Synopsis of Canto 3: The action opens in ritzy Hampton Court; there, gossips have gathered to chat, and “at every word a reputation dies.” Here also Belinda is having a card game (ombre) with the Baron, and the card game is described on pages 55-58 like an epic battle, with the various kings, queens, and knights assaulting, retreating, and dying on the “velvet plain” (the card table). The Baron seizes a moment in the climax of the game to seize Belinda’s precious locks, assisted by Clarissa, who gives him a deadly weapon (a pair of scissors). He cuts them off and she shrieks hideously while he glowers in evil triumph.
Synopsis of Canto 4: Crushed by the weight of her tragedy, Belina is insensible. So Umbriel, one of the spirits, goes down to the underworld (echoing The Odyssey, where Odysseus visits Achilles in death) to seek an audience with the Queen of Spleen. For 18th century audiences, spleen is a substance in the body which makes people moody, depressed, sullen, and even angry. In the poem, it’s a place of nonsense and irrationality, where men get pregnant and “maids turned bottles, call aloud for corks.” Umbriel convinces the Queen of Spleen to give her a bag full of fears, sorrows, passions, and rage, which she brings back to Belinda to assist her in the battle against the Baron. The Amazon, Thalestris, is also trying to rouse Belinda’s fighting spirits, reminding her that she will be the laughing stock of all London. She also tries to convince the Baron to release the lock, but he refuses. Belinda is distraught and cries, “Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize/Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!”
Answer TWO of the following:
Q1: While Pope’s initial target in his satire is Arabella Fermor, how can we tell he is more specifically targeting upper-class society? How does he satirize the behaviors, customs, or ideas of the English aristocracy in Cantos III and IV?
Q2: Though it’s very amusing to compare a card game to an actual war, or the rape of a lock with the abduction of a queen, why might Pope suggest that in his society, such comparisons actually make sense? That is, despite the humor, why might a noblewoman actually lament the loss of her lock, or the loss of a card game? What are the stakes to losing these in 18th century society, according to the poem?
Q3: Some critics/readers have suggested that the Queen of Spleen and her court represents an attack on women. Do you find this passage misogynistic? Is he making fun of the affectations and behaviors of women of his society? Or is he merely poking fun at certain types of women? And clues to tell one way or another?
Q4: Why does Ariel give up protecting Belinda’s lock in Canto 3? What does he see that makes him abandon the field and consign Belinda to her dreadful fate?