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.