The Rape of the Lock is a narrative mock-poem by English poet Alexander Pope that was first published in 1712 and then published in a longer version in 1714. Perhaps the best-known example of mock-epic poem, it employs highly exaggerated language and an elevated tone to describe the stealing of a lock of hair from a young society woman named Belinda by an equally privileged young baron and the “war” that ensues as a result this act. The poem immediately served to forge the 23-year-old Pope’s reputation as a poet and remains his most frequently studied work.
Set in the early 18th century, the poem satirizes the frivolous and decadent society of the English aristocracy. The title reflects the exaggerated importance placed on the theft of a lock of hair, highlighting the superficiality of the upper classes. The Rape of the Lock is not only a brilliant display of Pope’s wit and poetic skill but also a commentary on the vanity, frivolity, and social conventions of his era. The poem showcases Pope’s mastery of the heroic couplet and his ability to infuse his satire with humor.