Huggermugger

In Brief

Among Bloom's peculiar thoughts about how women seem to take delight in laying out men's dead bodies—"Extraordinary the interest they take in a corpse"—is the notion that they like to skulk about "Huggermugger in corners." "Huggermugger" is an old word (the OED traces it to the early 16th century) meaning secrecy or concealment. It can be noun, adjective, adverb, or verb.

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A very well known use of the word occurs in Hamlet, when Claudius tells Gertrude that "we have done but greenly / In hugger-mugger to inter" Polonius (4.5.83-84). Hamlet has killed Polonius and dragged the body offstage to hide it: "This man shall set me packing; / I'll lug the guts into the neighbor room" (3.4.211-12). After taunting Claudius with jokes about the old counselor's decomposing body, Hamlet at last tells him where he can find it: "if indeed you find him not within this month, you shall nose him as you go up the stairs into the lobby" (4.2.35-37). But Claudius, fearing public outcry, maintains the secrecy practiced by the prince, burying Polonius hastily and without public ceremony.

If Bloom is thinking about the line from Hamlet (we know that he knows the play), perhaps the idea of secretly stashing a body in some odd "corner" appeals to his sense of a public conspiracy to conceal the ugly fact of death? Or perhaps the mere sound of the word "huggermugger," like "slipperslappers" in the next sentence, appeals to his nursery-rhyme playful irreverence, which is often on display in this chapter.

JH 2015
Hamlet dragging Polonius' body offstage, in a drawing by an unknown artist. Source: elsinore.ucsc.edu.