Là ci darem la mano
Là ci darem la mano
In response to Bloom's question in Calypso, Molly names two songs that she will be singing on the "programme" that Hugh Boylan has put together for their upcoming concert tour. The first is "Là ci darem," a duettino for baritone and soprano from Mozart's Don Giovanni. This magnificent little song of sexual seduction comments in many ways on the Blooms' marriage and Boylan's intrusion into it. For Bloom, the implications are anything but encouraging.
Don Giovanni (1787) is Mozart's version of the Don Juan story. The anti-hero is a nobleman who takes advantage of his social position to seduce or rape many hundreds of women and girls (the current count, according to his servant Leporello, is 2,065) in Italy, Germany, France, Turkey, and Spain. Early in the opera, Giovanni comes upon a procession celebrating the upcoming marriage of two peasants named Masetto and Zerlina, and sets his sights on the bride. He gets rid of all the others and begins seducing Zerlina, who is tempted by his attentions but fears that he will leave when he has had his way with her. He promises that in his nearby casinetto (little villa) he will change her sorte (fate), by making her a nobleman's wife:
There is nothing "innocent" about Giovanni's pangs, and
Boylan seems cast very much in the same mold of the
heartless seducer, but Molly is hardly an innocent being
seduced. She sees how the song bears on her marital
situation and feels justified in taking some pleasure
outside of a marriage lacking in sexual satisfaction: "I
know what Ill do Ill go about rather gay not too much
singing a bit now and then mi fa pieta Masetto then
Ill start dressing myself to go out presto non son piu
forte Ill put on my best shift and drawers let him
have a good eyeful out of that to make his micky stand for
him Ill let him know if thats what he wanted that his wife
is fucked yes and damn well fucked too up to my neck nearly
not by him 5 or 6 times . . . serve him right its all his
own fault if I am an adulteress as the thing in the gallery
said O much about it if thats all the harm ever we did in
this vale of tears God knows its not much doesnt everybody
only they hide it."
Although Molly has her doubts about Boylan afterward, she probably does not experience Zerlina's uncertainty before the act. When Bloom recalls Zerlina's first line in Calypso he misremembers it in a way that emphasizes his wife's very active participation in the adulterous liaison: "Voglio e non vorrei. Wonder if she pronounces that right: voglio." Substituting the present indicative voglio ("I want") for the conditional vorrei ("I would like") calls the reader's attention to Molly's active desire. In Lotus Eaters even the one conditional verb has dropped out: "Voglio e non." But in Hades Bloom does recall the line correctly: "voglio e non vorrei. No: vorrei e non."
It is a joke with multiple layers. Not only is Molly's pronunciation of the word irrelevant, but voglio has a particular, unflattering application to Bloom himself. His counterpart in the seduction scene is the subjugated Masetto, and he outdoes Masetto in subjugation. Masetto in fact stands up for himself, trying in vain to stop the nobleman from exercising his droit de seigneur. Bloom never does, and his substitution of voglio connects him with Don Giovanni's servant Leporello, as Robert M. Adams first suggested (Surface and Symbol, 71). In a deliciously mock-heroic aria at the beginning of the opera, "Notte e giornio faticar," Leporello dreams of throwing off the yoke of servitude and becoming a master himself. The rousing central declaration of this aria is "Voglio far il gentiluomo, / E non voglio più servir": "I want to play the gentleman, / And I don't want to serve anymore."
It would make perfect sense for Bloom to identify with Leporello, as with Masetto. Calypso shows him to be a servant to his wife, and in Circe his failure to stand up to the violator of his marriage is enacted by having him serve Boylan as a butler, showing him into the house and conducting him to the room where Molly is stepping naked out of her bathtub. A phrase in Ithaca, "supraracial prerogative," suggests that he acquiesces in the violation of his marriage in part because his Jewish heritage puts him in an inferior position to the ethnically Irish Boylan, much like a peasant being swept aside by an aristocrat.
Bloom tries to turn the tables, in fantasy, when he woos
his former flame Josie Breen in Circe. With "his
fingers and thumb passing slowly down to her soft moist
meaty palm which she surrenders gently," he places on
her finger a ring that signifies domination
more than betrothal, and says, "Là ci darem la
mano." She replies with an excited
repetition of his excited-woman line: "Voglio e
non.You're hot! You're scalding!" But, as
Stephen says of Shakespeare's whoring in London, such "assumed
dongiovannism" can hardly overcome the pain of
being betrayed. In his introduction to Hades in James
Joyce's Ulysses: Critical Essays, Adams observes how
Bloom's recollection of another line from the song, "Mi
trema un poco," stops just short of
articulating "il core," the
heart, and adding romantic heartbreak to all the other
thoughts of broken hearts in the chapter (105).
These many painful suggestions raised by a few words from Mozart's opera all stand in contrast to the associations raised by the other song on the program, Love's Old Sweet Song.