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Mock Epic
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In the film genre, you may have heard of the concept of a 'parody'. These are movies that mimic the characters, plotlines and style of well-known films or genres in a way that is overly exaggerated and humorous to mock the original creation.


Did you know that parodies even exist in poetry? They are known are mock-epic poems. Read on to learn more about the definition, characteristics and examples of mock-epic poetry.

Mock epic definition

Mock epics are literary works that parody or mock the stereotypes of Classic epic poems. They do so by mimicking the lofty and elegant writing style of epic poems while writing about trivial and non-heroic issues and characters that generally do not need such grandiose treatment. This contrast between the writing style and the subject matter is so absurd that it makes the mock-epic poem sound ridiculous and funny.


Mock epic poetry is also sometimes referred to as mock-heroic.


Epic poetry: Long narrative poems chronicling the adventures and deeds of extraordinary heroic characters.


Mock epics fall under the genre of satire, as they make use of sarcasm, irony and exaggeration to make fun of an original piece of work.


Satire: Fictional literature that uses wit, sarcasm, irony, imitation and exaggeration to ridicule or shame an individual, company, government or even society itself. It is a form of social commentary that makes use of humour to draw attention towards a certain subject.


In the 17th century, the epic style of poetry came under a lot of criticism for being unrealistic and traditional in nature. This led to the popularity of satirical literature as they criticised old habits and values in a way that was humorous and meaningful. This context led to the birth of the parody of the epic genre - mock epics.


The mock-heroic style gained popularity in Italy in the 17th century. Lo scherno degli dèi (1618), which translates to The Mockery of Gods by Francesco Bracciolini, was the first ever mock epic poem to be printed.


The mock epic gradually moved to Great Britain in the post-Restoration and Augustan periods (1690-1744), a period best known for its wit and modernity. Hudibras (1662–1674) by Samuel Butler is generally regarded as the first English mock epic to be published, as it chronicles the adventures of an undesirable and unheroic protagonist in an epic-style verse.

Difference between epic and mock epic

Mock epic poetry parodies epic poetry. So to understand what mock epic poetry is, it is important to understand the meaning of epic poetry.


An epic poem is a long narrative poem centred around the adventures and deeds of heroic characters. There are many other characteristics of an epic poem.


  1. A heroic protagonist with extraordinary and divine qualities such as immense courage, strength, honour and virtue.
  2. The hero's journey - a dangerous journey the hero must undertake to complete a task of cosmic importance, such as saving their country, future generations or even the human race.
  3. Powerful and otherworldly antagonists and obstacles that the hero overcomes, despite all odds being against them.
  4. Supernatural forces like gods, angels, and demons.
  5. Multiple exotic and fantastical settings involving foreign countries, continents and realms. It may be set in an unidentifiable time period in the distant past.
  6. A formal and elevated writing style that is unlike colloquial language.
  7. A consistent metric pattern and rhyme scheme.
  8. Lengthy speeches and battles.
  9. An omniscient narrator


The Illiad (8th century BC) by Homer is an epic poem that is set during the Trojan War (1194–1184 BC), the war between the Trojans and the Achaeans. It depicts the last few weeks during the siege of the city of Troy. The war was a result of Paris of Troy's kidnapping of Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who is the younger brother of the Achaean commander Agamemnon.


Mock Epic Difference between epic and mock epic StudySmarterFig. 1 - Illustration of a battle scene in The Illiad


Mock epic poems have the same exact characteristics as epic poems. However, imagine replacing the brave and valiant hero of an epic poem with someone who is clumsy, foolish and cowardly. Or even reducing the hero's journey to something that is trivial and insignificant. To make it even funnier, imagine describing these unheroic characters and trivial issues in lofty and flowery language that does not fit the subject matter of the poem. That is what a mock epic poem aims to do. They parody the sophisticated writing style, heroic characters, unrealistic plotlines and other genre conventions of traditional epic poems.


Alexander Pope's 'The Rape of the Lock' (1712) is a mock epic that parodies Homer's The Illiad, where Pope uses the same language and writing style as Homer but replaces the kidnapping of Helen with the theft of a woman's lock of hair. The subsequent battle that follows is not the Trojan War but a game of cards.

Mock epic characteristics

Although mock epic poems mirror many of the characteristics of epic poems, there are a few additional characteristics in mock epic poetry that add the 'mock' to the 'epic'.

Flawed heroes

This is perhaps the most common characteristic of mock epic poems.


Mock epics parody the ridiculously unrealistic and unachievable heroic qualities bestowed upon the protagonists in epic poems.


Hence, mock epics feature misguided or common characters who are foolish, cowardly, clumsy and unlikeable. However, sometimes they are given the stature and importance of a heroic protagonist, who is powerful, admired and considered 'noble' despite not being so. This contrast makes the heroic treatment of the protagonist absurd and humourous to the readers, as if they are the only ones able to see the protagonist's foolishness.


Lord Bryon's Don Juan (1819) parodies the romantic hero by writing a mock epic poem that traces the misadventures of an innocent and naive protagonist that is easily seduced by women. Throughout the poem, the readers see Juan struggle to find his way out of seemingly ridiculous and comical situations.

Exaggeration

Trivial and everyday situations in mock epic poems are given the same significance and glorification as the insurmountable obstacles that occur in the hero's journey in epic poetry. The use of inflated language and epic-style narration to describe seemingly silly and ridiculous events adds to the humour of mock epics.


In 'The Rape of the Lock' (1712), Alexander Pope uses the same eloquent language and narrative style to describe a game of cards as Homer did to describe the Trojan War in The Illiad. Instead of suiting in battle armour and shields, the protagonist, a petty woman, is shown to get ready for the card game using pins and combs - her battle weapons.

Here flies of pins extend their shining rows

Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, billet-doux

Now awful Beauty puts on all its arms.


Canto I (121-148)

Bathos


While most epic poems end by invoking pathos, mock epics do the complete opposite. They end in bathos.


Pathos: A literary device where writers deliberately try to evoke strong emotions of empathy and identification between the readers and their protagonists, with the use of certain word choices, meaningful language, characterisation etc.


Bathos: a literary device where there is a sudden shift in the mood of a story, from serious and elevated to funny and absurd.


Mock epics create a build-up of tension and anticipation whilst leading up to the climax. However, this tension is quickly resolved by a sudden shift in tone, where the situation is downscaled from being serious and significant to silly and ridiculous. This leads to a sort of anti-climax, where the reader's tension and anticipation for a climax amount to nothing. Instead, they are reminded of the fact that even though the events on paper were glorified and given heroic treatment, they are, in reality, petty and trivial.


Bathos can be created by inserting jokes in between an intense and climactic scene. Bathos can also be achieved by inserting a Deus ex Machina, a plot device where an intense climactic scene is suddenly resolved by a simple and funny solution.

Social commentary

Writers of mock epics aim to make the readers laugh at the absurdities occurring in the poem whilst also making them think. As is typical in the satire genre, poets have often used mock epics to criticise individuals, governments, religions, traditions and society in a humourous and witty way.


'London' (1738) is a satirical poem where Samuel Johnson uses epic-style narration to criticise the city of London. The poem takes readers through political and social issues such as crime, corruption and poverty that plague the city. Towards the end of the poem, Johnson also attacks the government under Rover Walpole and George II. He does so by comparing the government's actions to that of Roman emperors during the decline of the Roman Empire.

Propose your schemes, ye senatorian band,

— lines 244–247

Humour

Humour exists in all forms in mock epics and is essential to the genre. Mock epics are known for their use of sarcasm, irony, imitation, and exaggeration all make mock epics cleverly-constructed comedies.


While mock epics may deal with social and political commentary, it does so in a manner that is lighthearted and funny. This approach is ideal to soothe the criticism and ridicule that mock epics often inflict on their subjects and save the genre from coming across as too serious, judgemental and offensive.


Mock epic examples

Here are a few prominent examples of classic mock epics that guarantee a good laugh.

'The Rape of the Lock' (1712) by Alexander Pope

This article has already discussed Alexander Pope's 'The Rape of the Lock' (1712) for best illustrating all the characteristics of a mock epic poem. The use of the word 'rape' in the title of the poem already emphasises the exaggerated importance the poem gives to the theft of a woman's lock of hair, which is treated as a heinous crime that needs to be avenged. The conclusion of the poem is a 'battle' of cards, with no swords or shields but the killing eyes of ladies in petticoats.


The poem's language and storyline loosely mimic the writing style and structure of Homer's The Illiad.


Mock Epic Examples of mock epic StudySmarterFig. 2 - Illustration of 'The Rape of the Lock' (1712) by Alexander Pope


In this poem, Pope makes a critical commentary on aristocratic society, which is depicted to be petty and arrogant, squabbling over trivial matters such as a woman's chastity and beauty.

But since alas! Frail beauty must decay,

Curled or uncurled, since locks will turn to grey,

Since painted or unpainted, all shall fade…

(lines 25-32)

'Mac Flecknoe' (1682) by John Dryden

In this poem, John Dryden builds an elaborate narrative story that is actually an attack on Thomas Shadwell, another prominent poet.


In this story, poet Mac Flecknoe is the ruler of the realm of nonsense. However, as his reign comes to an end, he chooses his son Thomas Shadwell as the successor for being 'confirm'd in full stupidity' (line 18).


What follows is a mock coronation of Thomas Shadwell, where Dryden, through the voice of Fecknoe, delivers a speech highlighting Shadwell's merits (or lack thereof). Layered with wit, sarcasm and irony, the poem is a condemnation of Shadwell's writing and personality.


Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,
(lines 15-18)

Trivia (1716) by John Gay

In this poem, Gay loosely mimics Virgil's Georgics by following the heroic couplet structure used by Virgil in 29 BCE. The poem details the not-so-threatening perils of walking in London in the 1700s and gives practical advice on how to survive boot-shopping, overflowing gutters, falling masonry, pickpockets, wig thieves and puddles, all the while maintaining a serious and formal tone.

Then let the prudent walker shoes provide,
Not of the Spanish or Morocco hide;
The wooden heel may raise the dancer's bound,
And with the scallop'd top his step be crown'd:
Let firm, well-hammer'd soles protect thy feet
Through freezing snows, and rains, and soaking sleet.
Should the big last extend the shoe too wide,
Each stone will wrench the unwary step aside:
The sudden turn may stretch the swelling vein,
Thy cracking joint unhinge, or ankle sprain;
Canto I)


Mock Epic - Key takeaways

  • Mock epic poetry is poetry that parodies the stereotypes of Classic epic poems.
  • They do so by mimicking the elegant writing style of epic poems while writing about trivial issues and characters that generally do not need such grandiose treatment.
  • Mock epic poetry falls under the genre of satire, as it makes use of sarcasm, irony and exaggeration to mock a piece of work.
  • Characteristics of mock epic poetry are:
    • Flawed heroes
    • Exaggeration
    • Bathos
    • Social Commentary
    • Humour
  • A few prominent examples of classic mock epic poetry are:
    • 'The Rape of the Lock' (1712) by Alexander Pope

    • 'Mac Flecknoe' (1682) by John Dryden

    • Trivia (1716) by John Gay




References
  1. Fig. 1 - Public domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iliad41.jpg
  2. Fig. 2 - Public domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_rape_of_the_lock_pg_36.jpg

Frequently Asked Questions about Mock Epic

Mock epic poetry consists of literary works that parody or mock the stereotypes of Classic epic poems. They do so by mimicking the lofty and elegant writing style of epic poems while writing about trivial and non-heroic issues and characters that generally do not need such grandiose treatment. 

A few prominent examples of classic mock epic poetry are:

  • 'The Rape of the Lock' (1712) by Alexander Pope

  • 'Mac Flecknoe' (1682) by John Dryden 

  • Trivia (1716) by John Gay

Mock epic poems have the same exact characteristics as epic poems. However, imagine replacing the brave and valiant hero of an epic poem with someone who is clumsy, foolish and cowardly. Or even reducing the hero's journey to something that is trivial and insignificant. To make it even funnier, imagine describing these unheroic characters and trivial issues in lofty and flowery language that does not fit the subject matter of the poem. That is what a mock epic poem aims to do. They parody the sophisticated writing style, heroic characters, unrealistic plotlines and other genre conventions of traditional epic poems.


Features of mock epic poetry are:

  • Flawed heroes
  • Exaggeration
  • Bathos
  • Social Commentary
  • Humour

Mock epic poetry is also sometimes referred to as mock heroic poetry.

Final Mock Epic Quiz

Mock Epic Quiz - Teste dein Wissen

Question

What are mock epics?

Show answer

Answer

Mock epics are literary works that parody or mock the stereotypes of Classic epic poems. 

Show question

Question

How do mock epics parody epic poems?

Show answer

Answer

Mock epics mimick the lofty and elegant writing style of epic poems, but while writing about trivial and non-heroic issues and characters that generally do not need such grandiose treatment. This contrast between the writing style and the subject matter is so absurd that it makes the mock-epic poem sound ridiculous and funny. 

Show question

Question

What is another name for mock epics?

Show answer

Answer

Mock epic poetry is also sometimes referred to as mock heroic poetry. 

Show question

Question

What is the difference between epic and mock epic?

Show answer

Answer

Mock epic poems have the same exact characteristics as epic poems. However, imagine replacing the brave and valiant hero of an epic poem with someone who is clumsy, foolish and cowardly. Or even reducing the hero's journey to something that is trivial and insignificant. To make it even funnier, imagine describing these unheroic characters and trivial issues in lofty and flowery language that does not fit the subject matter of the poem. That is what a mock epic poem aims to do. They parody the sophisticated writing style, heroic characters, unrealistic plotlines and other genre conventions of traditional epic poems.

Show question

Question

Describe the protagonist of mock epics.

Show answer

Answer

Mock epics feature misguided or common characters who are foolish, cowardly, clumsy and unlikeable.

Show question

Question

How do mock epic poems use bathos?

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Answer

Mock epics create a build-up of tension and anticipation whilst leading up to the climax. However, this tension is quickly resolved by a sudden shift in tone, where the situation is downscaled from being serious and significant to silly and ridiculous. This leads to a sort of anti-climax, where the reader's tension and anticipation for a climax amount to nothing. Instead, they are reminded of the fact that even though the events on screen were glorified and given heroic treatment, they are in reality, petty and trivial. 

Show question

Question

Which poem does 'The Rape of the Lock' (1712) by Alexander Pope parody?

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Answer

'The Rape of the Lock' (1712) by Alexander Pope is a parody of The Illiad (1598) by Homer

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Question

What genre do mock epics fall under?

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Answer

Mock epics fall under the genre of satire, as they make use of sarcasm, irony and exaggeration to mock a piece of work. 

Show question

Question

What is the definition of bathos?

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Answer

Bathos is a literary device where there is a sudden shift in the mood of a story, from serious and elevated to funny and absurd. 

Show question

Question

Give three examples of mock epic poems.

Show answer

Answer

Prominent examples of classic mock epic poetry are:

  • 'The Rape of the Lock' (1712) by Alexander Pope

  • 'Mac Flecknoe' (1682) by John Dryden 

  • Trivia (1716by John Gay

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