Theatre Royal

Theatre Royal

In Brief

The "Theatre Royal in Hawkins street," so identified in Ithaca, was one of several large theaters in Dublin in 1904, along with the Queen's Theatre and the Gaiety Theatre, offering middle-brow entertainment like pantomimes, light opera, musical comedy, music-hall shows, variety shows, and popular drama. Over the course of nearly a century and a half it operated in several different buildings on the same site: the "old Royal" recalled several times in Ulysses (1821-80), the newer structure that Joyce knew (1987-1935), and a third facility that was built much later (1935-62).

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The Royal is first mentioned in Sirens, when Richie Goulding recalls a vocal performance he attended there: "Never would Richie forget that night. As long as he lived: never. In the gods of the old Royal with little Peake." The "old" Royal was actually the third such theater of that name in Dublin, but it was the first to be built in Hawkins Street, just south of the quays between the O'Connell Bridge and the Loopline Bridge. It staged performances until it burned to the ground in 1880. A replacement called Leinster Hall operated from 1880 to 1897, at which time a new Theatre Royal was constructed on the same site, capable of seating slightly more than 2,000 people.

"The gods" refers to the high balcony seats, playing on the notion of watching from the heavens. Gifford identifies it as "Slang for the upper balcony of a theater," and Slote quotes Eric Partridge's definition of the term as "those occupying the gallery at a theatre." In Circe Mrs. Yelverton Barry complains that Bloom has used his position in those high seats to peer into her d├ęcolletage: "He said that he had seen from the gods my peerless globes as I sat in a box of the Theatre Royal at a command performance of La Cigale. I deeply inflamed him, he said." Being a creature of his fantasy, she knows his libidinal assocations with the theater, confirmed later in the chapter when he thinks of places that aroused his adolescent lust: "I was in my teens, a growing boy. A little then sufficed, a jolting car, the mingling odours of the ladies' cloakroom and lavatory, the throng penned tight on the old Royal stairs (for they love crushes, instinct of the herd, and the dark sexsmelling theatre unbridles vice), even a pricelist of their hosiery."

Mrs. Yelverton Barry is a figment of imagination, but there can be little doubt that Bloom has hankered after women's provocatively displayed breasts in the theater. Since La Cigale could refer either to an 1877 play or to an 1890 opera, his fantasy could have been triggered either pre-1880 or post-1897, but his memory of having sexual thoughts "on the old Royal stairs" when "in my teens, a growing boy," lends weight to the view that he is recalling an adolescent incident. When the old theater burned down on 9 February 1880, Bloom would have been several months shy of 14 years old. Both theaters had box seats along the side walls. The existence of a vice-regal box in 1880 (Henry Egerton, the stage manager and business manager who died fighting the fire, was last seen near this box) coheres with Mrs. Yelverton Barry's memory of "a command performance," i.e. one commissioned by the Lord Lieutenant. But perhaps the newer Royal also contained such a box.

Molly has taken her daughter to see a play in the new Royal, and her recollection of how prissily Milly guarded her fancy skirt prompts further thoughts about the erotic currents in theaters: "then a great touchmenot too in her own way at the Only Way in the Theatre royal take your foot away out of that I hate people touching me afraid of her life Id crush her skirt with the pleats a lot of that touching must go on in theatres in the crush in the dark theyre always trying to wiggle up to you that fellow in the pit at the Gaiety for Beerbohm Tree in Trilby the last time Ill ever go there to be squashed like that for any Trilby."

The new Royal lasted until the mid-1930s, when it was replaced by yet another reincarnation on the same spot, capable of seating nearly 4,000 patrons. This huge theater, one of the largest in Europe, closed its doors in 1962 and was demolished to make way for the twelve-story Hawkins House, a hideous office building.

John Hunt 2020
Engraving ca. 1821 of the older Theatre Royal on Hawkins Street, called "The New Theatre Royal" in the caption because there had been two earlier theaters of that name in different locations. Source: