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MonkeyNotes-Ulysses by James Joyce
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Chapter 9

Scylla and Charybdis Summary

The time is 2 p.m., with Stephen in the office of the director of the National Library are the poet, A.E. (George Russell), John Eglinton and the librarian, Lyster. Lyster has been speaking approvingly of Goethe’s picture of Hamlet as the "ineffectual dreamer" destroyed by confrontation with reality. After the librarian leaves the office, Stephen firmly expresses his disagreement with this conventional point of view. He feels his anger rising when the others patronizingly mock his youthful enthusiasm for clever theories. Russell, as a Platonist, disapproves of all criticisms, which treat Hamlet as if he were a real person. Another librarian, Best, comes in and recounts a provincial French performance of the play. Stephen looks upon the play as a "sumptuous and stagnant exaggeration of murder." But this thought he keeps to himself. He prefers to air his views on the nature of the ghost. He describes vividly the scene at the first performance of the play. Shakespeare himself, according to the old tradition, played the ghost. The ghost, therefore, speaks with Shakespeare’s own experiences of death. The living Shakespeare had a dead son Hamlet, the dead King Hamlet had a living son the Prince. Russell observes that this is an idle prying into the personal life of the writer. Stephen remembers that he owes Russell some money ("A.E.I.O.U"). He recalls Mr. Deasy’s earlier comments on frugality. Eglinton realizes that the drift of Stephen’s theory is to emphasize the importance of Shakespeare’s love for Anne Hathaway. He points out that for scholars she was of no great importance in his life. Stephen disagrees strongly. He traces the influence of Shakespeare’s love affair through his writings. He holds the view that she was the goddess who defied his imagination.


There is a brief chat about the Dublin literary scene to which Stephen listens with no great interests. He requests Russell to put in a word for Mr. Deasy’s letter with another editor. Lyster comes back after seeing Russell out. He asks Stephen to continue his commentary on Shakespeare. Stephen unfolds his theory. He is interrupted by occasional remarks or conventional asides from Best and Lyster. Shakespeare, he believes, was seduced by Anne Hathaway. Wounded by the experience, he lost any sense of his own sexual integrity. His awareness of his own loss, aggravated by the death of his children, produced the deep sexual disgust found in his works. His reconciliation with Anne late in his life led to the harmony and tranquility of his last works. So Shakespeare was not Hamlet only, but also the Ghost, stalking through the middle-world in desperate search of self-justification and a son. At the high point of Stephen’s speech, Mulligan appears, with a mocking "Amen."

Stephen welcomes Mulligan. The librarians return to the subject of Shakespeare. Best recounts Oscar Wilde’s ironic story, The Portrait of Mr. W.H. The group is interrupted by an attendant, who wishes to introduce a visitor to the library. It is Bloom, in search of a copy of the Kilkenny paper that had the Keyes design. Lyster goes out to look after him. Mulligan, recognizing Bloom as a man he had seen a few moments before in the Museum, refers coarsely to his Jewish ancestry.

Stephen returns to his discussion of Shakespeare. He explains that during his years as a playwright in London, the dramatist was obsessed with the idea of his wife’s infidelity to him. Then delighted by the close attention of his audience, Stephen makes references to the plays. He proves Shakespeare to have been a mere time-server, and all things to all men. Eglinton asks Stephen to prove that Shakespeare was a Jew. Stephen, instead, speaks of the dramatist’s avariciousness and uxoriousness. Eglinton suggests that Shakespeare was in fact not deeply affected by family ties. Stephen realizes that his friend is in fact shying away from his own family situation. So, Stephen realizes with sudden self-insight, is he in a similar situation. He thinks of his father, and of the father-son relationship, as evident in Shakespeare’s life and plays and in the Christian religion. He makes further attempts to relate the incidents in the plays to the dramatist’s own life. He ends with the final peaceful scene of Shakespeare’s return to Stratford and the epilogue of The Tempest. Eglinton summarizes: "He is the ghost and the prince. He is all in all."

Mulligan has meantime been working on a play of his own, which he flourishes. It is a crude piece, with an obscene title and a smutty cast-list. As Stephen and Mulligan leave the library, a man passes between them. It is Bloom on his way out. Mulligan recognizes him, and refers, crudely but with some prophetic irony, to his salute to Stephen: "The wandering jew...Did you see his eye? He looked upon you to lust after you. I fear thee, ancient mariner."

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