Mock epic, mock heroic

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Mock epic, mock heroic

Mock epic, mock heroic: A type of high burlesque, the mock epic is a lengthy poem about an utterly trivial subject written in the exalted manner of an epic. Mock epics are not generally intended to mock the epic form or style but, rather, to mock the subject by treating it with a dignity it does not deserve. As numerous scholars and critics have pointed out, however, mock epics inevitably “cut both ways,” for describing ordinary events in lofty terms using classical conventions highlights the amusing inappropriateness of heroic language and style.

Mock heroic is often used synonymously with mock epic but refers more broadly to any work in which a trivial subject is satirized or ridiculed by discussing it in a lofty or grandiose way. In this sense, the mock heroic is a style of writing applicable to either poetry or prose. The mock epic and mock heroic were particularly popular in the Augustan Age.

EXAMPLES: Alexander Pope’s mock-epic poem “The Rape of the Lock” (1712, 1714), which concerns the cutting and theft of a lock of a lady’s hair, begins with an invocation to a muse and later describes a card game as if it were a major military battle.

In Joseph Andrews (1741), Henry Fielding used the mock-heroic style to depict the battle waged by “the heroic youth” Joseph Andrews with eight hounds who have set upon a minister. Challenging “those … that describe lions and tigers, and heroes fiercer than both” to “raise their poems or plays with the simile of Joseph Andrews, who is himself above the reach of any simile,” Fielding described the fight in the following manner:

Now Rockwood had laid fast hold on the parson’s skirts, and stopt his flight; which Joseph no sooner perceived than he levelled his cudgel at his head and laid him sprawling. Jowler and Ringwood then fell on his greatcoat, and had undoubtedly brought him to the ground, had not Joseph, collecting all his force, given Jowler such a rap on the back that, quitting his hold, he ran howling over the plain. A harder fate remained for thee, O Ringwood! Ringwood the best hound that ever pursued a hare, who never threw his tongue but where the scent was undoubtedly true; good at trailing, and sure in a highway; no babler, no overrunner; respected by the whole pack, who, whenever he opened, knew the game was at hand. He fell by the stroke of Joseph… .