Elizabethan and the Modern Setting in The Waste Land

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      Eliot is constantly juxtaposing the present and the past in The Waste Land, drawing parallels as well as contrast in the process. One such juxtaposition is between the Elizabethan and the modern situation which occurs in Section III, "The Fire Sermon".

      Elements of Elizabethan setting: how it is provided: Eliot evokes the Elizabethan references by quoting from Spenser's Prothalamion, alluding to Marvell's To His Coy Mistress, refering to Shakespeare's The Tempest, and evoking the picture of Elizabeth and Leicester sailing in a gilded boat.

Elements of Elizabethan setting: how it is provided: Eliot evokes the Elizabethan references by quoting from Spenser's Prothalamion, alluding to Marvell's To His Coy Mistress, refering to Shakespeare's The Tempest, and evoking the picture of Elizabeth and Leicester sailing in a gilded boat.
Elizabethan Wasteland

      Juxtaposition of the modern setting: The modern parallels to the Elizabethan elements are evoked in the picture of the Thames and the loitering heirs of city directors, the seduction of the typist by the clerk, the fishermen talking and relaxing, and the violation of the three Thames - daughters from Highbury and Margate.

      Significance and function of the juxtaposition: The cross-references between the present and the past serves to focus sharply on the degeneration of values and the spiritual aridity of the present. The parallelism bring a veneer of glamour and superficial gloss to the modern reality. Elizabeth and Leicester bring an illusion of glamour, but in reality their relationship was essentially empty and sterile - as empty and futile as the relationship between the clerk and the typist. The contrast is equally important. The association of Elizabeth and Leicester had a sense of romance which is conspicuous for its lack in the modern relationship symbolised by the typist and clerk which is mechanical and purely on a physical level.

      Conclusion: In the constant juxtaposition of past and present, Eliot found a method which could effectively enlarge the vision of the poem. His sense of history and the past gave hima clearer vision of the present, and he weaves into the texture of the poem a universal dimension. As F.O. Matthiessen observes, this method of compressing into a single moment both the memory and the sameness of other moments is used to great effect in "The Fire Sermon", the section of the poem which deals with the present and the past of London. Squalor pollutes the modern Thames as it did not in Spenser's Prothalamian; but there are also glimpses of beauty in today slook of the Thames.

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