The Mock-Heroic Moment in the 1690s

Brean S. Hammond

in Professional Imaginative Writing in England, 1670–1740

Published in print March 1997 | ISBN: 9780198112990
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191670909 | DOI:
The Mock-Heroic Moment in the 1690s

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This chapter explores the epic and mock-epic writing of the 1690s from the perspective of the emergent professionalization of writing. Throughout the later 17th century, and into the 18th, there is a growing imperative to mediate classical texts to English readers through translation and imitation. This phenomenon represents an awareness on the part of market-conscious writers that new readerships were being constituted of individuals who did not understand the classical languages in the original or who did not have the time to spend in making them out. Such readers wanted to enjoy the narrative pleasures afforded by wonderful stories. Yet in the process of making epic stories available, writers like Dryden and Pope also made perceptible the distance between the value systems governing these earlier, martial cultures and the politesse demanded by current taste. Epic and mythological tales were opened up to humour as a means of bridging the credibility gap created by changing criteria of plausibility. Epic in translation was always already (as they say) infected with an instability that threatened to turn it into self-parody. The achievement of major mock-epics such as Garth's The Dispensary and Pope's The Rape of the Lock was to harness that inherent instability and to turn it into a distinctive, precariously balanced form.

Keywords: epic writing; mock-epic writing; literature; parody; humour

Chapter.  15772 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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