans who are in trouble both physically and psychologically especially in great battles. The gods sense that it is their obligation to get involved if they feel that man is traveling off course from his destiny. These powerful characters are termed as epic machineries. For example in Homer’s Odysseys Zeus helped Odysseus to escape from the island of Ogygia where Odysseus was a prisoner for seven years. On the contrary, in Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, Belinda was aided by inhabitants of the air such as fairies, gnomes, nymphs, sylphs and salamanders. Belinda receives special attention from the sylphs. These magical creatures in the poem did not aid her in battle but helped Belinda look beautiful and respectable the whole day. Each sylph assigns themselves to protect her hair, dress, makeup, jewelries, her lap dog Shock and most importantly her petticoat for Ariel [3] have “saw, alas, some dread event impend” (Pope). Ariel did warn Belinda beforehand but she forgot all about it the minute she saw her “Billet-doux” (Pope). So now it is up to them to protect her appearance and her honor.

“He spoke; the Spirits from the Sails descend;

Some, Orb in Orb, around the Nymph extend,

Some thrid the mazy Ringlets of her Hair,

Some hang upon the Pendants of her Ear;

With beating Hearts the dire Event they wait,

Anxious, and trembling for the Birth of Fate” (Pope).


Q.4 How is Donne’s poetry different from Elizabethan poetry? Discuss in detail.

Elizabethan Poetry


  • Elizabethan age was a great age of English literature. During this time the writing of poetry was the part  of education among the educated  people. That is why many books of  poetry by different writers  appeared during this age.
  • The Elizabethan era, often hailed as a golden age for English literature, spanned Queen Elizabeth’s long  reign from 1558 to 1603.
  • This period saw many poetic luminaries rise to prominence, including Christopher Marlowe, Ben  Jonson, Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip  Sidney, William Shakespeare and  Elizabeth herself. Elizabethan  poetry is notable for many  features, including the sonnet form, blank verse, the use of  classical material, and double  entendres.
  • The proper Elizabethan literary age began in 1579, but before that year, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Earl of  Surrey made their poetic  contributions.
  • Sir Wyatt brought the sonnet form Italy and made it popular in England. He followed the tradition  of the Petrarchan sonnet with  octave and sestet.
  • There was later changed into English sonnet style by Shakespeare, who divided the  sonnet into three quatrains  summed up by a couplet. The Ear verse in English. The Elizabethan  age produced many beautiful  lyrics. One of the finest lyricists  was Sir Philip Sidney. William Shakespeare as Poet The greatest dramatist Shakespeare was  also a great poet of this age who wrote around 130 sonnets and they are very famous  in English literature. He developed a new  form of sonnet called the English sonnet or  the Shakespearean sonnet, which rhyme abab  cdcd efef gg. It is different from  Petrarchan sonnet. Many of his sonnets refer  to a girl, a rival poet and a dark-eyed beauty.

Edmund Spencer Edmund Spencer was a famous poet  who introduced the Elizabethan age  properly. In 1579, he wrote The  Shepherd’s Calendar, a poem in  twelve books, one for each month of  the year. His greatest work was The Faerie Queen. Though it was planned  to be written in twelve books, he  could complete six of them. It is an  allegorical work with three themes: a  political theme, a moral theme, and a fairy tale. More than the story, this  work is known for its magic feeling, wonderful music in verse, and the  beauty of the sound. It is written in  Spenserian stanza of nine lines, with  the rhyme scheme ababbcbcc. Lyrics of the Elizabethan Age The Elizabethan age produced many beautiful  lyrics. One of the finest lyricists was Sir  Philip Sidney, who was a courtier, statesman,  soldier and a poet. His books of  sonnets Astrophel and Stella was printed in  1591, after his death. Another great poet  was Sir Walter Raleigh, who was also a soldier, sailor, explorer, courtier and a  writer. Some examples of best Elizabethan lyrics can be found in the plays of  Shakespeare. His longer poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece are rather  cold and without feelings. But the occasional  lyrics found in his dramas are full of feelings  and passion. The famous dramatist Marlowe  has also written some fine lyrics.

Donne’s poet

Some even argue that he is one of the greatest poets in the English language (cf. Greene et al. 2012: 418). Nevertheless, metaphysical poets have been among the more neglected authors in studies of the history of British literature until the revival in the 1930’s mainly put forward by J.C. Grierson and T.S. Eliot (cf. Drabble 2000: 665). But still there has been relatively less research about Donne’s great and timeless work.

Donne’s work emerges of late Elizabethan England (cf. Elliot 1921). However, his poetry but his metaphysical love poetry in particular is not what one generally expects from Elizabethan poetry. Although Donne has also written several sonnets most of his love poetry is not of the Petrarchan fashion. Most of Donne’s love poetry is entirely inventive and unconventional in form, content and style. In many of his poems Donne uses far-fetched images. The language he uses is highly imaginative, very passionate, full of wit and some of his love poems like ‘The Flea’ contain highly erotic allusions. Another common element in Donne’s love poetry is that the majority of his poems – e.g. the erotic lyric ‘The Flea’, the mutual love poem “The Canonization” or the sonnet “Battered by my Heart” – present an argumentative structure and a speaker that uses elaborate strategies of persuasion trying to make a point addressing a beloved persona. The speakers are typically not just lovers who lament about rejected love and paint a picture of his platonised love for an idealised but unreachable woman, but instead Donne’s speakers appear as rather confident lovers demonstrating an original way of wooing as well as a wide variety of moods that can emerge from the feelings of love.

As the title of this paper suggests this paper claims that Donne’s metaphysical love poetry takes a unique position in Renaissance literature. Hence this paper aims at revealing and highlighting main themes and characteristics of Donne’s love poetry. However, the focus will be on Donne’s metaphysical love poetry. That is why the paper will start with defining what metaphysical poetry is and what its key features are. These preliminaries will be followed by the main analysis. In order to prove the main thesis of the unique position of Donne’s love poetry the erotic and highly metaphysical poem ‘The Flea’ is chosen to be examined as a representative example. But at first I will have a closer look at the poem in terms of content, language and style. Afterwards the paper will close with a concluding comparison of the characteristics of Donne’s metaphysical love poetry (found in ‘The Flea’) to popular Elizabethan poetry.

Our appreciation of John Donne’s poetry has been spoiled by teachers who tell us that he was one of ‘the metaphysicals’. This goes back to something John Dryden wrote about Donne: ‘He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the softnesses of love.’

In other words, don’t bother their pretty little heads with ideas, just tell them how lovely they are. It was not Donne who offended first, but Shakespeare, when he wrote his Sonnet 130, ‘My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun’.


Coral is far more red than her lips red,

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun,

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

His conclusion is a direct riposte to the criticism made by Dryden fifty or so years later.

I grant I never saw a goddess go,

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.

And yet by heaven I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.


Shakespeare and Donne were close contemporaries. Donne was born in 1572, only eight years later than Shakespeare. Living in London, he must, as a young man, have seen many of Shakespeare’s plays. He was an Elizabethan. His ‘Songs and Sonnets’, which are the poems we know best, were all written while Elizabeth I was still on the throne.

The only thing that divides these two Elizabethan poets is that one wrote for a public audience, the other for his friends. Shakespeare’s poetry and plays (in individual volumes) were published during his lifetime because he had a reputation and a living to make. Donne’s poems were not published. His reputation and his living later in life as a priest might have suffered if they had been.

The dialogue in Shakespeare’s plays is full of the kind of argument and word-play which we find in Donne’s poetry. The argument between Romeo and Juliet in Act II, scene i for example.

Good night, good night! as sweet repose and rest

Come to thy heart as that within my breast!

O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?

What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?

The exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.

I gave thee mine before thou didst request it:

And yet I would it were to give again.

Wouldst thou withdraw it? for what purpose, love?

But to be frank, and give it thee again.

And yet I wish but for the thing I have:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite


Q.5 Critically evaluate Satan’s first speech n paradise Lost with special reference to it rhetoric and arguments.

Rhetoric pertains to language that is written or spoken, and it is used to either inform or persuade. In John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, language is an essential way in which we come to understand the characters, especially Satan. As a character who is typically seen as the essence of evil, Satan receives much attention throughout the poem. However, his popularity is not due to his heinous reputation, but instead, the way that he expresses himself through language is what captures the attention of most. In books one and nine, Satan confirms his rhetorical abilities by appealing to various modes of persuasion and employing decorative diction, and through this character’s complex language, Milton reveals his own purpose behind Satan’s swaying rhetoric. How rhetoric and language contribute to Milton’s work has been a matter of interest for many critics of literature. Rhetoric was a topic that the poet was familiar with in his youth. At the start of the seventeenth century, it was seen as a poetic practice, one that placed an intense focus on style and ornamentation. John Major highlights Milton’s attitude toward the art, explaining that he valued formalism and saw rhetoric as liberating. The poet shared “the view of Cicero and other ancient orators that eloquence promotes liberty” (692). Putting an emphasis on thinking, knowledge, and emotion in discourse was seen as honorable and brilliant ever since the time of the Greeks.

Milton knew and respected the philosophies of the ancients; he once said, “I have pleasure in confessing that whatever literary advance I have made I owe chiefly to steady intimacy with their writings from my youth upwards” (693). If we consider Milton’s works as a whole, his mastery of rhetoric becomes evident. However, the poet’s command of language can be easily seen in Paradise Lost, which is his famous biblical retelling of the fall and is considered to be one of the greatest English poems.The role of rhetoric in Paradise Lost is investigated mainly through Satan’s speeches. This character bears the “unmistakable stigma of the ‘rhetorician’ in the pejorative sense,” says Major (698). This label is not an inaccurate description of Milton’s Satan. He possesses the power of persuasive and deceptive speech, and we know that he retains this skill because he accomplishes his immediate goals through words. Major delves deeper into Milton’s Satan, analyzing his language: “[his] speeches do have a wonderful variety of manner and tone” (698). Indeed, the surface of his speeches illustrate the range of his devious language, but what else accounts for the rhetorician’s unending success throughout the poem? In his study of Milton, George Smith discusses the rhetoric of Paradise Lost as iterative. Cicero once expressed the importance of replication and beauty in speech, saying “Sometimes the repetitions will produce an impression of force, at other times of grace” (1). The ancient Greeks put placed great significance on iteration, and today, readers still

celebrate creative and complex repetitions in written and formal communication. Smith underlines that Milton’s audience often associates “rhetoric, oratory, and most ornamental verbal contrivances with Satan and the fallen angels” (3). Satan’s style, in particular, receives the most attention from readers and scholars alike. His use of repetition in his speeches illuminates his strength as a speaker.

For example, in his speech to Eve, Satan “is trying to distract her from his faulty logic by his intense and pleasing iteration” (7). Repetition is not the only rhetorical tool that Satan uses to achieve his goals. In books one and nine, he appeals to the three modes of persuasion and practices decorative diction. Why does Milton give this character the power to persuade, a skill that has deemed him worthy to be labeled as the rhetorician? In order to answer this enquiry, we must evaluate Satan’s most important speeches and discover what is hidden rather than what is explicitly shown on the surface.We should first inspect the narrator’s introduction of Satan in the early lines of book one. The narrator presents Satan’s character before he is allowed to speak which provides us with essential clues about his rhetorical abilities. For example, the narrator says, “Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile / Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived / The mother of mankind” (34-35).

Here, the narrator is immediately warning readers to approach Satan with caution, and his use of the words “guile” and “deceived” confirms that Satan is out to manipulate. In fact, the narrator makes sure to tell us how this character fools others—he deceives with words. Specifically, we are given hints of Satan’s deceptive rhetoric before each speech he gives. For instance, the narrator notes Satan’s use of “bold words” before his speech to Beelzebub in book one, signifying that this character expresses alluring and enticing diction when speaking (82). He also calls him a “guileful Tempter” right before his speech to Eve in book nine (567). Indeed, these hints propose that Satan’s rhetoric most likely encompasses beautiful words and cunning arguments. Why should readers believe the narrator’s advice about this character? The speaker uses the initial lines of book one to establish his own credibility, saying, “Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top / Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire / That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed” (6-8). Here, we can assume the narrator is being guided by a divine spirit who is powerful and truthful, thus making him a reliable figure. With the speaker’s warning of Satan’s rhetorical abilities, it is now evident that we must explore certain speeches where he appeals to various modes of persuasion and uses decorative diction.

The speeches in which Satan showcases his rhetorical abilities can be seen in books one and nine of Paradise Lost. In book one, Satan gives a speech to Beelzebub, who is next to him amidst the fire. In this oration, Satan is attempting to persuade his fellow angel into wanting revenge. In order to achieve this, he appeals to ethos and pathos. In book nine, Satan is in the form of a serpent as he gives a speech to Eve in Eden. In this oration, he is trying to make her eat the forbidden fruit. To execute his plan, Satan appeals to all three modes of persuasion, ethos, pathos, and logos.

Furthermore, Satan’s motives behind each speech are not good, and ultimately, he is trying to get retribution against God: the narrator says in book one that Satan was filled with pride and “trusted to have equaled the Most High” and thus “[r]aised impious war in Heav’n and battle proud / With vain attempt” (40, 43-44). Here, the narrator is giving us an authentic depiction of Satan’s selfish and egotistical character. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that his speeches to Beelzebub and Eve are shallow at the core.


Work Cited

Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room, reading_room/pl/book_1/text.shtml, May 2018.

Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room,  reading_room/pl/book_9/text.shtml, May 2018.

Major, John M. “Milton’s View of Rhetoric.” Studies in Philology, vol. 64, no. 5, 1967, pp. 685– 711. JSTOR,

Smith, George William. “Iterative Rhetoric in ‘Paradise Lost.’” Modern Philology, vol. 74, no. 1, 1976, pp. 1–19. JSTOR,

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