The Verse That Stings



Ian Hislop celebrates the sharp, deflating barbs of Alexander Pope and the 18th Century satirists, 300 years since the publication of The Rape of the Lock.

Ian first came across Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift and the poems of the 18th Century Scriblerus club at school and later studied them at university. He was struck by these rude, offensive and funny poems about the government, the aristocracy and the machinations of power.

As the editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye, Ian views a direct line between his work and Pope's biting satire. Pope and his circle of literary friends debated how offensive their satires should be and whether or not to name and shame subjects.

Ian meets Armando Iannucci, the creator of television satires including The Thick Of It and Veep, who compares the rhythms of Alexander Pope's couplets to the comedian's perfect punch line.

Ian visits Hampton Court Palace, the setting of the long poem that made Pope's name, The Rape of The Lock. Professor Judith Hawley of Royal Holloway University, helps uncover its true story of a trivial confrontation between two leading Catholics of the time.

Professor Edith Hall of Kings College London describes how Pope and the Scriblerians were in awe of Juvenal, Rome's most vitriolic satirist. And Christopher Reid, author of Six Bad Poets a farce in verse about London's literary establishment, explains why some poets are reluctant to write satires today.

Producer: Paul Smith

A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.