Dog of my enemy

Dog of my enemy

In Brief

Having already thought once in Proteus of a line from King Lear, Stephen remembers another when the dog on the beach briefly runs toward him: "Dog of my enemy." The phrase conveys the sense of dismay that Cordelia feels at her father's vulnerable condition, but also her compassion for him. For Stephen, the vulnerability is his own.

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Cordelia returns from France to find her father friendless, homeless, feeble, and deranged. She marvels that her own family members could have turned such an old man out of doors to face a raging storm:

                                  Mine enemy's dog,
Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
Against my fire, and wast thou fain, poor father,
To hovel thee with swine and rogues forlorn
In short and musty straw? (4.7.35-39)

Stephen is no Lear, but Cordelia's imagination of being bitten by a dog, combined with her apprehension for her father, may express his feelings as the dog runs toward him. Like Joyce himself, who was "badly bitten" (Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother's Keeper, 4) by a dog when he was only five years old and walked with an ashplant all his adult life to ward off future attacks, Stephen has a morbid fear of dogs. He has thought two paragraphs earlier, "Lord, is he going to attack me? Respect his liberty. You will not be master of others or their slave. I have my stick. Sit tight."

This feeling of vulnerability is no doubt the main reason for Stephen's recollection of the phrase. But he may also feel attuned to Cordelia's compassion for the animal. She thinks of the dog as a metaphorical equivalent for her father, and it is a good metaphor. Lear has behaved rabidly toward her, and has wounded her as grievously as he can. The forgiveness that she would show to an unruly canine on an ugly night is forgiveness that she is prepared to show to her formerly vicious father. For Stephen, who does not want to master other creatures or be their slave, Cordelia's kind forbearance may be something to live up to as he faces the dog. If so, then he may have more in common with the animal-sympathizing Bloom than immediately meets the eye.

JH 2017
Olivia Vinall as Cordelia and Simon Russell Beale as Lear in a 2014 production directed by Sam Mendes. Source: