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What Is a Mock Epic Poem?

Lord Byron's "Don Juan" is a famous example of a mock epic poem.
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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 30 June 2014
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A mock epic poem is a piece written in an epic style about a topic that normally would not warrant such a grandiose treatment. Mock epic poetry is a subsection of the larger satirical heroic style, which can be used for anything from novels to comic books. Essentially, the mechanism that makes this type of poem funny is the contrast between the storytelling style and the subject of the poem. It is possible to write a mock epic poem about people, events, or even concepts in some cases. Some examples of this type of poem may lose their satirical meaning to future readers if the original references are lost, resulting in stories that can be read as simple absurd tales.

The form of the mock epic poem varies depending on genre, but most poems of this type draw from stylistic conventions associated with classical literature. Rhyming poems are common, but these are almost always modeled after older poems. While some poems are written to call up images of Greek classics, others imitate traditional English poetry. The same concept could be applied to non-Western poetic traditions as well, though this is much less common.

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Topics addressed in a mock epic poem vary greatly, but it is particularly common to write this type of poem about a person. Don Juan by Lord Byron and Mac Flecknoe by John Dryden are two examples of this strategy. It is also possible to write this type of poem about an event, as is the case in Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock. Many poems of this type follow the trajectory of a Greek classic directly, mirroring actual events in those epic poems.

One of the most interesting features of the mock epic poem is that it depends in part on the classics for meaning. A reader who knows Virgil's Aeneid, for example, is better equipped to understand Dryden's Mac Flecknoe in all its nuanced references. This is not because the poems themselves are unintelligible without these references, but rather because the comparison is not pointed out directly. Satire through comparison depends on knowing the items being compared in order to be understood as humorous, and the reference in these cases is hidden in the style and form of the poetry.

Sometimes, a mock epic poem actually includes the word "parody" or "satire" in its title. In other cases, it is up to the reader to determine how the poem is meant to be taken. Many years of scholarship on this topic have identified poems that were written satirically, but most authors were upfront about the mocking nature of their poems.

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