Spleen was the Augustan name what Elizabethan described as melancholy. It is less of a disease than a fashionable affectation. Fashionable ladies, poets, and playwrights pretend to suffer from it so as to give an impression that he victims are serious thinkers of creative writers. Pope exalts Spleen to the level of Goddess and cave of Spleen to the level of underworld and personifies her as the Queen of underworld. This suits his scheme to mock the epic conventions systematically because the serious epics like “Illiad” and “Aenied” show heroes taking a voyage to the underworld. In travesty of this convention, however, Pope packs a lot of social criticism, especially the criticism of fashionable vanities and affectations of the fashionable women.
Sylphs were in attendance to Belinda when she plays Omber. They hover around her when she sips coffee. They withdraw when Ariel sees “an earthly lover lurking at her heart”. A gnome, called ‘Umbriel’ holds the place of Ariel. After the rape of the lock of Belinda, Umbriel wanted to inflict her with Spleen. So he took a journey to the underworld to the cave of spleen.
It is reported that the Queen of Spleen as a capricious and eccentric goddess holds full control over the fashionable ladies ranging from fifteen to fifty. She, the Goddess of Spleen is the aspiration behind the affectation of melancholy as well as the pretension to the poetry by the female sex.
The effect of Spleen on the women varies according to their temperament. While some consults the physician for their treatments. Some begin to write scurrilous plays and those who are proud give them an air and try to delay their visit as to show their importance.
While speaking of the cave of Spleen, Pope gives a vivid picture of the fantastic vision to which the men and women plagued with spleen are exposed to. At the moment we see flaming devils and snakes erected on their coils, lustrous ghosts, opening sepulchers and red fires and the other moment we visualizes the lakes of liquid gold, scenes of paradise, transparent places and angles coming to solve the difficulties in human life. Thus the description of the cave of Spleen is highly symbolic and conveys the accurate picture of the people suffering from Spleen.
Moreover, Pope points out the illusion from which morbidly melancholic people suffer. Such people are often plagued with fantastic ideas or visions and often imagine themselves transformed into various objects.
Then, there are two hand maidens who wait upon the Goddess of Spleen, are Ill-Nature and Affectation. Apparently, it is seemed that Pope has delineated the pictures of two hand-maidens just to emphasize the splendour of Goddess of Spleen. But since Spleen, Ill-Nature and Affectation are the typical feminine vices in Pope’s time, therefore, the delineation of their portraits provide the vivid picture of the fashionable women who affected so many things.
Ill-Nature is presented as an ugly, wrinkled and decayed woman who pretends to be virtuous and pious but essentially a vicious creature who takes delight in murdering reputations of the other people. The black and white lines of her dress presents the contrast between her pretension and reality – the while colour suggests purity, innocence and religiosity and the black colour suggest malice, envy and scorn. In fact, Pope has satirized the double role of the woman’s nature of his times who pretends to be pious and virtuous just to maintain their good reputation i.e. the woman of his age gives importance to their reputation than their virtues. In other words they are hypocrite.
The, Pope delineates the portrait of the Affectation, the second hand maiden of the Goddess of Spleen. Affectation is personified as an old woman who is beautiful, young and tender though she is fairly old. Delineation of the portrait of the Affectation provides a vivid picture of the fashionable woman. It includes a sharp, ironical commentary on the vanity, frivolity d hypocrisy of fashionable women.
There Affectation, with a sickly mien,
Shows in he cheek the roses of eighteen,
Practiced to lisp, and hang the head aside,
Faints into airs, and languishes with pride,
On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe,
Wrapt in a gown, for sickness, and for show.
The fair ones feel such maladies as these,
When each new night-dress gives a new disease.
Then, the bag, which the Goddess of Spleen gives to gnome, Umbriel, is the clever mimicry of the bag in which Ulysses entrapped the winds. The bag contains all the violent and noisy emotions while the Phial contains the noisiest sort of sufferings. This bag is indicative of female weaknesses. Thus, Pope seems to imply that the women are capable of all sorts of antics to demonstrate their sufferings.
To sum up, the visit to the cave of Spleen is introduced for the sake of mock-heroic effect, which gives an opportunity to the poet to satirize the evil nature and the affectations of ladies and gentlemen of his society. Furthermore, it also serves the action of the poem.