Definitely one for the scholars, this! Here we join Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan and some other chaps in the museum library, where they mostly argue about Shakespeare. Now, I don’t know an awful lot about Shakespeare, but an aficionado on the subject will doubtless get an awful lot out of this episode. If, like me, the Bard doesn’t do much for you well, then, I’ve tried my best to make it as interesting as I can.
The Quaker librarian dismisses a noiseless library attendant and talks about poets with Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan and a fellow named John Eglinton. Buck has a telegram from Stephen. Eglinton says that the young Irish writers are yet to come up with anything to equal Hamlet. Then, Geo Russell (also known as the mystical poet A.E – but here he is referred to as Russell, so I’ll call him that for now) joins in the discussion from a shadowy corner – he thinks that it doesn’t matter who Hamlet is or isn’t, art should be all about ideas. Stephen brings up Aristotle once being a student of Plato in response to some vague jibe by Eglinton about young people, possibly young scholars in particular.
Stephen’s thoughts on Hamlet prove to be somewhat controversial and are not going down well with his companions, but he continues arguing with them anyway. Eglinton doesn’t like Aristotle being compared to Plato, just one of many things this chap doesn’t like, it seems. Mr Best the librarian (a different librarian to the Quaker librarian, I’m fairly certain) announces that Haines has gone off to buy a copy of Hyde’s ‘Lovesongs of Connacht’. Someone replies that they have smoked his tobacco. Russell says that love songs are dangerous and gives some occult-sounding explanation as to why, but I’m none the wiser, quite frankly.
They all bang on about Hamlet and Stephen argues with Eglinton. As a means to get him to perhaps see his point of view, Stephen describes in a most eloquent and beautiful manner Shakespeare passing through the the streets of London and attending a production of Hamlet, where he ends up playing the role of the ghost of Hamlet’s father. The argument Stephen is presenting, is that Shakespeare is represented in the play as Hamlet’s dead dad, where as Eglinton believes that it is Hamlet that represents the playwright. I think they both agree that the adulterous queen is depicting Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway. Much is made of her and her bed-hopping ways, at any rate.
Russell pipes up from his corner to suggest that a poet should be judged only on the merits of his work, and not complicated personal aspects such as drinking or his debts. Mr Best agrees with him on this, while Stephen remembers borrowing a pound from Russell and spending most of it in the bed of a vicar’s daughter. Eglinton reckons that Hathaway is unimportant to literature, but Stephen disagrees (there’s not much common ground between these two). Stephen remembers his mother’s death. Eglinton believes that Shakespeare’s involvement with Hathaway was a mistake and that geniuses don’t learn anything from women (the cheek!) Mr Best says that Hathaway is now forgotten, but Stephen says that they should remember that she was older than Shakespeare and managed to seduce him even though she was the ugliest wench in Warwickshire. You get the impression that this is meant as a sort of compliment to Hathaway, but it’s a very backhanded one, if so.
Russell is off, he has places to be. Eglinton asks if he will be going to Moore’s (a writer) that night. Apparently Piper will be there. Russell has some esoteric-sounding engagement to attend to, but I think he is considering trying to make it as Mr Best reminds everyone that Russell is compiling an anthology of young Irish poets and people of that ilk will be there. Not only that, but the little group is becoming quite important. Buck Mulligan and Haines are invited, but notably Stephen is not. I think this gives him the pip a bit, as he is a writer, after all. Someone suggests that it could be Moore who writes the great Irish epic they have all been waiting for. Stephen gives a copy of Deasy’s letter (the one about the foot and mouth, you remember) to Russell to pass on to a Mr Norman, who may or may not publish it.
Russell leaves, maybe some other people do too. Mr Best tells Stephen that he finds his views on Shakespeare interesting. They all discuss Hathaway’s adultery and Stephen ponders things that are not. Best remarks that Hamlet is a very personal work and Eglinton also refuses to be swayed from his belief that Hamlet is Shakespeare himself. Stephen reasons that Shakespeare was talented enough to create many characters, then also mentions his birthmark, which becomes a topic of conversation.
Stephen notes that Shakespeare’s plays start off a bit maudlin then become more cheerful over time and this is due in large part to the birth of his granddaughter Marina, which also improves relationships with other female family members. They all go on and on about the Bard and people who have written about him in the past and Mr Best suggests to Stephen that he publish his theories. Continuing on his theme, Stephen then argues that Hamlet’s dad’s ghost knows about his own murder and his wife’s affair because the character is part of Shakespeare and the author wanted to draw parallels with his own life.
Then, Buck Mulligan walks in (not sure where he has been or when he left, to be honest) to some fanfare and a musical score accompanies the excitable prose announcing his arrival. Mr Best suggests that Buck might have his own theory about the Bard, but Buck frivolously dismisses the idea. Best informs Buck that he has just missed Haines. Yet more discussion about Hamlet. Mr Best references Oscar Wilde’s work, ‘The Portrait of Mr W.H’, but wrongly acclaims that the short story is about the true author of the Sonnets, whereas in reality it was about the mystery surrounding the muse who inspired them. The only thing I know about Shakespeare I learned from Wilde, of whom I have read a little. The Sonnets are mostly dedicated to a young, beautiful ‘boy’ (the ‘Fair Youth’ of the poems) and Wilde’s work imagines that he was a young stage actor named Willie Hughes who was beloved by Shakespeare. It was a fictional work based on an already mooted theory of the time and is well worth a look – but not now, we’ve got enough to be getting on with for the time being with this little beastie of a book.
Buck makes light of Stephen not meeting him and Haines in the pub at 12:30 as they had previously arranged. He presents a cryptic telegram sent by Stephen, announcing his intentions as a no-show. The two of them joke about drinking and being murdered by someone or other. A library assistant interrupts and calls over the librarian (I think Mr Best, but there is that other Quaker librarian knocking about somewhere) as someone wants the files for last year’s Kilkenny People, a newspaper. Could it be..? It could – as the librarian heads off, Buck looks down the hallway and recognises Bloom. He remarks that he saw Bloom earlier admiring Aphrodite’s bottom. Buck says that Bloom is ‘Greeker than the Greeks’ and there is a suggestion of homosexuality.
Eglinton wants to hear more about Shakespeare (really?!) so Stephen continues, talking about the Bard’s time in London, getting up to all sorts with all sorts of women, interspersed with references to classical mythology. Hathaway is compared to Penelope, which is an odd comparison. Both women were left at home while their husbands went off to seek their fortune, but Penelope was famously faithful and devout while we have already heard from our friends here that Hathaway was anything but. They discuss at length Shakespeare’s will and the fact that Hathaway was left only his second-best bed. Buck says that he died drunk and was also accused of being a bit of a nonce.
And so the conversation goes on, flitting from other plays and characters, Jews, incest and finally once more to how Shakespeare’s family life is irrelevant to his work. Stephen thinks again about his mother’s death and there is yet another argument about whether Shakespeare is Hamlet, or his dead dad. Stephen then gets quite agitated, saying that fathers are a necessary evil and inconsequential, unlike mothers. He feels that the birth of a son is the beginning of the downfall of the father. Rather unexpectedly, Buck declares that he is with child and will now write a play. Fair enough. Stephen then lists some Shakespearean characters and who of the playwright’s family inspired them. The text then turns into the style of a play manuscript.
Stephen explains that Shakespeare had three brothers – Gilbert, Edmund and Richard (I have no idea if this is true or not). Gilbert was an inoffensive old man and ‘The playhouse sausage filled Gilbert’s soul’. He does not appear in any of the plays. Edmund and Richard frequently appear as baddies in Shakespeare’s plays. Stephen talks about the significance of names. Mr Best points out that the motif of three brothers also appears in Irish folklore. Much like me at this point, Stephen is getting a bit fed up with all this and fancies a drink, but he presses on about Edmund and Richard, saying that Hathaway cheated with them both and this is reflected by their literary namesakes in the plays. Eglinton and Stephen finally agree on something – that Shakespeare is partly in all of his characters.
There is an extended speech by Stephen about the Bard, characters and life in general, which is mercifully interrupted by Buck suddenly becoming inspired and shouting ‘Eureka!’ He takes some paper from Eglinton’s desk and starts to write. Meanwhile, Eglinton asks Stephen if he believes his own theories on Shakespeare, to which Stephen has to admit that he doesn’t. This draws the consensus that, in that case, he shouldn’t be paid to publish them. Mr Best thinks that he should write his theories in dialogue, in the style of Wilde.
At long last, Buck decides it’s time for a drink and he bids Eglinton farewell. Eglinton reminds him that he must come to Moore’s gathering that evening. Buck and Stephen leave and make their way down the steps of the museum library, Stephen wondering to himself what he has learned (‘Of them? ‘Of me?’) Buck takes the mickey out of Eglinton for being an old man without a wife and then, oddly, does an impression of a Chinese gentleman. Buck reads out the play he was writing while Stephen was engaged in his epic Shakespeare oration. It is titled ‘Everyman His Own Wife’ or ‘A Honeymoon in the Hand’ and is, unsurprisingly, quite rude. Stephen remembers his dream about the melon. Bloom passes them on the steps heading out and Buck whispers to Stephen that Bloom lusts after him and that he should watch out. Stephen has had just about enough for one day.
As I said at the beginning of this episode, it’s one for the scholars. The relentless reference and discussion about mostly Shakespeare but also Irish and classical literature is largely lost on me, an uneducated bumpkin. But nevertheless, it is still recognisable as being very clever – there are Shakespearean puns, nods to the Bard’s works and style and for the first time, Homer’s Odyssey is explicitly discussed. This is no doubt an absolute treat for the more academic among us but – hey! There is still plenty for Luddites like me to enjoy too!
I don’t know how valid the arguments regarding Shakespeare being either Hamlet or his dead dad actually are and I don’t think it really matters. What we have, essentially, is Stephen on one side, representing fresh, new progressive thinking and Eglinton on the other, waving the flag for the stuffy old academics who believe the youth don’t know anything. In fact, Eglinton is not dissimilar to Mr Deasy from earlier; they both hold very regressive views about women, display varying degrees of anti-Semitism and are not interested in hearing any ideas other than their own. The fact that Stephen wears himself out arguing with Eglinton – only to admit later that he doesn’t even believe his own arguments – suggests that Stephen is fighting against what Eglinton stands for in general, rather than for any real literary endeavour.
The other interesting character here is Russell, or A.E – the poet. He doesn’t contribute much to theoretical proceedings, but is there as the true artiste of the group, championing art above all else, rather than the artist themselves. It is an interesting and valid viewpoint and one that still comes up in discussions today, when unpalatable pasts of stars are revealed, or a much-loved entertainer behaves in an illegal or morally reprehensible manner.
Then there is Buck Mulligan, seeing everything as a bit of a jolly jape and contributing nothing apart from some lewd penmanship of his own. Yet it is he above Stephen who is invited to this literary gathering of bright young things at Moore’s place later that evening. Stephen is certainly put out by this, although he doesn’t show it to the others – but he will remember it. He is once again overshadowed by Buck, which can’t be good for his self-esteem. The Hamlet issue not only brings to the fore once more Stephen’s relationship with his own father, but also the death of his mother.
So, as you can see, the common themes of the novel are revisited once again and each time from the differing perspectives of the various characters. Which is probably what the whole parallax thing from the last episode was pointing to. Not quite sure about Buck alluding to Bloom’s sexuality though, that’s a new one. Possibly just the youthful bravado of which we are coming to expect from him, but I’m going to keep my eye on that. Just in case, you know.
‘Through spaces smaller than red globules of man’s blood they creepycrawl after Blake’s buttocks into eternity of which this vegetable world is but a shadow.’
The idea that eternity dwells in Blake’s buttocks is an interesting one.
‘His beaver is up.’
He has got the pip. Probably.
‘A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella.’