Synopsis of Class: October 12, 2000

I began class by reading out the jurors' judgments of Satan, which were as follows (note that if you click on the juror's name, you can link to the full text of the judgment):

Amy Southwood: GUILTY
Melissa Young-Spillers: NOT GUILTY
Matt McCarty: GUILTY

The following are some of the things that we might learn from the trial in regards to class writing assignments:

Aided by the opening and closing scenes of Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons as well as the last lines of Pope's Essay on Man, Epistle One, we then discussed how the social beliefs and conventions of the eighteenth century differed from our own day, all the while relating Pope's mock epic, Rape of the Lock, to both classical Greece and the tradition of the epic. Some of the eighteenth-century values that were gleaned from these cultural documents include:

1) a reaffirmation of the values of a shame culture, as Aaron Hause pointed out, leading (as Amy Schnarr added) to a concern with the minutest particularities of one's public appearance (dress, attitude, style, etc.). As Thalestris for example exclaims:

Methinks already I your tears survey,
Already hear the horrid things they say,
Already see you a degraded toast,
And all your honour in a whisper lost!
How shall I then your helpless fame defend?
'Twill then be infamy to seem your friend! (p. 39)

2) an emphasis on public propriety, ceremony, and decorum over inner virtue, which tends towards artificiality and pretension, much like Eve's narcissism in Paradise Lost, as one student brilliantly pointed out.
3) a resulting tendency to perform strength publicly rather than to experience feeling privately. In this way, D. J. Dangler pointed out, we may be seeing a return to the braggadoccio tendencies of Odysseus but without the sense of flux and instability that accompanied a culture reliant on the oral transmission of information. Instead, there is a sense that existent hierarchies are static and permanent.
4) the use of leisure and pleasure as conspicuous markers of wealth.
5) Amy Burns and Lilly Ewing, among others, also suggested that the heroic couplet itself could be said to mirror the same values: order, balance, constraint, closure, conformity, uniformity, and a pursuit of artificial perfection.

Some of the eighteenth-century trends that tie in to this list include the idea of a clockmaker God and the Newtonian effort to find balanced and orderly laws for the universe; the Great Chain of Being, which Pope discusses in the Essay on Man; and the re-establishment of the monarchy after the Restoration of 1660. As for the lattermost, one should keep in mind that, while Cromwell's Republic argued for the freedom of the press and of religion (and at least mouthed a belief in the rights of the people, as Milton for example argues in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates), the newly restored monarchy sought to protect itself from future insurrections through a number of repressive measures: the suspension of habeas corpus; various forms of censorship; andthe requirement that all persons holding public employment renounce Roman Catholocism.

One last point of note was made by Jen Slawson, who argued that, although the heroic couplet does seem to be tied to the ideals discussed so far, Pope's Rape of the Lock may constitute a movement towards something new. After all, the whole point of the satire is to ridicule the eighteenth century's love of decorum and public ceremony. The new values of an emergent guilt culture (inner virtue, merit, good sense and a "housewife's cares") are, indeed, inserted into the poem through Clarissa's speech in Canto V (lines 9-34), even if Clarissa is then ridiculed as a "prude" by the other aristocrats in the mock epic. Could Pope thus be helping to set the stage for the Romantic movement to come?

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