'The Lady's Dressing Room' by Jonathan Swift

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Five hours, (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Celia spent in dressing;
The goddess from her chamber issues,
Arrayed in lace, brocades, and tissues.
Strephon, who found the room was void
And Betty otherwise employed,
Stole in and took a strict survey
Of all the litter as it lay;
Whereof, to make the matter clear,
An inventory follows here.
And first a dirty smock appeared,
Beneath the arm-pits well besmeared.
Strephon, the rogue, displayed it wide
And turned it round on every side.
On such a point few words are best,
And Strephon bids us guess the rest;
And swears how damnably the men lie
In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.
Now listen while he next produces
The various combs for various uses,
Filled up with dirt so closely fixt,
No brush could force a way betwixt.
A paste of composition rare,
Sweat, dandruff, powder, lead and hair;
A forehead cloth with oil upon't
To smooth the wrinkles on her front.
Here alum flower to stop the steams
Exhaled from sour unsavory streams;
There night-gloves made of Tripsy's hide,
Bequeath'd by Tripsy when she died,
With puppy water, beauty's help,
Distilled from Tripsy's darling whelp;
Here gallypots and vials placed,
Some filled with washes, some with paste,
Some with pomatum, paints and slops,
And ointments good for scabby chops.
Hard by a filthy basin stands,
Fouled with the scouring of her hands;
The basin takes whatever comes,
The scrapings of her teeth and gums,
A nasty compound of all hues,
For here she spits, and here she spews.
But oh! it turned poor Strephon's bowels,
When he beheld and smelt the towels,
Begummed, besmattered, and beslimed
With dirt, and sweat, and ear-wax grimed.
No object Strephon's eye escapes:
Here petticoats in frowzy heaps;
Nor be the handkerchiefs forgot
All varnished o'er with snuff and snot.
The stockings, why should I expose,
Stained with the marks of stinking toes;
Or greasy coifs and pinners reeking,
Which Celia slept at least a week in?
A pair of tweezers next he found
To pluck her brows in arches round,
Or hairs that sink the forehead low,
Or on her chin like bristles grow.
The virtues we must not let pass,
Of Celia's magnifying glass.
When frighted Strephon cast his eye on't
It shewed the visage of a giant.
A glass that can to sight disclose
The smallest worm in Celia's nose,
And faithfully direct her nail
To squeeze it out from head to tail;
(For catch it nicely by the head,
It must come out alive or dead.)
Why Strephon will you tell the rest?
And must you needs describe the chest?
That careless wench! no creature warn her
To move it out from yonder corner;
But leave it standing full in sight
For you to exercise your spite.
In vain, the workman shewed his wit
With rings and hinges counterfeit
To make it seem in this disguise
A cabinet to vulgar eyes;
For Strephon ventured to look in,
Resolved to go through thick and thin;
He lifts the lid, there needs no more:
He smelt it all the time before.
As from within Pandora's box,
When Epimetheus oped the locks,
A sudden universal crew
Of humane evils upwards flew,
He still was comforted to find
That Hope at last remained behind;
So Strephon lifting up the lid
To view what in the chest was hid,
The vapours flew from out the vent.
But Strephon cautious never meant
The bottom of the pan to grope
And foul his hands in search of Hope.
O never may such vile machine
Be once in Celia's chamber seen!
O may she better learn to keep
"Those secrets of the hoary deep"!
As mutton cutlets, prime of meat,
Which, though with art you salt and beat
As laws of cookery require
And toast them at the clearest fire,
If from adown the hopeful chops
The fat upon the cinder drops,
To stinking smoke it turns the flame
Poisoning the flesh from whence it came;
And up exhales a greasy stench
For which you curse the careless wench;
So things which must not be exprest,
When plumpt into the reeking chest,
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the parts from whence they fell,
The petticoats and gown perfume,
Which waft a stink round every room.
Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!
But vengeance, Goddess never sleeping,
Soon punished Strephon for his peeping:
His foul Imagination links
Each dame he see with all her stinks;
And, if unsavory odors fly,
Conceives a lady standing by.
All women his description fits,
And both ideas jump like wits
By vicious fancy coupled fast,
And still appearing in contrast.
I pity wretched Strephon blind
To all the charms of female kind.
Should I the Queen of Love refuse
Because she rose from stinking ooze?
To him that looks behind the scene
Satira's but some pocky queen.
When Celia in her glory shows,
If Strephon would but stop his nose
(Who now so impiously blasphemes
Her ointments, daubs, and paints and creams,
Her washes, slops, and every clout
With which he makes so foul a rout),
He soon would learn to think like me
And bless his ravished sight to see
Such order from confusion sprung,
Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.

Submitted by enile snirkette

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Lady's Dressing Room: A Critical Analysis

Oh, the Lady's Dressing Room, what an intriguing poem this is! Jonathan Swift, the master of satire, wrote this poem in 1732, and it caused quite a stir. It is a poem that has been analyzed and criticized for centuries, and rightly so. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will delve into the poem and explore its themes, literary devices, and Swift's intentions behind it.


Before we dive into the poem itself, let's talk about the context in which it was written. Swift was a satirist, and he often used his writing to critique the society and culture of his time. The Lady's Dressing Room was no exception. It was written during the Age of Enlightenment, a period of intellectual and philosophical growth, but also a time of moral laxity and corruption. Swift was particularly critical of the upper class and the aristocracy, who he believed were hypocritical and immoral.


The Lady's Dressing Room is a poem structured in four parts, each consisting of eight rhymed couplets. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which gives it a singsong quality. The rhyme scheme is ABABCCDD, which is typical of Swift's satirical works. The poem follows the story of a man named Strephon, who sneaks into his lover Celia's dressing room and is disgusted by what he finds. The poem is written in a mock-heroic style, which is a satirical technique that uses the form and language of an epic poem to ridicule a trivial subject.


The Lady's Dressing Room is a poem that explores several themes. The most obvious one is the theme of appearance vs. reality. The poem shows how appearances can be deceiving and how what we see on the surface may not reflect the truth. Strephon is initially infatuated with Celia's beauty and purity, but when he sees the reality of her dressing room, he is repulsed. The poem also explores the theme of gender roles and the power dynamic between men and women. Celia is portrayed as a victim of male gaze and objectification, and Strephon's invasion of her private space is a violation of her autonomy. Finally, the poem touches upon the theme of hypocrisy and the double standards of society. Strephon's disgust at Celia's so-called uncleanliness is hypocritical, as he himself is not without bodily functions.

Literary Devices

Swift uses several literary devices in The Lady's Dressing Room to convey his satirical message. One such device is irony, which is used throughout the poem to highlight the difference between appearance and reality. For example, when Strephon first enters Celia's dressing room, he expects to find a place of pristine beauty, but instead is confronted with a messy and unhygienic space. Another device used in the poem is hyperbole, which is a deliberate exaggeration for effect. Swift uses hyperbole to ridicule the idea of female purity and cleanliness, which was a common cultural trope of the time. Strephon's disgust at what he finds in Celia's dressing room is exaggerated to the point of absurdity, which exposes the hypocrisy of these cultural norms. Finally, Swift uses symbolism to convey his message. The dressing room itself symbolizes the private space of women, which is often invaded and violated by men.

Swift's Intentions

So, what were Swift's intentions behind The Lady's Dressing Room? Well, as I mentioned earlier, Swift was a satirist who used his writing to criticize the society and culture of his time. In this poem, he was specifically targeting the upper class and the aristocracy, who he believed were hypocritical and immoral. The poem is a scathing critique of the cultural norms surrounding female purity and cleanliness, which he believed were used to control and oppress women. By exposing the double standards of society and the hypocrisy of its cultural norms, Swift hoped to spark change and bring about a more just and equitable society.


In conclusion, The Lady's Dressing Room is a fascinating poem that has stood the test of time. It is a poem that explores several themes, such as appearance vs. reality, gender roles, and hypocrisy. Swift uses several literary devices, such as irony, hyperbole, and symbolism, to convey his satirical message. The poem is a scathing critique of the upper class and the aristocracy, who Swift believed were hypocritical and oppressive. It is a poem that challenges cultural norms and exposes the double standards of society. In short, it is a poem that is as relevant today as it was in 1732.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Lady's Dressing Room: A Satirical Masterpiece by Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift, the renowned satirist of the 18th century, is known for his sharp wit and biting criticism of the society of his time. One of his most famous works, "The Lady's Dressing Room," is a scathing critique of the vanity and superficiality of women, as well as a commentary on the limitations of human perception.

The poem, written in 1732, tells the story of Strephon, a young man who sneaks into his lover Celia's dressing room while she is away. Strephon is shocked to find that the room is not the pristine and elegant space he had imagined, but rather a messy and foul-smelling place, filled with dirty clothes, cosmetics, and bodily waste. The poem is a vivid and graphic description of the disgusting reality of a woman's private space, and it is meant to shock and disgust the reader.

At its core, "The Lady's Dressing Room" is a satire of the idealized image of women that was prevalent in Swift's time. Women were expected to be pure, chaste, and beautiful, and their private spaces were supposed to reflect this ideal. However, Swift exposes the reality of women's lives, showing that they are just as human and flawed as men. The poem is a reminder that women are not objects to be idealized and worshipped, but rather complex individuals with their own desires and needs.

The poem is also a commentary on the limitations of human perception. Strephon's shock and disgust at the reality of Celia's dressing room is a reflection of the way in which we often idealize and romanticize the people and things around us. We see only what we want to see, and we ignore the messy and unpleasant realities that lie beneath the surface. Swift is reminding us that we need to look beyond the surface and see the world as it truly is, warts and all.

The poem is also notable for its use of language and imagery. Swift's descriptions of the various items in Celia's dressing room are vivid and graphic, and they are meant to shock and disgust the reader. The poem is filled with scatological references and descriptions of bodily waste, which was highly unusual for the time. Swift's use of this kind of language was a deliberate attempt to shock and offend his readers, and it was highly effective.

The poem is also notable for its use of irony and satire. Swift is mocking the idealized image of women that was prevalent in his time, but he is also mocking the men who hold these ideals. Strephon, the protagonist of the poem, is a young man who is in love with Celia, but he is also a hypocrite. He idealizes Celia and sees her as a perfect and pure object of his desire, but he is also willing to invade her privacy and violate her trust in order to satisfy his curiosity. Swift is using Strephon as a stand-in for the men of his time who held these idealized views of women, but who were also willing to exploit and objectify them.

In conclusion, "The Lady's Dressing Room" is a satirical masterpiece that exposes the hypocrisy and superficiality of the society of Swift's time. The poem is a reminder that women are not objects to be idealized and worshipped, but rather complex individuals with their own desires and needs. It is also a commentary on the limitations of human perception, and a reminder that we need to look beyond the surface and see the world as it truly is. Swift's use of language and imagery is highly effective, and his use of irony and satire is masterful. "The Lady's Dressing Room" is a timeless work of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.

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