Supernatural Machinery in The Rape of the Lock

Use of Supernatural Machinery in The Rape of the Lock

 Supernatural Machinery in The Rape of the Lock : Pope, in a letter to Miss Arabella Fermore, asserts his notion about the supernatural machinery in this mock-epic, “The machinery, Madam is a term invented by the critic to signify that part which the Deities, Angels and Demons are made to act in a poem. “

Supernatural Machinery in The Rape of the Lock

Pope implies supernatural-beings the way they were added in the ancient epic like Paradise Lost, Iliad, Odyssey and The Faerie Queene. Thus, Pope added the supernatural machinery to shape his mock-epic like a typical epic because supernatural elements are an essential part of an epic.

What is Ariel Machinery?

Ariel Machinery is the second name of supernatural machinery. Pope takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the play in which a “brave spirit” named Ariel works miracles under Prospero through his magic and other spirits under his order. Similarly, we find Ariel commanding a host of sylphs to protect Belinda. Speaking of sylphs, their concept is also borrowed from the book of a French writer Abb-de-Villars. The book, Le Comte de Gabalis, gives an account of Rosicrucian mythology of spirits. This mythology describes four mythological creatures:

  • Sylphs – Made of air
  • Nymphs – Made of water
  • Gnomes – Made of earth
  • Salamanders – Made of fire

Alexander Pope merges them all together in Platonic fashion that souls are immortal and they live on assuming different shapes. So, Pope’s sylphs are the souls of beautiful women with casual womanish weaknesses. They are called Ariel Machinery because they are supervised and commanded by Ariel, the ones who,

Know then, unnumbered spirits round thee fly,

The light militia of the lower sky.

Supernatural Machinery in Action in The Rape of the Lock

Ariel and his followers are assigned some duties which are described humorously. For instance, one of the duties of the sylphs is to prevent the powder from falling from the cheeks of beautiful women and some of them even teach their ladies how to blush when a handsome boy appears before them. If a lady seems enchanted by the physical charms of a beautiful man, it is replaced by another more beautiful man to divert that woman’s attention.

Ariel also assigns the duties of different sylphs to safeguard Belinda as he can see a danger lurking through the hands of time. One sylph is employed to fan Belinda while the other one is appointed to take care of Belinda’s ear-rings; the third one was chosen to defend her watch and the forth was to guard her favourite locks. Ariel threatened the supernatural beings of ‘severe’ punishments if they fail in their job. These punishments are also described in a humorous manner:

  • To be encaged in little bottles
  • To be pierced through pins
  • To be held fast in the eye of a bodkin (a tool used in creating holes in clothes or lather)
  • To be fixed up in gums and pomades (hair jail)

Sylphs come along her when Belinda enters into the Hampton Court. They hover around her when she takes coffee. They leave her when Ariel takes a look of “an earthly lover lurking at her heart” [this becomes a turning point when Ariel realizes that there is no use to use his supernatural force to protect Belinda as she is no “chaste” and takes a fancy to earthy boys. ]. Belinda’s cherished locks are cut,

Even then before the fatal engines closed,

A wretched sylph fondly interposed;

Fate urged the shears, and cut the sylph in twain.

Umbriel (a gnome) heads to the cave of Spleen and brings a bag full of sighs, sobs, screams and outbursts of anger, and a phial filled with fainting fits, gentle sorrows, soft briefs, etc. all of which are poured upon Belinda. While the sylphs witness the “glorious” sight of Belinda’s locks rocketing “for the moon”.

Opinion of Companions and Critics

Addison, Pope’s companion advised him not to add supernatural machinery in the mock-epic but Pope ignored his suggestion. A critic, John Dennis is not impressed by the use of supernatural elements in this poem. According to him, these elements are far beyond Christian beliefs and do not leave an absurd impression in the mind of a sensible reader.


Despite these negative criticism, Pope’s use of Ariel machinery was essential to create a mock-epic effect. It not only mimics the epic ‘grandeur’ of Milton and Homer, but also provide some moments of a silent laughter for a modern reader.

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