Ulysses

by: James Joyce

Episode Fifteen: “Circe”

Summary

Episode Fifteen takes the form of a play script with stage directions and descriptions, with characters’ names appearing above their dialogue. The majority of the action of Episode Fifteen occurs only as drunken, subconscious, anxiety-ridden hallucinations.

Near the entrance to Nighttown, Dublin’s red-light district, Stephen and Lynch walk toward a familiar brothel. The focus switches to Bloom, nearby. Bloom has attempted to follow Stephen and Lynch to Nighttown, but he has lost them. He ducks into a pork butcher’s to buy a late-night snack. Bloom immediately feels guilty about the expense, and a hallucination begins in which Bloom’s parents, Molly, and Gerty MacDowell confront Bloom about various offenses. Next, Mrs. Breen appears—she and Bloom briefly renew their old flirtation.

In a dark corner, Bloom feeds his meat purchases to a hungry dog—this suspicious-looking act engenders another hallucination in which two nightwatchmen question Bloom, who responds guiltily. Soon, Bloom is on public trial, accused of being a cuckold, an anarchist, a forger, a bigamist, and a bawd. Witnesses such as Myles Crawford, Philip Beaufoy, and Paddy Dignam in dog form appear. Mary Driscoll, the former housemaid to the Blooms, testifies that Bloom once approached her for sex.

The nightmarish scene ends as Bloom is approached by prostitute Zoe Higgins. Zoe guesses that Bloom and Stephen, both in mourning, are together. She tells him Stephen is inside. Zoe playfully steals Bloom’s lucky potato from his pocket, then teases Bloom for lecturing her on the ills of smoking. Another fantasy ensues, in which Bloom’s smoking lecture escalates into a campaign speech. Soon Bloom, backed by Irish and Zionists, is coronated as leader of the new “Bloomusalem.” The nationalist hallucination turns sour when Bloom is accused of being a libertine—Buck Mulligan steps forward and testifies about Bloom’s sexual abnormalities, then pronounces Bloom a woman. Bloom gives birth to eight children.

The hallucination ends with the reappearance of Zoe. Only a second of “real time” has passed since she last spoke. Zoe leads Bloom inside Bella Cohen’s brothel, where Stephen and Lynch are socializing with prostitutes Kitty and Florry. Stephen is pontificating and playing the piano. Florry misunderstands Stephen and assumes he is making an apocalyptic prophecy. An apocalyptic hallucination, Stephen’s, ensues. Another hallucinatory sequence, Bloom’s, begins with the arrival of Lipoti Virag, Bloom’s grandfather, who lectures Bloom about sex.

When Bella Cohen herself enters the room, a long hallucination begins—Bella becomes “Bello,” proceeding to master and violate a feminized Bloom, while taunting him about past sins and Boylan’s virility. Bello suggests that Bloom’s household would be better served without him, and Bloom dies. The hallucination continues—perhaps in Bloom’s “afterlife”—with the pristine nymph (from the picture in the Blooms’ bedroom) humiliating Bloom for being a dirty mortal. The spell ends only when Bloom confronts the nymph with her own sexuality.