Episode 9: Scylla and Charybdis, ~pp 182-215

What They Are Saying, Episode 9

Stephen still a precocious prodigy (Budgen); Bloom yet a ghost (Tindall). They sometimes pass on separately charted courses, sometimes adrift. So far, neither benefits. 

Young Dedalus has a dual purpose for mooring at the museum. He will deliver Deasy’s letter to The Homestead and AE. Secondly, he intends to pitch his theory of Shakespeare as King Hamlet for publication and profit. The premise is straightforward and easily defensible: Shakespeare identifies with the father, a man of similar age, not the son. But Stephen intends to duel with three-headed Scylla: Best, Lyster, and Eglinton. AE doesn’t engage, having already excluded Dedalus/Joyce from publication in his poetry compilation.

Scylla is pedantic, particularly Eglinton, but Stephen hopes to impress rather than convince. His logic is panoramic, arguing comparisons that are marital, filial, financial, professional, fatherly and built on elements of Shakespeare’s life. He cites dozens of classical sources, sometimes inaccurately and inadequately. In Stephen’s argument, Joyce includes a misrepresentation of the Bard’s lawsuit over a few bags of malt, for example. Although Joyce knew better, Stephen claims the suit was brought against a fellow actor. Joyce shapes Stephen’s character (until his union with Bloom) with a willingness to compromise the facts to best Best and exercise his Will. 

According to William Tindall, Dedalus hammers out a comparison between the playwright and the play. Joyce nailed a third leg to the comparison.


KingPrinceQueenSuitor
Wm. ShakespeareHamnetAnneRichard Shakespeare
GhostPrinceGertrudeClaudius
BloomStephenMollyBoylan/Mulligan

Some researchers suggest Shakespeare’s three brothers as Anne Hathaway’s lovers. Richard is the most likely substitute for Anne’s ghosted husband. If we examine Joyce’s art and biography, sibling relations are prominent everywhere. Although not a rival for fame or affection, Joyce’s brother Stanislaus had good cause to resent Brother James. He acted as a surrogate father (James Joyce was not a bad father; he was simply James Joyce) and banker supporting the author’s loose lifestyle. Stannie was present in Stephen Hero then replaced by Cranly/Mulligan when revenge became a factor. Brotherly spite became one primal theme of Finnegans Wake.

To return to Stephen’s argument, he belabors every tier of the complex structure. None of this seems important. When bluntly asked if he believed his own argument, he replied without explanation, “No.” This after nearly thirty pages of defense. The condition that prompts this newfound succinctness is the realization he will not sell his theory for publication. Joyce did not refute Stephen’s argument when discussing the theory with Budgen, but the correctness of Stephen’s theory is unimportant. 

What is important is how this scene affects the plot of Ulysses. In the course of the argument, Stephen says,” The boy of Act I is the mature man of Act V.” Hamlet has transformed. Transformations loom ahead in the novel too. One of these transformations, explained by Joyce to Budgen, is that Bloom will become an increasingly significant presence while Mulligan withers. Budgen also suggests metempsychosis as a force here. Stephen will not sprout Bloomish; they will be one identity, like the Sabellianist theory that taught God Father and Son were not distinct but presented as such only for human comprehension. Metempsychosis (not reincarnation) suggests a Sabellian solution to the Bloom-Dedalus nexus.

In 2014 I attended a lecture by Lena Orlin of Georgetown University. The topic was her book about Shakespeare’s miserable marriage. Dr. Orlin has the last word on the “second-best bed” business. The language of “second best” is typical of Elizabethan wills and not an insult on its face. Hathaway, the spouse of an absentee husband, rented rooms and brewed malt to feed her children. It was typical for the second bed to be, in fact, the marital bed. The household would reserve the best bed for boarders or guests. The marital bed would be the second-best bed and might have sentimental value. It’s unclear whether the will is an insult, a gift, or a reconciliation. There is little to document what we “know” about the playwright. What we claim is as much invention as Stephen’s easily surrendered theory. Enough about “second-best beds.” It hasn’t been amusing since 1909 when the last “new” information about the Shakespeares came to light.

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