The term that Stephen uses for his "nuncle Richie"
probably indicates not just familial familiarity but also
ridicule. Reference works identify "nuncle" as an obsolete
form of "uncle." There is some reason to suppose that it is
still occasionally used in Ireland, but the word's
Shakespearean associations suggest that Stephen is using it
with disrespectful intent.
John Banville uses this variant of "uncle" in his first
Black novel, Christine Falls (2006), so it may remain
idiomatic in parts of Ireland. But Banville is often thinking
of Joyce, so who knows? The OED records only one use
after the 18th century, and that is in a dictionary of
dialectal usage. To find any widely recognized use of the
word, one must go to Shakespeare. As Thornton notes, the word
appears seventeen times in King Lear and nowhere
else in the playwright's works.
Thornton does not draw any inferences from the possible
allusion, but every use of the word in Lear is an
address of the Fool to the King: "Mark it nuncle," "Can you
make no use of nothing, nuncle?," "Give me an egg, nuncle, and
I'll give thee two crowns," "I have used it, nuncle, ever
since thou madest thy daughters thy mother," "Cry to it,
nuncle, as the cockney did to the eels when she put 'em i' the
paste alive." In these exchanges, a whip-smart and bitterly
disillusioned jokester is putting the screws to his violently
egomaniacal master, telling him that he is much less than he
supposes. Given the aggressive air built up around the word in
the play, it is reasonable to suppose that Stephen's unspoken
form of address may carry a sting in its tail.
Two textual details support this inference. When Stephen
speaks aloud to his relative in Proteus, he calls him,
simply and irreproachably, "uncle Richie." And when he uses
the phrase "nuncle Richie" twice more in Scylla and
Charybdis, he is talking about a threatening kinsman,
Shakespeare's brother Richard. For every appearance of
"nuncle" in Ulysses one could probably substitute the
words "crazy old man."