Politics, Print, and the Popularisation of English Mock-Heroics, 1650-1750
Responsable du projet Emma Depledge
Résumé ‘Politics, Print, and the Popularisation of English Mock-Heroics, 1650-1750’ investigates the impact that seventeenth-century political crises and agents involved in the print market had on the emergence, development and popularisation of mock-heroic poetry, and its establishment as a quintessentially English genre. Beginning with the aftermath of the English Civil Wars and the publication of early travesties, and ending with the publication of Alexander Pope’s final changes to /The Dunciad/ and the decline in mock-heroics, this project seeks to expand our understanding of Augustan poetry and the English print market of the period.

Mock-heroic poetry can be defined as a satirical branch of poetry in which elevated, grandiose language and form ¬– akin to that found in classical epics – is used to present minor or trivial topics and characters. Samuel Butler’s /Hudibras/ (1662) may be seen as the earliest English mock-heroic poem, with Alessandro Tassoni’s /La Secchia Rapita/ (‘The Rape of the Bucket’, 1622) and Nicolas Boileau’s /Le Lutrin/ (‘The Lectern’, 1674) representing the genre in Italy and France respectively. These texts, which are intended to amuse, are closely related to the travesty, a French genre in which classical or elevated subject material is discussed irreverently through vulgar, monosyllabic language. With both mock-heroics and the travesty there is incongruity between form and content. The mock-heroic adopts elevated style, such as hyperbole, heroic couplets, and high-flown diction in order to present trivial subjects, like the theft of a bucket. The travesty, by contrast, can be seen to debase its elevated subject material through the use of litotes, clichéd language, and feminine rhymes. As the seventeenth century progressed writers and publishers increasingly strove to distinguish mock-heroics from travesties, and disparage the latter as a lower, foreign art form practiced by lesser poets.

Critics have deliberated over that which is being mocked or satirised by mock-heroics, be it a poem’s subject matter, or the epic genre itself. I see the subjects of the poems as the primary targets of scorn. The effects mock-heroics create have also been the topic of scholarly debate, and I would echo Richard Terry’s observation that the mock-heroic has ‘neither one technique nor one effect: it encompasses a variety of authorial attitudes and tones’. Where I differ from Terry and others is in my insistence that the ‘attitudes and tones’ of mock-heroic poems do not simply stem from the authors but are equally shaped and informed by printers, typesetters, booksellers, readers, collectors, and so on. Indeed, one of the major contributions my project aims to make is the demonstration that the mock-heroic genre was crucially shaped by agents of the book trade.

Mock-heroics are intimately related to late seventeenth and eighteenth-century politics and publishing. Mock-heroics were part of the popular print market, print runs were high, costs were low, and there is strong evidence to suggest that people from different socio-economic groups purchased copies of texts like Hudibras. Mock-heroic poems made important contributions to philosophical and aesthetic debates of the Augustan period, including the ‘Ancients versus Moderns’ disputes. I will therefore also examine how mock-heroics were understood and defined by contemporary commentators by considering texts such as Boileau’s /Art Poétique/ (1674), Walter Harte’s /An Essay on Satire, Particularly on the Dunciad/ (1730), Zachery Grey’s /Critical, Historical, and Explanatory Notes upon Hudibras/ (1752), and articles issued in the periodical press. I will pay special attention to volumes in which mock-heroic poems are bound with critical essays because the decision to append critical essays to any given poem significantly impacts the status of both the genre and the individual texts. Equally, as French and Italian mock-heroics were translated and printed in England one observes a process through which the genre was reclaimed as English, distinguished from its close (French) cousin the travesty, and deployed as anti-Catholic propaganda. /Hudibras/ was written in response to the English Civil Wars, while the emergence of later sub-genres, such as the mock-biblical, the mock-succession, and the mock-medical, coincided with key moments in English social and political history. It is thus my contention that a full understanding of the emergence and development of the mock-heroic is inseparable from the situation of the genre within the contexts of early book history and contemporary politics.
Mots-clés Restoration, Translation, Mock heroics, poetry, politics, publishing, book trade, stationers, print, pirate publication, civil war, genre, satire, Alexander Pope, Samuel Butler, Samuel Garth
Type de projet Recherche fondamentale
Domaine de recherche German and English languages and literature
Source de financement FNS Early Postdoc.Mobility
Etat Terminé
Début de projet 1-2-2015
Fin du projet 31-7-2016
Budget alloué 77'886.00
Contact Emma Depledge