No, mother

No, mother

In Brief

If Stephen's mother can resemble Hamlet's father's ghost, she also can play the part of Hamlet's mother. Stephen's grimly determined "No, mother" draws strength from Hamlet's anger at Gertrude, and also from Telemachus' rebuke of Penelope in the first book of the Odyssey.

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Of the two, the resemblance to Telemachus is perhaps the stronger. Gifford and Seidman note that “Athena has urged Telemachus to become more manly,” and he finds an opportunity when Penelope enters the banqueting hall to silence a bard who is singing the sad tale of the warriors’ return from Troy:

“Mother, why do you grudge our own dear minstrel
joy of song, wherever his thought may lead?
Poets are not to blame, but Zeus who gives
what fate he pleases to adventurous men.
Here is no reason for reproof: to sing
the news of the Danaans! Men like best
a song that rings like morning on the ear.
But you must nerve yourself and try to listen.
Odysseus was not the only one at Troy
never to know the day of his homecoming.
Others, how many others, lost their lives!”

The lady gazed in wonder and withdrew,
Her son’s clear wisdom echoing in her mind.

(trans. Robert Fitzgerald)

The talk of what “men” do and suffer marks this as a moment in which Telemachus leaves the maternal embrace of childhood and joins the company of other adult males. 

JH 2011
Still from Kenneth Branagh's 1996 film of Hamlet showing Derek Jacobi as Claudius, Branagh as Hamlet, and Julie Christie as Gertrude.
Telemachus and Penelope. Source: