Episode Nine: “Scylla and Charybdis”
In the National Library director’s office, sometime after 1:00 P.M., Stephen casually presents his “Hamlet theory” to John Eglinton, a critic and essayist; A.E., a poet; and Lyster, a librarian and Quaker. Stephen contends that Shakespeare associated himself with Hamlet’s father, not with Hamlet himself. When the episode opens, Stephen is impatient with the older men’s repetition of unoriginal, received wisdom on Shakespeare. John Eglinton puts Stephen in his place by mockingly inquiring about his own literary accomplishments or lack thereof. From the corner, A.E. expresses disdain for Stephen’s Hamlet theory, maintaining that biographical criticism is useless because one should focus only on the depth expressed by the art. Stephen responds to Eglinton’s mockery of his youth, pointing out that Aristotle was once Plato’s pupil. Stephen shows off his knowledge of the philosophers’ work.
Mr. Best, the librarian, enters—he has been showing Douglas Hyde’s Lovesongs of Connacht to Haines. A.E. expresses his preference for Hyde’s pastoral poems. Stephen continues with his theory by sketching a scene from Shakespeare’s London: Shakespeare walks along the river to his own performance of Hamlet where he plays not Hamlet but the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Stephen contends that Hamlet thus corresponds to Shakespeare’s dead son, Hamnet, and unfaithful Gertrude represents Shakespeare’s adulterous wife, Ann Hathaway. A.E. reiterates that a critic should focus on the work itself, not the details of the poet’s personal life, such as his drinking habits or his debts. Stephen recalls that he himself owes A.E. some money.
Eglinton argues that Ann Hathaway is historically unimportant, and he cites biographers who depict Shakespeare’s early marriage to Ann Hathaway as a mistake—a mistake he rectified by going to London. Stephen counters that geniuses make no mistakes. Lyster re-enters the room. Stephen, drawing on the plots and imagery of the early plays, demonstrates that the older Ann seduced young Shakespeare in Stratford.
A.E. gets up to leave—he is expected elsewhere. Eglinton inquires if he will be at Moore’s (an Irish novelist) tonight—Buck and Haines will be there. Lyster mentions that A.E. is compiling a volume of the work of young Irish poets. Someone suggests that Moore is the man to write the Irish epic. Stephen is resentful not to be included in the poetry collection, nor in their social circle. He vows to remember the snub. Stephen thanks A.E. for taking a copy of Deasy’s letter for publication.
Eglinton returns to the argument: he believes that Shakespeare is Hamlet himself, as Hamlet is such a personal character. Stephen argues that Shakespeare’s genius was such that he could give life to many characters. Still focusing on Ann Hathaway’s adultery, Stephen points out that Shakespeare’s middle plays are dark tragedies. His later, lighter plays testify (through their young female characters) to the arrival of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, who reconciled the rift with the grandmother.
Stephen makes another point: the ghost of Hamlet’s father inexplicably knows the means of his own murder and of his wife’s betrayal. Shakespeare has granted him this extraneous knowledge because the character is part of Shakespeare himself. Buck, who has been standing in the doorway, mockingly applauds Stephen. Buck approaches Stephen and produces a cryptic telegram that Stephen sent to him at the Ship instead of showing up himself. Buck playfully chides Stephen for standing him and Haines up.
A library attendant comes to the door and summons Lyster to help a patron (Bloom) find the Kilkenny People. Buck recognizes Bloom standing in the hall and explains that he just saw Bloom in the National Museum eyeing the rear end of a goddess statue. Implying that Bloom is a homosexual, Buck teasingly warns Stephen to beware of Bloom.
Stephen continues: while Shakespeare was in London living the high life with many sexual partners, Ann cheated on him back in Stratford—this hypothesis would explain why there is no other mention of her in the plays. Shakespeare’s will pointedly left her only his “second-best bed.”
Eglinton suggests that Shakespeare’s father corresponds to the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Stephen forcefully denies this supposition, insisting that the ghost of Hamlet’s father is not Shakespeare’s father, but Shakespeare himself, who was old and greying at the time the play was written. Fathers, Stephen digresses, are inconsequential. Paternity is unprovable and therefore insubstantial—fathers are linked to their children only by a brief sexual act.
Stephen goes on to suggest that Ann cheated on Shakespeare with his brothers, Edmund and Richard, whose names appear in Shakespeare’s plays as adulterous or usurping brothers. Eglinton asks Stephen if he believes his own theory, and Stephen says no. Eglinton asks why he should expect payment for it if he does not believe it.
Buck tells Stephen it is time for a drink and they leave. Buck makes fun of Eglinton, a lonely bachelor. Buck reads aloud a play he was scribbling while Stephen argued—it is a farce, entitled Everyman His Own Wife or A Honeymoon in the Hand. As they walk out the front door, Stephen senses someone behind him—it is Bloom. Stephen steps away from Buck, and Bloom passes between them down the steps. Whispering, Buck again alludes jokingly to Bloom’s lusty homosexuality. Stephen walks down the steps, feeling spent.
In Episode Nine of Ulysses, we meet up again with Stephen, whom we last saw headed to a pub with the men from the Freeman office. He never met Haines and Buck at the Ship pub at 12:30, as they had arranged this morning. Instead, Stephen has wound up here, at the National Library, performing his “Hamlet theory.” Stephen is trying to interest Eglinton and A.E. in publishing the theory, and in his own talent in general. Stephen’s presentation is hardly formal—it rather takes the shape of a discussion between men-of-letters. There are frequent interruptions and digressions, and Stephen often ad-libs, using thoughts or the words of others from earlier in the day.
Episode Nine corresponds to Odysseus’s trial-by-sea in which he must sail between Scylla, the six-headed monster situated on a rock, and Charybdis, a deadly whirlpool. The concept of negotiating two extremes plays out several times within the episode, most notably in the Plato-Aristotle dichotomy that Stephen mentions. Like Odysseus, Stephen sails closer to Scylla, and thus Stephen’s thoughts and theories owe more to Aristotle’s grounded, material, logical sense of the world (symbolized by the rock) than to Plato’s sense of unembodied concepts or ideals (symbolized by the whirlpool).
This alignment explains why Stephen grounds Shakespeare’s work in the lived reality of Shakespeare’s life, whereas A.E. separates the man from the eternal ideas expressed in his work. Like Odysseus, Stephen cannot sail too close to Scylla’s rock, though, and the threat of extreme materialism is represented by Buck and his physically based humor. Stephen also has to negotiate between his desire for acceptance from literary men such as Eglinton and A.E. and his disdain for such men and their movement, the Irish Literary Revival. Stephen is scornful of A.E.’s mysticism and Eglinton’s superiority, but he is also bitterly sad at not being considered for A.E.’s compilation of young Irish poets or for the gathering at Moore’s house.
Part of the reason that Eglinton and the others seem resistant to Stephen’s Hamlet theory is that the theory is less a traditional piece of literary-critical investigation than an imaginative performance of one poet understanding another poet. We have seen Stephen, in the first three episodes of Ulysses, struggling with the circumstances of his own life and history and trying to understand how he can either incorporate them or overcome them to create art. Stephen’s theory of Hamlet shows that Shakespeare often wrote his life and times into his work (the culmination being Hamlet as an expression of his bitterness at his wife’s infidelity) and thus presents examples of how masterpieces can still be tied to the realities of lived experience.
Stephen’s meditations on paternity take on a particular urgency in Episode Nine. Stephen envisions ideal paternity as literary creation—he argues that Shakespeare is not merely father to his son Hamnet but to all humanity. Stephen’s further arguments about the tenuosity of the father-son relationship and the insignificance of fathers relates to his own experience of alienation from his father. Much of Stephen’s Hamlet theory seems to develop out of his own life, and we see Stephen thinking about parallel personal matters—his mother, his sexuality, and so on—while he argues about Shakespeare’s life and work.
The cameo appearances of Bloom in this episode remind us of the sonless Bloom’s suitability as a replacement father figure for Stephen. The schematics of the chapter reinforce this sense. Though Stephen himself seems to be the Odysseus figure for a time in the “Scylla and Charybdis” episode, in the schematic of Shakespeare, Bloom seems to be the father figure (Shakespeare) and Stephen, the son (Hamlet). Bloom is aligned with Shakespeare through their similarly unfaithful wives and dead sons, Hamnet and Rudy, respectively. As Shakespeare writes the drama of his wife into his art, so did we see Bloom consider writing a story based on Molly at the end of Episode Four.
by mdd07c, September 16, 2012
This book needs a No Fear for it! But if there were a No Fear made, it should be made in a different way from the others; some lines just need to be put into context. For example, I can't tell if one character is thinking or talking.
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