Punched tickets

Punched tickets

In Brief

In Proteus Stephen thinks that he "used to carry punched tickets to prove an alibi if they arrested you for murder somewhere. Justice. On the night of the seventeenth of February 1904 the prisoner was seen by two witnesses. Other fellow did it: other me. Hat, tie, overcoat, nose. Lui, c’est moi. You seem to have enjoyed yourself." The perforated tickets are probably for the theatre, to show he spent an evening in public view, because the date that Stephen gives coincides with a newpaper report of a French play about mistaken identity.

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On 17 February 1904 the Irish Independent reported on an English version of a French play about a man wrongfully accused of murder. The Arm of the Law, which became a major hit at the Garrick in London starting in mid-February 1904, translated a French original, La Robe Rouge. Might Joyce have seen the original in Paris? "You seem to have enjoyed yourself" suggests that he may have done so, which would reward anyone who discovers the 17 February 1904 newspaper reference.

The red robe of the French title refers to achieving the role of prosecuting advocate. In the drama, an innocent man is accused, and his wife, under cross-examination as she tries to help her husband, discloses that she previously had an affair, unknown to him. The husband is acquitted but repudiates his spouse for her infidelity and takes their children with him. She takes revenge by murdering the prosecutor with a knife, thus committing the crime of which her husband was innocent. Given Joyce’s fascination with uxorial betrayal (in real life as in Ulysses),  this play would seem to make perfect fodder for his art. Stephen's "punched tickets" anticipate the torn-up betting tickets that Bloom finds in his home in Ithaca, which suggest Molly's unprofessional engagement with Boylan.

Wrongful accusation too is a major theme in Ulysses, and this is its first appearance. In Circe, Bloom too imagines himself being “Wrongfully accused” in connection with a theatrical production, The Lyons Mail, which tells the story of a man who was arrested and executed for murder because he looked very much like one of the accomplices in the crime. As Stephen says, in words that strikingly evoke that other play, "Other fellow did it: other me. Hat, tie, overcoat, nose. Lui, c’est moi."

Senan Molony 2021
Published script of a 1935 edition of La Robe Rouge. Source: www.abebooks.com.
Photographed scene from Garrick Theatre production of The Arm of the Law which appeared in The Tatler in 1904. Source: www.findmypast.com.
Another scene from the Garrick production, from The Illustrated London News in 1904. Source: www.findmypast.com.