The Mock Epic
A Mock-epic is a small narrative poem in which the machinery and conventions of epic proper are employed in the treatment of trivial themes, and in this way, it becomes a parody or burlesque of the epic. A mocking, ridiculous effect is created when the grandiloquent epic-style and epic- conventions are used for a theme that is essentially trivial and insignificant.
The ancient Mock-epic The Battle of the Frog and Mice, a parody of Homer’s Iliad, Jonathan Swift’s Tale of a Tub and Battle of the Books, and Alexander Pope’s Dunciad and The Rape of the Lock, Mack Flecknoe by John Dryden are the finest examples of the Mock-epic.
(i) Mock epic is the imitation of epic but in such a manner that creates humour.
(ii) Each and every elements of epic are used in mock epic in trivial nature.
(iii) Most mock epics will begin with an innovation of the Muse (a poetic tradition beginning with Homer) and include other tropes such as supernatural interference in the plot, prolonged battle sequences, lengthy speeches, and formal or highly verbose diction—all of which commonly appear in traditional epic.
(iv) The use of “deus ex machina” or “ex-machina”.
(v) The main purpose of the mock-epic to poke fun at the tendency of nobility to make trivial matters serious by writing about the people and events in intentionally flowery, overblown language that becomes humorous when simplified.
(vi)However, one distinct feature of mock-epic is the widespread use of bathos, or anticlimax. Thus, where a traditional epic will end with an invocation to pathos after the emotional climax, a mock epic will end with a reminder to the reader that the entire substance of the poem is of little consequence.
The essentials of a Mock-epic are best illustrated by a brief consideration of Pope’s Rape of the Lock. The theme of the Mock-epic is the rape on the locks of a butterfly of society, Belinda, committed by her lover, Lord Peter, a gallant. The lady is displeased, the two families fall out, and Pope is requested to write something to laugh away the displeasure of the young lady. Pope uses the machinery and convention of the epic, as well as the grandiloquent epic style for his essentially trivial theme. The trivial is exaggerated and glorified and a mocking, ridiculous effect is thus created. Instead of the mighty epic-hero, we have a tiny slip of a girl as the central personage, digression and episodes deal not with the military exploits of some gigantic epic hero, but with a game of cards, and the fight of the lord and ladies for the severed lock of hair. The weapons used are not swords and spears, but a bodkin and a pinch of snuff, and the killing eyes of ladies. The supernatural agency is also there in the form of tiny sylphs who seated on bodkins or candlesticks watch the fight between the parties. The various stylistic devices of the epic exaggeration, Latinism, personification, circumlocution, have been used throughout, and as the subject is trivial the result is ridiculous in the extreme. In this way the epic values are reversed, and we get not the epic, but the mock-epic, a parody of the epic proper.
The Battle of the Books is one of the finest and the greatest of the mock-epics in the language. The exalted epic manner and style have been used effectively for a trivial subject i.e. a literary controversy regarding the comparative merits and demerits of ancient and modern learning.