What is Heroic Couplet?

What is Heroic Couplet?

heroic couplet

What is heroic couplet?

The heroic couplet is a form of writing that consists of two iambic pentameter lines rhyming together at the end. Why it is called “Heroic”?  Because pentameter verse rhymed or unrhymed, was first used for epic or heroic poetry. As far as English poetry is concerned, it is an important measure. Most of the poetry of the Augustan Age (the age of Dryden and Pope 1660-1750) was written in the same measure.

Look at example from Rape of the Lock by Pope

Of these am I, who thy protection claim,
A watchful sprite, and Ariel is my name.

In English poetry, each line of heroic couplet consists of five feet and each foot consists of two syllables, the second syllable of each foot is stressed. The two lines of the couplet rhyme at the end and the rhyme may be single or double. Pope, the great practitioner of the verse form, generally used single rhymes. In the middle of couplet, there is a pause, termed the Caesura. This pause usually comes after the fourth or the sixth syllable but there are some variations in the placing of the pause may be skillfully it is introduced in keeping with the requirement of the thoughts and emotion.  Sometimes the pause is so slight that it looks there is no pause at all. Further, there variations are not only in the placing of the Caesura but also in its depth.

Now look at given example of an iambic pentameter. This line occurs in sonnet of William Shakespeare:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

If we divide it into feet and syllable then it runs as follows:

                  Shall I / com pare / thee to | a sum | mer’s day

The Background and History of Heroic Couplet

 Chaucer used it for the first time who adopted it perhaps from old French verse. Some of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are in same measure. At the end of the sixteenth century, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Spenser wrote poetry in same form. Spenser wrote Mother Hubbard’s Tale (1597) in heroic measure that is satiric narrative. Shakespeare used it in his sonnets for the last couplet that constitutes a heroic couplet.

Some Elizabethan satirists used heroic couplet but their couplets were uneven and jagged and openly disdainful of its discipline. These satirists include: Lodge, Marston, Donne, and Hall.

Sir George Sandy wrote Metamorphoses in heroic couplet. Milton used it in his few Cambridge poems. Edmund Waller used it in perfect way and was recognized by both Pope and Dryden as their master. Denham style resembles with Waller’s in his Cooper’s Hill. Cleveland’s also wrote some political poems in heroic couplet. He lacked smoothness, but he mastered quality of directness.

The perfection in heroic couplet was brought by Pope and Dryden. Both of them were perfect master of heroic couplet. They made it regular and correct and made it very flexible and refined medium for poetic expression. Dryden wrote nearly thirty thousand couplet and all of them were in heroic form. He also used it in his heroic tragedies.     

Pope made it perfect. The Rape of the Lock is a perfect satiric poem written in heroic couplet. , The Dunciad, Essay on Man and Essay on Criticism are also written in heroic couplets. After them, Dr. Johnson wrote most brilliant works in heroic measure. His Vanity of Human Wishes is his greatest work written in same measure.

 The trend of the couplet turned down after with the start of Romantic Movement. The joined it and left aside the conventions of the neo-classical school of Dryden and Pope. However, some poets like Byron’s English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809) wrote couplet. He was certainly the most classical of all the romantic poets.it