Brass quoits

Brass quoits

In Brief

A dictionary offers only minimal help in understanding what Joyce may have meant in Calypso by referring to "the loose brass quoits" of the Blooms' bed. His usage appears to be metaphorical, evoking some feature of the bedposts by comparing them to the iron rings of a horseshoes-like game played throughout the British Isles, often in pub settings.

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The game of quoits is ancient, probably having descended from the sport of discus throwing. Players throw iron or steel rings at spikes set in squares of moist clay. Like dinner plates with the bottoms cut away, the rings are concave on one side and convex on the other, helping them dig into the clay when skillfully thrown. Points are scored by landing rings close to the stake or, in some versions of the game, by encircling it.

Joyce evidently is using the iron rings to name some similarly shaped structures on the brass bed that Molly's father brought over the water from Gibraltar. One might suppose by analogy that the "quoits" are rings encircling the rods at the head and foot of the bed. Gifford does: "The quoits are the brass discs that decorate the metal rods supporting the bedstead." But Victorian brass beds do not seem ever to have had decorative elements of this sort, and a sliding ring would not fit with Bloom's reflection that the discs have worked loose and should be secured: "Must get those settled really. Pity. All the way from Gibraltar." The word, then, more likely refers to washers that help secure the finials to the bedposts, or perhaps to caps that are fitted to the tops of the posts.

Although the text does not describe the shape or function of the quoits, a reader might be forgiven for hearing lascivious suggestions in the thought of concave rings encircling stiff spikes. They seem to inhabit the same imagistic universe as a horse named Sceptre aiming for the Gold Cup, or a "loud proud knocker" announcing its presence in a welcoming doorway. This suspicion is abundantly confirmed by the novel's treatment of the noise that the quoits make. Calypso says simply that they "jingled," but in later chapters the jingling sound acquires a wealth of sexual suggestions.

JH 2020
Ball finial on the post of a Victorian brass bed. Source unknown.
Quoits lodged in clay near the stake. Source: www.mashamsportsassociation.co.uk.
Brass bed finial washer. Source: www.houseofantiquehardware.com.
Brass bed post cap, 1.5" diameter. Source: www.goodsandchattels.com.