Hear him on Hamlet

In Brief

"Wait till you hear him on Hamlet, Haines," Mulligan urges Haines in Telemachus, and shortly afterward Haines obligingly asks, "What is your idea of Hamlet?" Stephen declines the invitation, but later in the book he does perform his interpretation of Hamlet, an aesthetic theory based on various accounts of Shakespeare’s life.

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Stephen's talk constitutes nearly the whole of Scylla and Charybdis. It is quite a production, so Mulligan's reluctance to hear it immediately after breakfast, and Stephen’s reluctance to launch into it in the few minutes he has before leaving for his teaching job, are understandable. “We’re always tired in the morning,” he replies. “And it is rather long to tell.” Further, Mulligan's mocking account of the theory hardly provides encouragement for Stephen to spout off: "He proves by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father."

In retrospect, we learn that Haines' expressed interest in hearing the theory is little more than politeness. He has an opportunity to be present in the National Library when Stephen speaks, but chooses to go instead to a bookshop to buy a copy of Douglas Hyde's Lovesongs of Connaught. In the following chapter, Wandering Rocks, Mulligan says to him, "O, but you missed Dedalus on Hamlet." Opening "his newbought book," Haines apologizes perfunctorily, observing that "Shakespeare is the happy huntingground of minds that have lost their balance."

JH 2011
Hamlet and the Ghost, engraving by R. Thew after an 1879 painting by Henry Fuseli, published in Boydell's Shakespeare Prints, vol. 2, plate XLIV. Source: www.english.emory.edu/Shakespeare_Illustrated.