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Stephen Daedalus as Hamlet in Ulysses

Parallels between Ulysses and Hamlet.


Joyce considered his masterpiece, Ulysses, as a sort of encyclopaedic work incorporating a variety of styles, points of view and structural frameworks: ?[Ulysses] is?a kind of encyclopaedia.? (Letters), ?My head is full of pebbles and rubbish and broken matches and bits of glass picked up 'most everywhere? (Letters), and this is evident in the reading of Ulysses. It is full of reference, acute and obscure, to literature, popular culture and the physical reality of early 20th century Dublin. The most obvious correspondence is to Homer?s the Odyssey, but there is also a great deal of reference to Shakespeare, particularly Hamlet. Stephen is consciously presented as a Hamlet figure and Joyce draws several parallels between his masterpiece and that of Shakespeare?s throughout Ulysses. The Odyssey, like Hamlet, and Stephen?s own ?Hamlet theory? features a father-son motif, as does the relationship between Bloom and Stephen. This motif is perhaps most obvious in Chapter Nine, in which Stephen presents his theory, and in which the Shakespearean parallels are most abundant and the reader is allowed a privileged insight into the way in which Stephen?s mind works.

The opening chapter of the book presents Stephen as a figure of parody in contrast to Buck Mulligan, with whom he lives in the Martello tower. The tower itself reminds Haines of Elsinore Castle (U, 18), and Mulligan, whom Stephen recognises as a ?usurper? (U, 23) and ?mine enemy? (U, 189) is the figure of Claudius. Through Mulligan the reader learns that the poetic Stephen stills dresses in black mourning clothes for the death of his mother a year ago (U, 6). This brings to mind the black-clad figure of Hamlet, in mourning for his father?s death. It is Mulligan?s wit and exuberance that dominates the first chapter, just as he dominates Stephen?s home. Stephen?s endurance of what he finds to be unpleasant in Mulligan?s character presents him as a somewhat adolescent and bathetic figure; he ?suffers? (U, 5) Mulligan with a weary and melancholic fortitude that has the distinct sense of being an inauthentic Hamlet-like pose. He has a affected, poetic air to him; much of his speech seems formally selected and pre-rehearsed: ?The prettified self-consciousness of?[his thoughts and]? phrases falsifies the emotion they attempt to express? (Maddox, 19), and so Stephen is often an a character readers cannot abide due to his stiff portentousness in Portrait and the first few chapters of Ulysses. Stephen is an intelligent young man and because he is intelligent and because he is young he is also acutely self-conscious, this causes him, Maddox suggests, to regard himself as an object and to deliberately endow himself with a number of false identities that do not truly fit him (24) - the Hamlet identity being the primary of these false identities. Stephen knows that he is like Hamlet, indeed he has made himself to be like Hamlet, furthermore he knows this to be an inauthentic pose; this self-awareness informs his thoughts and behaviour to such an extent that, like Hamlet, his "reflexive consciousness of his own actions follows so directly upon the actions themselves that he is frequently unable to distinguish between his impulse and the parody of the impulse" (Maddox, 19). This is similar to Hamlets inability to act accordingly on his impulse to kill Claudius - he vacillates between two extremes (?to be, or not to be?), and when he does act it is rashly and blindly, with disastrous consequences.

The first three chapters of Ulysses, known as the Telemachia, deal with Stephens?s navigation through the world. Chapters One and Two show us Stephen in the physical reality of his everyday world; this is in contrast to the Stephen of Portrait, as here he is defined in his relations and dealings with other people, rather than the internal workings of his own mind. The adolescent Stephen of Portrait had separated himself from the physical world and immersed himself in a self-asserted, romanticised aestheticism; he had become a ?kind of self-righteous Hamlet? (Scofield), lost in a poetic and philosophical world of thought; thought that leads to the solitude and alienation of both Hamlet and Stephen. When we meet Stephen in Ulysses, two years after leaving him at the end of Portrait, there is a real sense that he is caught between two extremes; the authentic and the inauthentic, realism and aestheticism, action and inaction. It is a moment of crises for Stephen; he must "realise his place in the cycles of experience which subsume him or be forever doomed to the prison of his own egoism" (Maddox, 21). There is a sense that Stephen has matured beyond the pompous and pretentious youth of Portrait as he seems aware of his failings and the falsity of his inauthentic pose; moments of insight and small epiphanies on Stephen's behalf indicate his increased self-awareness: "In the bright silent instant Stephen saw his own image in cheap dusty mourning" (U, 18). This gives the reader reason to believe that he can, unlike Hamlet, escape the trap of the overly active and introverted mind.

Chapter Two, known as 'Nestor', chronicles the encounter between Stephen and Mr Deasy. Mr Deasy is the first substitute father figure we come across; he is Polonius to Stephen's Hamlet. Like Polonius he is pompous, foolish and misunderstands Stephen/Hamlet. He is a figure of stability, but he is also dull, paralysed and unoriginal, and because of this he is not a serious contender for the role of Stephen's spiritual father. In spite of this, amongst his clich?d and presumptuous ramblings there are grains of truth that Stephen should take to heart: "To learn one must be humble. But life is the great teacher" (U, 35); this is the lesson that Stephen must learn to discover his unique artistic identity and escape creative death, symbolised by Hamlet?s tragic death.

It is in Chapter Nine, the chapter that corresponds with the 'Scylla and Charybis' episode of the Odyssey, that the parallels between Stephen and Hamlet are most obvious. In this chapter, Stephen presents his 'Hamlet theory' to a group of literary figures in the National Library. His theory creates an analogy between Stephen and Bloom which is central to our understanding of their relationship, it allows the reader an insight into the way in which Stephen's mind works, and it sets out Stephens own artistic aspirations. Stephen?s theory allows a deeper characterisation of him and highlights ?his ?almostness,? that state of incipience and nervous anticipation which poses him on the verge of possible fulfilment? (Maddox, 108). Stephen knows that he is like Hamlet, as do others; Mr Best says of Hamlet: "il se promene, lisant au livre de lui-meme" (U, 179), and this is evidently true of Stephen as well. He is aware of how his own theory, which he does not quite believe, relates to his own situation; the bitterness he feels towards his real father is apparent in his musings on the nature of fatherhood: ?Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man?Paternity may be a legal fiction.? (U, 199). His animosity towards his real father could also be the reason why he insists so fervently that Shakespeare is to be identified with King Hamlet rather than with the prince. This is the crux of Stephen?s theory; that prince Hamlet is Shakespeare?s literary son, creatively begat by jealousy, grief, and the desire for revenge; the adultery of Shakespeare?s wife and the death of his young son had driven him to create a fictional son to exact revenge upon the treacherous wife and mother. This biographical accounting of the play is at odds with the aesthetic conception of Hamlet commonly held by critics of the period; A.E., a poet, expresses disdain for Stephen?s theory, pronouncing that biographical criticism is irrelevant and that in order to understand an artistic work, one should concentrate purely on the sentiment expressed in it. Stephen?s alignment of Shakespeare?s life with his art is a step away from the sharp divisions Stephen had created between his own life and art in Portrait. Maddox suggests that his vision of Shakespeare is a ?great part [of] Stephen?s self-image ? a projection both of what he is now and of what he wishes to be in the future? (103). His theory becomes a program of his own developing artistic vision, as in Ulysses he considers the impact of experience upon the work of the artist, a relation he had previously ignored. He can now consider the artistic medium as instrumental in greater self-understanding, crucial, as it is only through self-knowledge that the artist can come to know and create a world (Maddox 104), and so it is Stephen?s analysis of Hamlet that causes him to realise the limitations of that same pose. Stephen compares himself to prince Hamlet, Shakespeare?s fictional son, and imagines Shakespeare to be the spiritual father of all humanity, and hence his own father as well. Stephen also compares himself to Shakespeare; ?first to?a fated agonised Shakespeare?then to imagine himself avoiding Shakespeare?s fate? (Maddox, 109), but it is really Hamlet, the role of the son in the father-son motif of Ulysses that Stephen corresponds with. Bloom, of course, is the father figure; he represents the fated Shakespeare, the ghost of King Hamlet and the wandering Odysseus. Bloom has much in common with the Shakespeare that Stephen describes; like the bard he has an adulterous, dominating wife and a dead son. During the course of the day Bloom comes to look upon Stephen as his lost son, just as Shakespeare looked upon the fictional Hamlet as his. In the chapter preceding ?Scylla and Charybis? Bloom quotes from Hamlet:

Hamlet, I am thy father?s spirit

Doomed for a certain time to walk the earth (U, 146)

As Stephen is already set up in the reader?s mind as Hamlet, this slightly incorrect quotation of Bloom?s foreshadows his role as a father figure to Stephen. Later Stephen asks: ?What is a ghost?One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners? (U, 180). Bloom, as the ghost-father, represents the ?fate of Shakespeare? (Maddox, 109) that Stephen hopes to avoid. On the artistic front it is Bloom?s ordinariness, what makes him the Everyman of the novel that Stephens wishes to evade.

Stephen?s Hamlet pose is a limited one because it is not his own. To maintain it would mean certain artistic death for Stephen. Hamlet?s retreat into the aesthetic world of his own mind; his emancipation of his thoughts from the reality of his situation is what in the end leads to disaster. To be like Hamlet is to die like Hamlet. There is, however, hope for Stephen. He has come to realise the fallacy of the self-righteous Hamlet-pose. His Hamlet theory is evidence of this; it suggests that in time Stephen will make a happy and unique marriage of art and experience that will release him from the immature literary posturing of his youth. Like Hamlet (and Odysseus), Stephen is caught between two extremes through which he must safely navigate; he must ?do or die?. Hamlet ponderingly hesitates and is lost; Odysseus successfully navigates a safe path between the cliff-monster Scylla (representing Aristotelian experience) and the whirlpool Charybis (representing Platonic aestheticism). In terms of his artistic journey, Stephen is allied with Odysseus. The dangers he faces on either side are the purely aesthetic notions held by A.E. (whom Stephen scorns), in danger of sucking in and swallowing up Stephen in Portrait, and the cynical realism of Buck Mulligan, which poses the threat of dashing Stephen?s aspirations to pieces. While the aestheticism of the Hamlet-pose is ultimately a dangerous one, it does allow Stephen to realise its limitations through the very nature of the pose. Its philosophical rumination and self- reflection allows Stephen the awareness necessary to forge his own, authentic identity. There is reason to suppose that Stephen will find a unique and mature vision. He is often thought of as a mocking self-characterisation of the younger Joyce by the older (the Stephen of Ulysses is the age of Joyce in 1904, the year the novel is set), and Joyce certainly achieved his artistic vision, thus one believes Stephen will too.




















Maddox, James H. Jr. Joyce?s Ulysses and the Assault upon Character. Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1978.

Joyce, James. Ulysses: The 1922 Text. Oxford World?s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Joyce, James. Letters. Accessed: 9 March 2006. <http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~fa1871/joynote.html>

Scofield, Martin. The Ghosts of Hamlet: The Play and Modern Writers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Date accessed: 9 March 2006. http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/ghosts.html

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