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November 1, 2016

Mock-epic

Definition

Mock-epic (also called mock-heroic or heroi-comic) is a long narrative poem written in mock-heroic style, intended to be humorous. More specifically, mock-epic is a parody of the epic style or manner by treating a trivial subject seriously.

Discussion

The terms mock-epic, mock-heroic, or heroi-comic are virtually interchangeable and are generally applied to literary works which involve either:
  • imitation and burlesque of the structure, attitudes and conventions of the true epic, or
  • ridicule of subject matter by handling an elevated subject in a trivial manner, or
  • treatment of a low subject with epic dignity.
Satire is a fundamental technique used in all mock-epics. Several literary devices such as, irony, exaggeration, and sarcasm are extensively used to achieve the desired satiric effect. During its heyday mock-epic became the favorite genre for a number of notable poets to satirize the contemporary ideas and conditions.

Although used synonymously, the terms mock-heroic and mock-epic exhibit slight difference. In essence the former is a much broader term than the latter. To be specific, mock-heroic refers to any work (either prose or poetry) treating a trivial subject in embellished formal language and elevated vocabulary. Therefore, the term mock-heroic is not merely tagged with mock-epic rather it is applied to any works composed in the aforesaid style and manner. In fine, mock-heroic style is the ridiculed version of traditional heroic style.

Salient Features

A mock-epic usually consists of the following features:
Mock-heroic Characteristics:
  • A sarcastic tone.
  • A trivial or insignificant subject.
  • A protagonist with exaggerated heroic qualities such as, stupidity, amorality, etc.
  • Mockery of heroic style.
Epic-specific Conventions:
  • Invocation in epic tradition.
  • A formal statement of theme.
  • Elaborate descriptions of battles, warriors and their weapons.
  • Use of supernatural machinery.
  • Journeys on water and down to the underworld.
  • Long discussions.
  • Boasting speeches.
  • Use of grand and exalted style of the serious epic.
  • Use of epic similes, or elaborate comparisons similar to Homer.
  • Division of the work into books and cantos.

History

Mock-epic flourished in England during the late 17th and early 18th-century Neoclassical period as a reaction to traditional epic poetry. This genre created ample scope for the poets to expose the follies, vices, and affectations of the contemporary English society. John Dryden (1631–1700) is one of the earliest poets to popularize this genre with his Mac Flecknoe (1682). The poem is a direct attack on Thomas Shadwell (c. 1642–1692), a major contemporary of Dryden.
Alexander Pope

In the 18th century the mock-epic was brilliantly executed in the works of Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Pope's The Rape of the Lock (1712; revised edition 1714) is deemed to be the finest paradigm of mock-epic in any literature. The poem accounts the stealing of a lock of hair of a pretty young lady that resembles the kidnapping of Helen of Troy portrayed in The Iliad. Pope treated the incident as if it were comparable to events that instigated the Trojan War. In this poem Pope did incredibly well in handling a trivial subject in the dignified style of a traditional epic. He incorporated almost all basic conventions of an epic, including the formal invocation, the supernatural machinery, a journey on water, a visit to the underworld, the arming of the epic hero, description of weapons, and a heroically scaled battle.

The Dunciad (1728–1743) is another famous mock-epic by Pope having many qualities of an epic. The poem accounts the conquest of England by Dulness, the daughter of Chaos and eternal Night. Beginning with an invocation to the Muse, Pope mockingly shows how her chosen hero brought decay, imbecility, and dullness to the kingdom of Great Britain.

During this time several prose works were also written in this form, including Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews (1742), which is described by its author as “a comic epic ... in prose.”

In the 19th century Romantic age Lord Byron wrote his long narrative poem Don Juan (1819–1824), which is also considered a mock-epic to some extent. By employing wit, humor, irony, exaggeration, etc. he exposed and satirized the hypocrisy and the corruption of higher society and in turn criticized the poetic tendency of the time as well. It is a mock-epic since his central character neither possesses any heroic property nor does he participate in any genuine adventure other than a few amorous ones.

Although chiefly considered to be flourished in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, its literary lineage reverts back to antiquity. It is assumed that the genre originated with the Batrachomyomachia or The Battle of the Frogs and the Mice, an anonymous burlesque and imitation of Homer’s Iliad. The aforesaid poem shows some tenets of treating a trivial subject by the heroic manner.

Epic vs. Mock-epic

Sl. # Epic Mock-epic
  1.  
Retells an important episode in the life of a hero who embodies the values and ambitions of a particular society. Relates the exploits of a character who shows individualistic traits that the society does not officially approve of.
  1.  
The hero and major characters hail from upper class or nobility. The hero is often a commoner, usually from lower social stratum, though sometimes upper class characters are also chosen.
  1.  
Treats a subject which is important and sublime, having a national interest. Treats an essentially silly or trivial subject infused with personal interest.
  1.  
Intends to narrate the past through the life and heroic deeds of the hero. Intends to expose the foibles and malpractices of society through the outlandish deeds and actions of the hero.
  1.  
Consists of several volumes and much longer in length. Consists a fewer volumes and usually much shorter than the traditional epic.

 

 

 

 

References

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. USA: H & H, 1999

"Characteristics of A Mock Epic”. Reference. 2016. Reference An IAC Publishing Labs Company.
15 October 2016
< https://www.reference.com/art-literature/characteristics-mock-epic-c5b71b52cf5baa7a>.

Cody, David. “The Mock Epic as Genre”. Victorian Web. 2016. Victorian Web. 15 October 2016
< http://www.victorianweb.org/previctorian/tech/mockepic.html>.

"Epic". Microsoft Encarta. DVD-ROM. Redmond: Microsoft, 2005.

Griffith, Benjamin W. A Pocket Guide to Literature and Language Terms. New York: Barron's, 1976

Gupta, A.N. and Satis Gupta. A Dictionary of English Literature. 2nd ed. Bareilly: PBD, 1995

" Mock-heroic”. Wikipedia. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 15 October 2016
< https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mock-heroic>.

" Mock- epic”. Encyclop√¶dia Britannica. 2016. Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, Inc. 15 October 2016
< https://global.britannica.com/art/mock-epic>.

 “Mock Epic”. bachelorandmaster.com. 2016. bachelorandmaster.com. 15 October 2016
< http://www.bachelorandmaster.com/literaryterms/mock-epic.html#.V_npGvSLWf8>.

“Mock Heroic”. crossref-it.info. 2016. crossref-it.info. 15 October 2016
< http://crossref-it.info/articles/412/Mock-heroic>.

Watt, Homer A. and William W. Watt. A Handbook of English Literature.
New York: Barnes & Noble, 1946

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