Eliot, Middleton, and Human Nature

Eliot’s praise of Middleton seems to highlight a singular quality in his work: realism, particularly as it applies to human nature. “Middleton is solicitous to please his audience with what they expect;” he admits, “but there is underneath the same steady impersonal passionless observation of human nature” (Eliot 145). Eliot perceives in Middleton’s work an insightful exploration into the quality of humans to inevitably act with human imperfection, to give into their desires.

Eliot most clearly channels this in Part 2 of The Waste Land, when he attempts to write real-sounding dialogue between two sexually competing women.  Titled “A Game of Chess,” it alludes to Middleton’s Women Beware Women, a play where a woman who married beneath her gives into the seductions of a Duke. This reflects the action of Part 2 of The Waste Land: a woman named Lil has a husband who is returning from the war, but a competitor does not believe her appearance is worthy of him. “He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time, // And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said” (Eliot 148-9). Eliot here shows what he believes is the natural tendency for humans to stick to what they perceive as their own milieu. Even if it takes usurpation, like the Duke with Bianca. This belief about humans is part of the natural order to him, what he perceives as real. By using the title “A Game of Chess” for Part 2 of the poem, he channels this aspect of human nature he believes is so present in Middleton’s Women Beware Women.

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