In the early years of the 18th Century a curious event disturbed the Roman Catholic coterie of the English gentry; Lord Petre had had the audacity to cut a ringlet from the head of the society beauty, Miss Arabella Fermor. Not unnaturally, the lady took offence, their two families became estranged, and society took sides. Catholicism was all but illegal at that time, anti-popery riots were becoming common-place, and aristocratic Catholics tended to mix only with their own kind, looking for safety in numbers. It was therefore felt necessary to heal the rift as quickly as possible. To this end a leading member of the set, John Caryll, persuaded Alexander Pope (the so-called "Wasp of Twickenham") to compose a satire of the incident in the mock-Heroic style, in order "to make a jeste of it and laugh them together again."

     The Rape of the Locke  first came out in 1712, then a couple of years later reappeared in a more expanded version, with extra characters, greater social satire, and an added supernatural element, in order more closely to parody the Antique model. At first
Miss Fermor was none too pleased at the imputations to her character, and allusions to her conceit; but she was won over, and was soon circulating the poem enthusiastically amongst her acquaintance, although in fact, the poem still rankled with some members of her family for many years.

     Pope tells how Belinda, a fashionable coquette, is warned in a dream, of approaching disaster by Ariel, her guardian Sylph. She wakes, and attends to her elaborate toilet before embarking with a party by boat to Hampton Court Palace, while Ariel summons his army of Sylphs to protect her. After she defeats two suitors at cards they take coffee, and the impudent Baron cuts off a lock of her hair. She sulks, and the company falls to quarreling over the insult, but eventually, harmony is restored in a satirical apotheosis, when the ravished ringlet is translated to the Heavens.

     Successive generations have hailed it as a masterwork, a delicious blend of learning, satire
and subtle eroticism. Samuel Johnson called it "universally allowed to be the most attractive of all ludicrous compositions." When poets of the Romantic movement regarded it as a charming but superficial work Byron championed it, saying "your whole generation is not worth one Canto of The  Rape of the Locke". It has even acquired the dubious distinction of featuring in the A Level English Literature syllabus ... but don't hold that against it; here is a fine example of comic and dramatic parody, of vigorous and elegant verse, of exciting and sexy story-telling, begging to be spoken aloud!
[click on picture for enlargement]
The year 1711 ... Scandal rocks the Catholic section of London High Society!

Notorious rake 'interferes with' Society beauty -- All Society  up  in  arms! 

Up and coming  poet commissioned to make a lampoon of the incident to defuse situation ...
                     resulting in:--

    Alexander Pope's comic masterpiece              adapted for solo performance by
      John H. Bartlett

Coffee, cards and conspiracy;
           sulks, sylphs and sophistry;
                    tobacco, tears and treachery;
     fans, fashion -- and

* See the ambivalent life and morals of Restoration London, opulent clothes and artificial manners masking squalour and selfishness.
* Hear the libertines and coquettes, even the supernatural creatures, all the characters of Pope's scintillating verse, brought vividly to life by the vocal talent of John H. Bartlett against a detailed recreation of a 17th century Vanitas painting.

      "The most attractive of all ludicrous compositions" (Dr. Johnson): a vivid, graceful, ironical and epigrammatic exposť of human affectation, Pope's comic masterpiece has been claimed as the most 'perfect' poem in English -- it is certainly the campest; especially the way John H. Bartlett does it!

Opulently costumed in 18th Century style, amid meticulously researched properties and furniture, John H. Bartlett's solo performance of this joyous satire presents a glorious portrait of Baroque fashionable life.

"A tour de force ...
                          elegant acting ...
                                              skilled posturing ..."

This production was first presented at the Cabaret Theatre, Exeter & Devon Arts Centre on 15th december 1993.

Click here for
Review of first performance
Vanitas painting
[click on the Memento Mori]
Baroque Acting Techniques
[click on Thomas Betterton]
The Game of Ombre
[click on picture
Pope's address to Miss Fermor
[click on Arabella]
to" That Tiger Life"
the Oscar Wilde show
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