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Eliot’s Alteration of Renaissance Drama through Frazer in The Waste Land

L’altération du théâtre de la Renaissance à travers Frazer dans The Waste Land de T.S. Eliot
Todd Williams
p. 59-72

Résumé

Cet article utilise le concept de T. S. Eliot selon lequel les textes postérieurs influencent notre lecture de textes antérieurs, concept qu’il a développé dans son essai « Tradition and the Individual Talent ». Le poème d’Eliot The Waste Land fournit peut-être l’exemple le plus clair de cela par l’utilisation qu’il fait des allusions. Dans ce poème il est fait souvent allusion à diverses œuvres du théâtre anglais de la Renaissance par des auteurs tels que Kyd, Middleton, Webster et Shakespeare. Eliot choisit des œuvres spécifiques de ces auteurs en raison de leurs liens au thème de la fertilité et de la sexualité qui sont proéminentes dans The Waste Land. Il est probable que l’influence la plus importante sur la vision d’Eliot du poème est l’ouvrage anthropologique de James Frazer The Golden Bough. Cet article tente de montrer comment l’utilisation par Eliot de Frazer dans The Waste Land amène le lecteur à reconsidérer les œuvres du théâtre de la Renaissance auxquelles il est fait allusion dans le poème en terme de fertilité contre stérilité. Ainsi Eliot propose une perspective originale à partir de laquelle lire ces pièces de théâtre, qui ouvre des pistes d’interprétation nouvelles et intéressantes.

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Entrées d’index

Index thématique et géographique :

Grande-Bretagne, Great Britain, literature, littérature, société, society
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Texte intégral

  • 1  Milton Miller, “What the Thunder Meant.” ELH. 36.2 (1969 June), 454.
  • 2  Peter Milward, “Shakespeare in The Waste Land,”  in Poetry and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare: Es (...)

1In arguably his most important critical essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” T. S. Eliot explains how contemporary works of literature necessarily alter our reading of literary works from the past. Eliot set out to accomplish such an alteration with highly allusive poems such as The Waste Land. As Milton Miller writes, “Eliot’s use of literature in his poetry is also an interesting form of literary criticism”1. In The Waste Land, Eliot cites James Frazer’s multi-volume anthropological work The Golden Bough as a primary source. Eliot also cites and alludes to many works of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama throughout the poem. Peter Milward says that Eliot’s use of Shakespeare “suggests a reinterpretation” of his plays2. This is no less true of all of the Renaissance playwrights that Eliot makes use of in the poem.  Many critics, such as Lionel Kelly, Marc Manganaro, and John B. Vickery, have explored The Waste Land for its Frazerian elements. Others have looked at the relevance of the Renaissance dramas that Eliot alludes to throughout the poem. I propose that Eliot’s use of Frazer in the poem relates directly to his use of Renaissance drama. The Waste Land permanently alters our readings of these dramas, so that we are forced to see the Frazerian elements in them.

  • 3  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, New York: Mentor, 1959, 339-340.
  • 4  John B. Vickery, The Literary Impact of  The Golden Bough. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Pre (...)
  • 5  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 187.
  • 6  John B. Vickery, The Literary Impact of  The Golden Bough, op. cit., 244.

2Frazer originally published his classic multi-volume anthropological work The Golden Bough in 1890. In it, Frazer explores ancient cults, rites, religions, and myths, showing their parallels with Christianity. In his notes to The Waste Land, Eliot cites the two volumes entitled Adonis, Attis, Osiris as the two which he owed the greatest debt. These two volumes deal with dying and reviving gods. In Theodor H. Gaster’s useful abridgement and revision of Frazer, The New Golden Bough, Adonis, Attis, and Osiris are grouped with other dying and reviving gods mentioned in Frazer including Marsyas (the hanged god), Hyacinth, Dionysus, and Persephone. These gods, according to Frazer, were linked with the life cycle, seasons, and most importantly, the vegetation cycle3. Eliot, of course, uses images of fertility and the lack of fertility throughout The Waste Land—most prominently in the poem’s final section. Frazer also discusses the vegetation ceremonies that were inspired by fertility gods.  These ceremonies often include human and animal sacrifices, sometimes even the sacrificial death of the king. According to Frazer, kings were often put to death in order to preserve the vegetation cycle. Vickery mentions “The Golden Bough’s numerous accounts of sacred kings who participate in the ritual drama of sacrifice that reenacts the myth of the dying and reviving god”4. The king in primitive cultures, according to Frazer, was “often thought to be endowed with supernatural powers or to be an incarnation of a deity, and consistently with this belief the course of nature is supposed to be more or less under his control, and he is held responsible for bad weather, failure of the crops, and similar calamities”5. As with the dying god, the death of the sacred king promises a renewal of fertility. Eliot uses Frazer’s models of death and resurrection, and sterility versus fertility, in The Waste Land as a commentary on the spiritual and emotional infertility of the 1920s. Vickery says that the poem as a whole presents man’s “reclamation of the knowledge of religious consciousness”6. In essence, the poem is about man reclaiming his own soul, which Eliot feels man has lost both spiritually, by lacking religious conviction, and emotionally, by lacking a sense of self. Using the Frazerian images of dying and reviving gods, Eliot sees the need for a kind of sacrificial death for a renewal of the soul of mankind.

  • 7  James Frazer, The Golden Bough (1890),New York: Penguin, 1996, 127.
  • 8  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 125.

3Sexual immorality and sexual impotence are also important themes in The Waste Land, and Eliot relates both to spiritual and emotional infertility. Frazer discusses the relationship between sexual immorality and not only human fertility, but also the fertility of vegetation. Frazer writes, “illicit love tends, directly or indirectly, to mar that fertility and to blight the crops”7. Eliot was critical of the expression of sexuality in his time at both extremes. In his poem, we see many characters who are sterile because they have immoral or meaningless sex, such as the clerk and the typist in “The Fire Sermon,” as well as characters who are sterile because they lack desire or passion, such as the giver of hyacinths in “The Burial of the Dead.” Frazer discusses the link that many primitive cultures had between marriage, especially that of kings and queens, and vegetation. He explains that “trees and plants could not be fertile without the real union of the human sexes”8. Eliot follows Frazer’s model in relating both cases to the sterility of vegetation. Eliot finds the essential emotional and spiritual union lacking in modern sexual experience.

  • 9  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays: 1917-1932. New York: Harcourt, 1932, 112.

4Here we may begin to draw connections between Frazer and Renaissance drama in The Waste Land in that sexual immorality is a common theme in the specific dramas that Eliot alludes to in the poem. In one of his many essays on the Renaissance, Eliot refers to the time as a “period of dissolution and chaos”9. He relates the dissolution and chaos of the Renaissance, which is evident in the drama of the time, to that of the 1920s. As Eliot’s The Waste Land does for the twenties, Renaissance plays show the need for death as a Frazerian restoration of fertility to their own period. Death is often used in Renaissance drama as a cleansing of life-defying evil that is necessary to restore order and fertility.

  • 10  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 100.
  • 11  George Williamson, A Reader’s Guide to T. S. Eliot, New York: Noonday, 1966, 153.
  • 12  Grover Smith, T. S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956, 97-98.
  • 13  Peter Hays, “T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land,” Explicator, 42.4 (1984 Summer), 37.
  • 14  Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (1586), New York: Manchester University Press, 1996, 23.

5Let us begin our exploration of the dramas by looking at how Eliot’s Frazerian alteration of Renaissance drama affects Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (1586). The Spanish Tragedy gives us a good model to begin with as many later Renaissance dramas draw material from it. In his essay “Marlowe,” Eliot says that “Kyd has as good a title to the” honor of “father of English tragedy” as Marlowe10. Eliot alludes to Kyd’s play at the end of The Waste Land with the line, “Hieronimo is mad again” (432). This is word-for-word a subtitle that was added to later edition’s of the play. Critics have made several connections between Kyd’s play and Eliot’s poem. George Williamson, among others, points out that Hieronimo kills his son’s murderers while putting on a play in various languages, just as Eliot uses several languages at the point in the poem where the allusion appears11. Grover Smith sees another connection when he says that Hieronimo’s biting off of his own tongue is significant in relation to the inability to communicate that Eliot shows especially in “A Game of Chess”12. More important for my purposes is the connection Peter L. Hays makes between the play and Frazer when he parallels Hieronimo’s murdered son Horatio with Frazer’s hanged god13. Indeed Horatio’s death is similar to that of Frazer’s hanged god, Marsyas, and to that of Attis, another hanged or tree god related to fertility by Frazer; like these two gods, Horatio is hanged and mutilated. Furthermore, Horatio’s parents relate his death to water and storm imagery. Isabella, his mother, mourns his death by saying “O gush out, tears, fountains and floods of tears, / Blow, sighs, and raise an everlasting storm” (II, v, 44-5). His father, Hieronimo, who becomes central to the restoration of order in the play, says “To drown thee with an ocean of my tears”14. This imagery implies that, like the sacrificial god, death has brought on rain and water necessary for the restoration of vegetation.

6However, this restoration does not come about immediately, and it is not achieved without further sacrifice. Horatio’s death is a death of fertility of the type that we will see in several Renaissance tragedies. He is killed because he and Princess Bel-Imperia are in love.  The evil Prince Balthazar wants Bel-Imperia for himself, and Bel-Imperia’s brother wants her to wed Balthazar as well. When these two princes murder Horatio, they are breaking apart two genuine lovers and disabling their ability to procreate. We know that Bel-Imperia will not willingly bear Balthazar’s children. Horatio’s murder is, in this sense, related to infertility, but the revenge that Hieronimo takes at the play’s end is the restoration of order. Therefore, like the deaths and revivals of Frazer’s fertility gods, Horatio’s death represents a time of infertility, but it is necessary for the restoration of fertility. Though The Spanish Tragedy ends in mass death, in a moral sense fertility is restored as Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia kill the two evil princes. We can relate the two revenging characters in the play, who also die, to the human sacrifices that were seen as necessary in the primitive fertility ceremonies that Frazer describes.

  • 15  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 77.

7Kyd’s ghost Andrea also relates to Frazer’s reviving gods who restore fertility. A ghost who seeks revenge, much like the King in Hamlet, he succeeds in bringing about the death necessary for restoration. Frazer mentions that sometimes the rain-charm operates through the dead15. Andrea was also killed by Balthazar, which kept him from his love, Bel-Imperia, who loved Andrea before Horatio. Andrea is also kept from procreating with his love because of his murder, but he is resurrected as a ghost to see to the restoration of fertility, along with his allegorical companion Revenge. Revenge relates their revenge on Balthazar to a harvest when he says, “Thou talk’st of harvest when the corn is green. / The end is crown of every work well done; / The sickle comes not till the corn be ripe” (II, vi, 7-9). Here, Balthazar’s death is specifically equated with the time of the harvest.

  • 16  Peter Hays, “T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land,” op. cit., 37.
  • 17  Geraldo de Sousa, “Thomas Middleton: Criticism since T. S. Eliot,” Research Opportunities in Renai (...)
  • 18  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 140.
  • 19 Ibidem, 147.

8Hays also points out that Kyd’s play is, like The Waste Land, a condemnation of selfish lust16. This is no less true of several of the Renaissance dramas that Eliot alludes to.  One example isMiddleton’s Women Beware Women (1621-4). Eliot is among the most important critics of Thomas Middleton17. His admiration for the playwright is evident when he refers to him as “one of the best, dramatic writers of his time”18.  Eliot says of Middleton’s comedy, “it introduces us to the low life of the time” better than almost anything else19. Of course “A Game of Chess,” where Middleton is most prominent, also gives us a glimpse of “low” individuals, particularly in the pub scene. The title of this section of The Waste Land is an almost exact echo of that of Middleton’s political/religious allegory A Game at Chess (1624). In this play a white, English, Protestant team of chess pieces defeats a black, Spanish, Catholic team. Of course, any game of chess is won by capturing a king, a figure that we can relate to Frazer’s kings who must be killed. In the political/religious terms of this play, the spiritually faulty king is defeated to restore order. The language is distinctly Frazerian when the White King returns the Black team to their bag at the play’s end.  He refers to the bag as “the fittest womb” (V, iii, 216). This ironic use of the womb image implies the infertility of the Black, spiritually faulty, team. For them the womb is not a place of nourishment, but rather a prison.

  • 20  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 144.
  • 21  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 145.
  • 22  James Frazer, The Golden Bough, op. cit., 198.
  • 23  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 125.

9Though this section of The Waste Land appears to get its title from Middleton’s A Game at Chess, Eliot cites Middleton’s Women Beware Women as the source. This play, which Eliot saw as one of Middleton’s finest20, contains not only a chess game but also the theme of lust that Eliot and Frazer see as detrimental to fertility. The play begins with Leantio leaving his new bride, Bianca, with his mother while he goes on a trip. Bianca is related to fertility early on in the play as Leantio and his mother are constantly concerned with her ability to bear him children. Leantio promises to make his mother a grandmother “in forty weeks” (I, i, 109). Bianca, however, does not prove a loyal wife—Eliot calls her a woman “purely moved by vanity”21—and her fertility is destroyed through her adultery.  Eliot’s notes refer us specifically to the scene in the play where Bianca is seduced by the Duke, and begins her adulterous affair: “And we shall play a game of chess, / Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door” (lines 137-8). Leantio’s mother is preoccupied in this scene by a chess game she is playing, and does not notice her daughter-in-law’s whereabouts. Thus Eliot draws our attention to the illicit sex in the play. This scene, however, is only the beginning of sexual immorality in Women Beware Women. There is an adulterous and incestuous affair between Hippolito and his niece Isabella, who marries a Ward but maintains the relationship with her uncle. And Leantio himself becomes an adulterer after his wife by having an affair with Hippolito’s sister, Livia. The play’s conclusion relates to Frazer in a way that must be taken as at least partially ironic. Livia becomes the revenger after her lover, Leantio, is killed in a plot by the Duke that will allow him to marry Bianca. At the wedding of the Duke and Bianca, a ceremony of Juno, whom Frazer acknowledges as a fertility goddess22, is put on, with Livia playing Juno. As in The Spanish Tragedy, the murderous revenge takes place during the performance. One must see the irony in a fertility ceremony resulting in mass death, and of a fertility goddess committing murders. However, this mass death is necessary, in Frazerian terms, for the restoration of fertility. In the end it is the six adulterous characters that die. Frazer discusses how fertility ceremonies at weddings were connected to vegetation as well as human fertility23, but this wedding has the conflict of illicit sex, and, of course, murder, both of which are contrary to both types of fertility.  

10The John Webster plays that Eliot uses in The Waste Land have similar concerns with fertility. Although Eliot never wrote an essay specifically devoted to Webster, his drama is more dominant in The Waste Land than anyone’s but Shakespeare’s. In the first two sections of the poem, Eliot alludes to three of Webster’s plays, the two major tragedies, The Duchess of Malfi (1612-14) and The White Devil (1612), and the little known tragicomedy, The Devil’s Law Case (1619). The resolution or restoration of fertility at the conclusion of The Devil’s Law Case is dependent on a dramatic device often used in tragicomedy: that is, the revival of one or more characters who were thought dead. In the play, Jolenta and Contarino want to marry, but Jolenta’s brother, Romelio, and mother, Leonora, have arranged for her to marry Ercole. Contarino and Ercole fight a duel over her and are both wounded badly; it is assumed that they will both die. Ercole is first to revive, but suddenly admires Contarino and decides that he will “continue the report” of his own death so that “he [Contarino] may live to enjoy what is his own, / The fair Jolenta” (II, iv, 20-1). Here Ercole sees his death as necessary to preserve the relationship of the two lovers, and thus to preserve fertility. This is similar to the necessary human sacrifice in vegetation ceremonies that Frazer describes.

  • 24  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 118.

11Of course, Contarino must revive as well. His revival in particular is necessary for the happy, order-restoring, ending. Eliot stresses the revival of Contarino as his notes on the line “The wind under the door”24, refer us to the scene of Contarino’s revival. When Contarino lets out a groan, the Second Surgeon is unsure of the sound and says, “Is the wind in that door still?” (III, ii, 147). This scene is especially interesting in terms of Frazer as Contarino is actually revived when he is stabbed by Romelio. By stabbing Contarino, the First Surgeon explains, Romelio “made free passage for the congealed blood” (III, ii, 149). Here Contarino is both murdered and revived at the same moment, which makes clear the necessity for death in order to restore fertility. The play is brought to a happy conclusion in the end when Contarino reveals that he is alive. Fertility is restored when he is then free to marry Jolenta, and also when Romelio is forced to marry the woman he illicitly impregnated.  

12Illicit sexuality is an even bigger theme in Webster’s two major tragedies. The White Devil centers on Vittoria, who has an adulterous affair with the Duke of Bracciano, and consents to the murder of her husband, Camillo, by her brothers, Flamineo and Marcello.  Bracciano also has his wife, Isabella, killed so that he can be with Vittoria. One may read the play’s conclusion as a restoration of fertility as the murderers and adulterers are all killed and Isabella’s son Giovanni takes over the dukedom. However, Giovanni is also Bracciano’s son and shows loyalty to his father. Thus, the restoration at the conclusion of this play is not as clear as that of The Duchess of Malfi, which I will discuss shortly.  

  • 25  Linda Constanzo Cahir, “T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and John Webster’s The White Devil: An Explic (...)
  • 26  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 274.
  • 27 Ibidem, 255.

13Eliot refers us to The White Devil on two occasions in The Waste Land. The first allusion comes in lines near the end of “The Burial of the Dead.” As the speaker mentions a buried corpse Eliot writes, “Oh Keep the Dog far Hence, that’s friend to men. / Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again” (74-5). These lines are taken from the dirge that Cornelia sings to her dead son Marcello in Webster’s play. Eliot alters the lines from the play only slightly.  Webster’s version reads, “But keep the wolf far thence, that's foe to men, / For with his nails he'll dig them up again.” The most striking change is Eliot’s replacement of “the wolf’ with “the Dog.” Linda Constanzo Cahir explains this change by considering the significance of the dog according to Jung, where it represents “renewal and rebirth”25. Frazer himself mentions dogs in The Golden Bough. In his discussion of taboos and kings, he says that “the Greenlanders believed” their most powerful god “would certainly die if he touched a dog”26. Here the dog is a messenger of death. However, the death of a king is often equated with revival in Frazer. Frazer also mentions the dog when he says that the corn-spirit from peasant folklore is believed to take the form of a dog and a wolf as well as many other types of animals27, maintaining the canine’s relation to fertility.

14The second use of The White Devil in The Waste Land comes in the line “Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider” (408). Eliot refers us to the scene in the play where Flamineo has arisen after faking death to chastise Vittoria and Zanche, who thought they had killed him. The lines themselves are meant to criticize women and their disloyalty.  But the scene as a whole is more important than these lines as it gives us another image of resurrection that leads to the restoring of order. Directly after this resurrection of Flamineo, the evil characters, Flamineo included, are discovered and killed.

15The White Devil also contains resurrected ghosts like those we see in The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet, who encourage murder for the restoration of fertility. The first of these is Isabella, who returns to encourage her brother to revenge her death. Francisco says, “To fashion my revenge more seriously, / Let me remember my dead sister’s face” (VI, i, 98-9). Her ghost appears at this point and inspires him to plan the revenge that he eventually takes on her murderers at the play’s end. Later in the play, the ghost of Bracciano appears and persuades Flamineo to murder Vittoria. His attempt to murder Vittoria eventually leads to the mass death of evil characters at the play’s conclusion, which is necessary to restore fertility.

  • 28  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 98.
  • 29  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 71.

16The final Webster play that Eliot makes use of is The Duchess of Malfi. Eliot describes the play as an “example of a very great literary and dramatic genius directed toward chaos”28. The chaotic Renaissance Webster presents in the play does provide a parallel to Eliot’s chaotic 1920s, but also works with the The Waste Land’s Frazerian aspects. The Duchess of Malfi is the most obviously Frazerian of the Webster plays that Eliot alludes to, mainly because of the Duchess’s association with fertility. The Duchess is related to fertility throughout the play, and her brothers are enemies of fertility. From the first act we see that her brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, do not want their widowed sister to remarry. When she goes against their wishes and secretly marries Antonio, their marriage proves fecund as she bears him several children. Her brothers want to, and eventually do, stifle her fertility even after her marriage. First, they separate her from Antonio, upon which she says, “My laurel is all withered” (III, v, 93), relating their separation to a death of vegetation. Then her brothers destroy her fertility when they have her killed along with all but one of her children. The death of the Duchess in the play represents a Frazerian death of fertility. However, we can read the ending as fertility restored not only because the evil characters die, but also because the Duchess’s only surviving child takes the throne and restores her fertile blood to power. The Duchess is also associated with Frazerian fertility because she and her brother, Ferdinand, are twins. According to Frazer, “There is a widespread belief that twin children possess magical powers over nature, especially over rain and weather”29. Thus, when Ferdinand has his sister killed we can read it as bringing about a drought by separating twins. Ferdinand goes mad after his sister’s murder, which we can interpret as his suffering at his own loss of power, or his own sterility because of his twin’s death.

  • 30  B. C. Southam, A Guide to the Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot, New York: Harcourt, 1994, 160.
  • 31  Valerie Eliot (ed.), The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript, New York: Harcourt, 1971, 104-107

17B. C. Southam cites three allusions that Eliot makes to The Duchess of Malfi in the poem, all in “A Game of Chess.” The first comes when Eliot writes, “Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair / Spread out in fiery points / Glowed into words, then would be savagely still” (108-10). These lines refer to the scene where the Duchess’ marriage is discovered by Ferdinand30. Eliot refers us to this moment in the play to stress the eventual destruction of fertility that arises from Ferdinand’s discovery. The other two allusions refer to the Duchess in captivity in the moments before her murder (161-2). Eliot uses these allusions to stress the importance of the death of the fertile Duchess. Interestingly, the drafts of The Waste Land include a section entitled “The Death of the Duchess” which alludes very extensively to Webster’s two tragedies31. One can see in the existence of these omitted passages how prominent Webster’s plays were in Eliot’s vision of The Waste Land.

  • 32  B. C. Southam, A Guide to the Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot, op. cit., 138.

18Despite the obviously strong influence of Webster, Eliot alludes to Shakespeare’s dramas more often than to those of any other Renaissance playwright in The Waste Land.   Anthony and Cleopatra is alluded to in the opening lines of “A Game of Chess”: “The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne” (77). Here Eliot refers us to the scene in the play where Anthony and Cleopatra had first met as reported by Enobarbus. Anthony has just accepted a new bride in a truce with his rival Caesar, but Enobarbus knows that he will return to Cleopatra. Cleopatra is compared to Venus, the goddess of love, in this speech (II, ii. 200). Anthony’s love for Cleopatra consumes him; he commits adultery against Fulvia until her death, and, more dangerously, against Octavia, Caesar’s sister who Anthony misuses. Anthony and Cleopatra’s intemperate, illicit affair eventually leads to both of their downfalls. In a Frazerian reading, as I have established, an illicit affair is destructive to fertility.  It is also appropriate that the illicit affair in Anthony and Cleopatra takes place in Egypt. The opening lines of The Waste Land, according to Southam, among others, refer us to April, the time of drought in Egypt as described by Frazer in Adonis, Attis, Osiris32.

19Coriolanus also refers us to a time of drought as the play begins in the aftermath of a great famine. The famine causes the protest of the lower class, and Coriolanus’ lack of sympathy for them leads to his forced exile and eventually to his death in the play’s conclusion. Eliot refers to “a broken Coriolanus” (416) in the section of “What the Thunder Said” that tells us “Dayadhvam” or to sympathize (412). Eliot sees sympathy as one of the things necessary to end the famine.

20A more obviously Frazerian play by Shakespeare that Eliot alludes to in The Waste Land is Hamlet. Eliot specifically refers us to Ophelia’s madness with the line, “Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night” (71), an exact echo of Ophelia’s line in the play (IV, v, 72-3). In terms of Frazer, we can see Ophelia as a sacrifice Hamlet must make on his way to restoring fertility. Tim Gooderham points out that she “suffers Death by Water,” a theme that Eliot returns to throughout the poem. Because of the nature of her death, we can also relate Ophelia to the drowned god, Osiris, whom Frazer sees as a fertility god.  Ophelia, however, is perhaps less strikingly Frazerian than other aspects of the play. Hamlet himself relates to a Frazerian sacrifice, or one whose death is necessary to bring about the restoration of order. He takes on legendary, almost godlike, status in the ceremonious observation of his death that Fortinbras orders. Kenneth Branagh follows this interpretation in his 1996 film version of the play, where Hamlet is carried out at the end in the shape of a cross, relating him to Christ or to a Frazerian tree god of fertility. If we read Norway’s conquering at the end as a restoration of order and fertility, we must see Hamlet’s death and the deaths he causes as necessary to bringing it about.

  • 33  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 390.

21Of course, Hamlet’s father provides another example in Renaissance drama of a resurrected figure who appears to encourage the necessary revenge. Frazer actually relates Hamlet to Egyptian mythology in The Golden Bough. “When Horus the younger, the son of Osiris and Isis, was grown to man’s estate,” writes Frazer, “the ghost of his royal and murdered father appeared to him and urged him, like another Hamlet, to avenge the foul unnatural murder upon his wicked uncle”33. Here King Hamlet is related to Osiris, another resurrecting figure who is also murdered by his own brother.

  • 34  Tim Gooderham, “Shakespeare and Tragedy in The Waste Land,” Critical Survey,  3.2  (1991): 178.
  • 35  Gayle Greene, “Shakespeare’s Tempest and Eliot’s Waste Land: ‘What the Thunder Said,’” Orbia Litte (...)
  • 36  Ronald Tamplin, “The Tempest and The Waste Land,” American Literature, 39 (1967): 352.

22The connection to Osiris also applies to Prospero in The Tempest. The Tempest is the most prominent Renaissance drama in The Waste Land, and perhaps the most Frazerian as well. Gooderham calls it “the play that is placed closest to the heart of the poem”34. A great deal has been written about Eliot’s use of The Tempest in The Waste Land, some of it even making the connection to Frazerian themes. Gayle Greene writes, “The Tempest functions like the various fertility myths Eliot used to structure the poem, to suggest the question of rebirth and redemption”35. Ronald Tamplin, and others to a lesser extent, argues that Eliot was strongly influenced by Colin Still’s Shakespeare’s Mystery Play, which looks at The Tempest in connection with “vegetation and mystery rites”36. As Greene suggests, rebirth, or revival, is a central theme in Shakespeare’s play. Prospero is a reviving character who relates to Frazer’s work in several ways. He parallels Frazer’s account of Osiris in that both were sent out to sea by their brothers to drown. Osiris revives, and Prospero likewise survives. Prospero also relates to the magical kings described by Frazer, who control rain. Prospero is actually a Duke, but he is king of his island, and he is magical. At the beginning of the play, it is Prospero who creates the tempest, which leads to the restoration of order and fertility.

23Prospero is not the only one in the play who is mistakenly thought dead, however. All three of Eliot’s allusions to the play refer us to the moment in the play where Prince Ferdinand has washed ashore, and is mourning his father, King Alonso, who he believes has drowned in the storm. Ferdinand laments, “Sitting on a bank, / Weeping again the King my father’s wrack, / This music crept by me upon the waters” (I. ii. 390-2). He then hears the music again in Ariel’s song, “Full fathom five thy father lies, Of his bones are coral made: / Those are pearls that were his eyes” (I. ii. 397-9). Eliot echoes variations on these lines throughout his poem, emphasizing the theme of drowning. Of course, Ferdinand’s father has survived, and the two are reunited in the play’s happy conclusion. This scene is also significant because it is the first scene where Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, sees Ferdinand, whom she later marries. The marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand is representative of fertility in the play. The marriage ceremony that Prospero gives them is similar to the ceremony of Juno, which we recall was used ironically by Middleton. Shakespeare’s ceremony is attended by goddesses of fertility, Iris (the Rainbow goddess), Ceres (goddess of agriculture), and of course Juno, who blesses the marriage so that it will be fruitful. “Juno sings her blessings on you / Earth’s increase foison plenty” (IV, i, 109-10), sings the goddess, “Spring come to you at the farthest / In the very end of harvest” (114-5). The marriage of Miranda and the Prince serves as part of the general restoration of order at the play’s conclusion. In the end all are forgiven, and Prospero is rightfully restored to his dukedom. The marriage of his daughter to Ferdinand is the restoration of Prospero’s bloodline to royalty, as his daughter will someday become the queen of Naples.

24The Renaissance dramas that Eliot alludes to throughout The Waste Land always end with a restoration of order from chaos. Sometimes that order is restored through forgiveness, as in The Tempest and The Devil’s Law Case, and sometimes it is restored through death, as in the tragedies we have looked at. Eliot’s overall purpose in using these dramas was to create a parallel to the restoration of order that he is calling for in The Waste Land. Eliot uses a Frazerian model in the poem that relates the chaos of his time to sterility, and sees the possible restoration as one of fertility. Because of this Frazerian model, combined with Eliot’s use of Renaissance drama, readers of The Waste Land are forced to see the plays that Eliot makes use of in terms of Frazer. Thus Eliot gives us a fresh perspective from which to read these dramas, which opens up new and interesting possibilities for interpretation.

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Bibliographie

Works cited

CAHIR Linda Costanzo, “T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and John Webster’s The White Devil: An Explication of Two Lines,” Yeats Eliot Review: A Journal of Criticism and Scholarship,  14.4 (1997 Spring): 43-44.

DE SOUSA Geraldo, “Thomas Middleton: Criticism since T. S. Eliot,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama, 28 (1985): 73-85.

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ELIOT T. S., Selected Essays: 1917-1932, New York: Harcourt, 1932.

ELIOT Valerie (ed.), The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript, New York: Harcourt, 1971.

FRAZER, James, Adonis, Attis, Osiris (1922). New York: St. Martin’s, 1990, Vol. 4 of The Golden Bough.

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Notes

1  Milton Miller, “What the Thunder Meant.” ELH. 36.2 (1969 June), 454.

2  Peter Milward, “Shakespeare in The Waste Land,”  in Poetry and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare: Essays in Honour of Professor Shonosuke Ishii’s Seventieth Birthday. Tokyo: Sambi Printing Company, 1982, 218.

3  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, New York: Mentor, 1959, 339-340.

4  John B. Vickery, The Literary Impact of  The Golden Bough. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973, 246.

5  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 187.

6  John B. Vickery, The Literary Impact of  The Golden Bough, op. cit., 244.

7  James Frazer, The Golden Bough (1890),New York: Penguin, 1996, 127.

8  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 125.

9  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays: 1917-1932. New York: Harcourt, 1932, 112.

10  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 100.

11  George Williamson, A Reader’s Guide to T. S. Eliot, New York: Noonday, 1966, 153.

12  Grover Smith, T. S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956, 97-98.

13  Peter Hays, “T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land,” Explicator, 42.4 (1984 Summer), 37.

14  Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (1586), New York: Manchester University Press, 1996, 23.

15  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 77.

16  Peter Hays, “T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land,” op. cit., 37.

17  Geraldo de Sousa, “Thomas Middleton: Criticism since T. S. Eliot,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama.28 (1985): 74.

18  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 140.

19 Ibidem, 147.

20  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 144.

21  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 145.

22  James Frazer, The Golden Bough, op. cit., 198.

23  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 125.

24  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 118.

25  Linda Constanzo Cahir, “T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and John Webster’s The White Devil: An Explication of Two Lines,” Yeats-Eliot Review: A Journal of Criticism and Scholarship, 14.4 (1997 Spring): 43.

26  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 274.

27 Ibidem, 255.

28  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, op. cit., 98.

29  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 71.

30  B. C. Southam, A Guide to the Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot, New York: Harcourt, 1994, 160.

31  Valerie Eliot (ed.), The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript, New York: Harcourt, 1971, 104-107.

32  B. C. Southam, A Guide to the Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot, op. cit., 138.

33  James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, op. cit., 390.

34  Tim Gooderham, “Shakespeare and Tragedy in The Waste Land,” Critical Survey,  3.2  (1991): 178.

35  Gayle Greene, “Shakespeare’s Tempest and Eliot’s Waste Land: ‘What the Thunder Said,’” Orbia Litterarum, 34 (1979): 289.

36  Ronald Tamplin, “The Tempest and The Waste Land,” American Literature, 39 (1967): 352.

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Todd Williams, « Eliot’s Alteration of Renaissance Drama through Frazer in The Waste Land », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. II - n°5 | 2004, 59-72.

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Todd Williams, « Eliot’s Alteration of Renaissance Drama through Frazer in The Waste Land », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. II - n°5 | 2004, mis en ligne le 02 novembre 2009, consulté le 05 avril 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/2903 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.2903

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Auteur

Todd Williams

(Ohio, USA)
Todd Williams grew up in the Washington DC area.  He received a Master of Arts in English from the University of New Mexico and is currently pursuing his Doctorate at Kent State University in Ohio, USA, on a teaching fellowship. His focus is on Psychoanalysis and 19th Century English Poetry.  He has taught writing and literature classes at James Madison University, Blue Ridge Community College, UNM and KSU.

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