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A mock-heroic is a type of satirical poetry or parody popular in the post-Restoration and Augustan periods in Great Britain. After the translation of Don Quixote, by Miguel Cervantes, English authors began to imitate the inflated language of Romance poetry and narrative (see, for example, Orlando Furioso) to describe misguided or common characters. The most likely genesis for the mock-heroic, as distinct from the picaresque, burlesque, and satirical poem is the comic poem Hudibras , by Samuel Butler in 1672-1674. Butler's poem describes a "trew blew" Puritain knight during the Interregnum in language that imitates Romance and epic poetry. After Butler, there was an explosion of poetry that described a despised subject in the elevated language of heroic poetry and plays.
Poet Laureate John Dryden is responsible for some of the dominance among satirical genres of the mock-heroic in the later Restoration era. While Dryden's own plays would themselves furnish later mock-heroics (specifically, "The Conquest of Granada" is satirized in the mock-heroic "The Author's Farce"/"Tom Thumb," by Henry Fielding), Dryden's MacFlecknoe is perhaps the locus classicus of the mock-heroic form. In that poem, Dryden indirectly compares Thomas Shadwell with Aeneas by using the language of Aeneid to describe the coronation of Shadwell on the throne of Dullness formerly held by King Flecknoe. The parody of Virgil satirizes Shadwell.
After Dryden, the form continued to flourish, and there are countless minor mock-heroic poems from the period. Additionally, there were a few attempts at a mock-heroic novel. The most significant later mock-heroic poems were by Alexander Pope. Both Rape of the Lock and Dunciad employ the language of heroic poetry to describe despicable or trivial subjects. In the former case, a minor spat over a snipped lock of hair receives the treatment of an heroic battle. In the latter case, the progress of Dullness over the face of the earth, the coming of stupidity and tastelessness, is treated in the same way as the coming of civilization is in the Aeneid (see also the metaphor of translatio studii).
By the time of Pope, however, the mock-heroic was giving ground to narrative parody, and authors such as Fielding led the mock-heroic novel into a more general novel of parody. Ironically, the ascension of the novel drew a slow end to the age of the mock-heroic, which had originated in Cervantes's novel.
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