Mock heroic


Mock-heroic is a term used to describe poems which use a very grand and formal style to describe a common or trivial subject for which this style is not appropriate. This leads to a comic effect since the style of the poem is mismatched with the subject.
For example:

  • A poem with a hero who does battle with monsters (such as Beowulf) is heroic, and can also be epic if it is sufficiently long
  • A poem in which the central character is not brave or does not have genuine adventures, such as some parts of Byron's Don Juan (1819-24), is mock-heroic.


The style of the mock-heroic poem follows that of the epic closely, particularly in its use of embellished, formal language and elevated vocabulary. However, the mock-heroic poem will exaggerate to the point of bathos, and is likely to produce a comic effect.

The eighteenth century Ode On The Death Of A Favourite Cat Drowned In A Tub Of Goldfishes by Thomas Gray is a good example of the mock-heroic style. He describes the death of his cat in terms of human drama, drawing on classical style to make his subject sound more serious and important, yet undercutting it in the last line of stanzas 4 and 5. Gray also offers a moral which seems humorously out of keeping with the poem's subject matter:

1. 'Twas on a lofty vase's side,
Where China's gayest art had dy'd
The azure flow'rs that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclin'd,
Gazed on the lake below.

2. Her conscious tail her joy declar'd;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw: and purr'd applause.

3. Still had she gaz'd; but 'midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The Genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue
Thro' richest purple to the view
Betray'd a golden gleam.

4. The hapless Nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretch'd in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat's averse to fish?

5. Presumptuous Maid! with looks intent
Again she stretch'd, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smil'd)
The slipp'ry verge her feet beguil'd,
She tumbled headlong in.

6. Eight times emerging from the flood
She mew'd to ev'ry wat'ry god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirr'd;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A Fav'rite has no friend!

7. From hence, ye Beauties, undeceiv'd,
Know, one false step is ne'er retriev'd,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wand'ring eyes
And heedless hearts is lawful prize,
Nor all, that glisters, gold.

Similar genres

The mock heroic style is related to the mock-epic, in which the style of a poem emulates the formal properties of epic poetry to a comic purpose. In the mock-epic form:

  • The poem tends to be long, and divided into cantos, like classical epics
  • The conventions of the epic, such as formal invocations, epic similes, and detailed description of battles, are ridiculed.

Both the mock-heroic and mock-epic are linked to parody and satire. Mock-heroic can be applied to genres other than poetry, including prose (such as Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift) and drama, whereas the mock-epic only applies to poetry.


  • Alexander Pope's long poem The Rape of the Lock (1712-14) is a mock-epic which is also mock-heroic. The poem tells of the pilfering of a lock of hair and parodies the kidnapping of Helen of Troy in The Iliad. The poem also mocks the gods, making them seem petty and quarrelsome
  • Pope's epic The Dunciad (1729) is mock-heroic in style, describing the goddess Dulness and her take-over of England. The poem opens with an epic invocation and mocks the tediousness that Pope sees developing in Britain
  • Lord Byron's poem Don Juan is also mock-epic and mock-heroic. Based on the legends of the womaniser Don Juan, Byron's version depicts a weak-willed man who is an antihero, and whose adventures are amorous rather than dangerous.
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