The first time I read the line “O O O O that Shakespearian Rag / It’s so elegant / So intelligent” I figured that Eliot was poking fun at the reader by overtly alluding to Shakespeare when so many of the other allusions are mainly obscure lines lifted from his plays. In Eliot’s time, I assume this passage is something contemporary readers would have easily recognized and connected with, even if they didn’t know their Tempest, Anthony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, or Titus Andronicus. In that way, these lines date the poem. Shakespeare is, in a sense, timelessly engrained into western culture, but ragtime music, though new and relevant in Eliot’s day, is now dated. As other have pointed out, this connects the ancient/old to the modern. I like that this passage takes place in the husband’s head, and I love the sound of it. If Dr. Drouin hadn’t sung it, I would not read it as I do now, but it certainly has a singsong quality.
In my book, I don’t remember when, I wrote “distillation into cheap entertainment.” I’m not sure how I originally meant this, but the reference to this song does reveal the ways in which entertainment changes over time, from Shakespearian drama to ragtime music. This is the sort of song that was sung at music halls or pantomimes in London during Eliot’s time. An uneducated solider drafted into WWI may not be able to connect to Shakespeare, but he can to songs such as these. And even if one were educated who went through such trauma, their idea of entertainment might be diluted or perverted; by being disillusioned with or critical of the heavy topics of early plays. Sound is important to the rest of the poem and this is a prominent and lyrical example.