illustration of a woman holding a glass of wine and a man, Prufrock, standing opposite her

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T. S. Eliot

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What is the relevance of the references to Michelangelo, John the Baptist, Lazarus, and Hamlet in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”?

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The relevance of the references to Michelangelo, Lazarus, and Hamlet in the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and the allusion to John the Baptist (who is not actually referenced by name) show, on the one hand, the ordinariness of the character in the poem, J. Alfred Prufrock, against the seemingly erudite sophistication of the women he would like to meet and interact with and, on the other hand, the pretentiousness of these women against his sincere and down-to-earth demeanor and in contrast to the elevated status of lofty characters such as Hamlet and Michelangelo.

Prufrock himself tells us that he is not Prince Hamlet. In fact, far from being royal or noble or of any elevated status, Prufrock is humble and lowly, at least in his own estimation. He calls himself an “attendant” who can “advise the prince” and is “glad to be of use.” In his own words, Prufrock is deferential. By comparison, the women who come and go and with whom Prufrock would like to interact are not humble or deferential. The refrain

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo

is repeated twice for emphasis to inform the reader that the women conduct conversations about the great artists. While the women might believe that this shows their well-rounded education and elite backgrounds, the reader is also to understand that it shows their pretentiousness, as well. They are putting on airs for anyone who overhears their conversation.

By comparison, Prufrock neither puts on airs nor prepares his face “to meet the faces that [he] meet[s].” He is as he appears: a balding, middle-aged man who questions his ability to reach out to a woman and enjoy the pleasures of life and relationships before it is too late.

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