Stephen Dedalus is Joyce’s modern Hamlet; both protagonists take on the role of the troubled and introspective outsider. Ulysses is scattered with tokens that link the young Irish artist with the Renaissance Prince, the analogy between Martello and Elsinore or Stephen’s Hamlet-hat for instance; but what links the two characters on a more thematically loaded level is their relation to parental authority. Janet Adelman draws attention to the domesticity of Hamlet in contrast to the history tetralogies or Julius Caesar. This is not to say that Hamlet is completely void of political meaning but that personal familial relationships are fore-grounded. Joyce takes this paradigm and whilst keeping the domestic element, the every day, the apparently mundane, he politicises his story, expanding the symbolism and exploring difficult issues of patriarchy. The personal, political, and spiritual dimensions of parenthood are explored in Ulysses through Stephen’s connections to his biological parents, to political authority, and to the literary tradition in which Shakespeare is figured as a creative father. These symbolic levels of power can be better understood using Hamlet as a key orientating template.
Hamlet is to a large extent stuck under the shadow of his father and mother. It is his mother’s sexuality and the betrayal his father suffered which torment him, driving his purpose throughout the play. As heir to the throne, Hamlet is part of a lineage that ingrains him in a system of paternal law. He is honourably bound to revenge his father’s murder, but is prevented from absolute identification with him due to an ‘obsession with a cloying maternal sexuality’. It is evident how dismayed Hamlet is at what he perceives to be his mother’s sexual betrayal when his first anguished soliloquy, ‘O that this too too sullied flesh would melt…’ (I.ii.129), reveals he is already meditating on suicide out of disgust and shame at the ‘incestuous sheets’ (I.ii.157). This takes place before he is even made aware of his father’s ghost haunting the night. T S Eliot concluded that ‘Shakespeare’s Hamlet…is a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son’. Whether or not we agree with Eliot’s criticism it is important to note that he is Joyce’s contemporary and that these ideas were circulating in Joyce’s time. Eliot also identifies that Gertrude’s character is not particularly prominent or developed, and therefore it is largely Hamlet’s projection of his mother we are witnessing rather than Gertrude as an individual. Hamlet’s father is likewise presented through Hamlet. The images of the past are deeply engraved in Hamlet’s mind and it is impossible to hear the descriptions of his father without detecting notes of idealisation and glorification. In his first soliloquy he proclaims: ‘So excellent a king; that was, to this,/ Hyperion to a satyr’ (I,ii,139-140). Later when describing his father’s picture to his mother he appears enthralled with the model image of royal masculinity and heroic greatness: ‘See what a grace was seated on this brow;/ Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself;/ An eye like Mars, to threaten and command’ (III.iv.56-59). John Russell rightly notes that Hamlet reveres his father as if he were ‘far removed from the merely human, semi-divine, transcendent’. This commemorative idolatry weighs heavy in the play. The Ghost leaves with a fundamental imperative: ‘Remember me’ (I.v.91) and Hamlet responds:
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there;
And thy commandment all alone shall live… (I.v.97-101)
Remembering is something Hamlet is very good at, so much so that he lives under the shadow of the past which weighs him down with the responsibility of revenge. He is psychologically subordinate to his father and namesake, leaving him feeling powerless and unable to assert his individuality: ‘Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own’ (III.ii.217-20). Hamlet’s identity is inextricably linked to his royal mother and father; his path is essentially defined by them. Eliot argues that ‘[t]he levity of Hamlet, his repetition of phrase, his puns, are not part of a deliberate plan of dissimulation, but a form of emotional relief’. If he is right, it is possible to detect a note of this frustrated identity among the various levels of puns present in Hamlet’s quip to Claudius: ‘I am too much in the sun’ (I.ii.67).
As well as the personal pressures on an individual negotiating the influence of parental authority it is also the more subtle political implications that appear to interest Joyce. It is possible to see plotted out in Hamlet the difficulties surrounding the ‘production of social identities from above’. Claudius wishes to assert himself as the unifying head of the new regime, and he attempts to assimilate Hamlet into his government: ‘chiefest courtier, cousin, and … son’ (I.ii.117). Hamlet, however, remains on the outside, refusing to be ascribed a new place in the system, rejecting what he perceives as the inauthentic world of the court. The order of paternal law Hamlet chooses to act under however, has equally complicated implications regarding individuation as Andrew Mousely aptly outlines:
…if, on the one hand, the incitement to revenge promises to put an end to any form of individualism by returning the subject to a questionably higher structure of command, then, on the other, revenge, as an extreme act of self-assertion, serves to pluralise the meanings of individualism still further.
Individual assertion was thematically crucial to Joyce’s writing since he was born into an English occupied Ireland. The revenger in Renaissance drama was portrayed as an outsider to the official state system of law. ‘Local justice, based on the competing interests of families, was rapidly giving way to a centralised legal bureaucracy in which personal passions and honour counted for little and patronage and rhetorical skill became all-important’. The nationalist Irish movements can be seen as outside of the English structure imposed from above, but Stephen locates himself outside both potential sources of authority as he identifies them as similarly prescriptive. According to Declan Kiberd, Joyce saw a veiled form of English imperial nationalism and self-sacrificing ‘muscular Christianity’ in Irish nationalist myths such as that of Cúchulainn; ‘the epic fighter who defended the gap of the north of Ireland against all-comers, even unto death’ and whose myth was purveyed by writers such as Pearse, Yeats and Lady Gregory. By the fifth act, as Hamlet moves towards his revenge, it is uncertain whether he more definitely locates himself in the paradigm of heroic self-assertion or whether in his resigned fatalism we can detect a darkly ironic parody of what is potentially ‘an anachronistic form of masculine agency’. Joyce takes an outrightly mocking stance against the correspondingly violent, hyper-masculine patriotism and it is possible to trace the roots of inspiration to Hamlet. The Prince exposes through puns, parody and his ‘antic disposition’ (I.v.172) ‘the way figures of authority (himself included) attempt to have their fictions accepted as truths. The very idea of searching for truth, whether metaphysical, religious or social, is itself exposed by the mimic as a kind of (masculine) fiction’. The element of parody in which Hamlet indulges brings him closer to the realm of the carnivalesque which some of Shakespeare’s clowns inhabit; it is distinctly this world into which Bloom and Stephen venture in the episode of ‘Circe’. Plurality and parody becomes a form of dissent against the accepted patriarchal order. Whether Hamlet plays the melancholy lover, the witty courtier, the scholar or the soldier, we are unsure where exactly to locate his identity. Likewise Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist feels the pressure of multiple potential identities:
…he had heard about him the constant voices of his father and of his masters, urging him to be a gentleman above all things…he had heard another voice urging him to be strong and manly and healthy and when the movement towards national revival had begun…another voice had bidden him be true to his country and help to raise up her language and tradition. In the profane world, as he foresaw, a worldly voice would bid him raise up his father’s fallen state by his labours…it was the din of all these hollow-sounding voices that made him halt irresolutely in the pursuit of phantoms. (my italics)
Although Hamlet is full of reflections on social structure, in Joyce’s hands the story is further politicised and Shakespeare himself is brought into play as a character in the layers of symbolic parental authority. Although it is possible to become hopelessly lost and entangled examining Joyce’s uses of Shakespeare in as extensive a work as Ulysses, the episode of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ deals almost entirely with Shakespearean criticism and is focused on Hamlet and parenthood. Stephen, and by implication Joyce, aligns himself so closely with Hamlet that he places himself under the weight of Shakespeare as a paternal figure of literary authority. The episode recounts a Platonic dialogue in the Dublin National Library between Stephen Dedalus, Mr Best, John Eglinton (Magee), Mr George Russell (A.E.), and ‘Quakerlyster’ (the librarian). Stephen arms himself with words, ‘Unsheathe your dagger definitions’ (p.238), just as Hamlet asserts before going to visit his mother: ‘I will speak daggers to her, but use none’ (III.ii.404). The two protagonists also share a feeling of frustration and inertia: ‘Speech, speech. But act. Act speech. They mock to try you. Act. Be acted on’ (p.271). There is a note of pressurising expectation for Stephen when we are told: ‘—Our young Irish bards, John Eglinton censured, have yet to create a figure which the world will set beside Saxon Shakespeare’s Hamlet…’ (p.236). Stephen, in perhaps what could be seen as a vein of arrogance, views himself as an undiscovered Shakespeare: ‘Elizabethan London lay as far from Stratford as corrupt Paris lies from virgin Dublin’ (p.240). Both Shakespeare and Stephen return to ‘that spot of earth where he was born’ (p.273), but the latter yet without the success that the former found, ‘And my turn? When?’ (p.244) he asks himself, and in a bitter echo of Hamlet bids himself not to forget how Dublin’s literary circle snubbed him: ‘See this. Remember’ (p.246).
Stuart Gilbert notes in his explanation of the episode: ‘[t]he mystery of paternity, in its application to the First and Second Persons of the Trinity, to King Hamlet and the Prince, and, by implication, to the curious symbiosis of Stephen and Bloom, is ever in the background of Stephen’s Shakespearian exegesis’. Fragmented thoughts on spiritual paternity punctuate the narrative: ‘Father, Word and Holy Breath. Allfather, the heavenly man’ (p.237). The religious implications are a background melody however, for most of the scene Stephen navigates between two interpretive literary authorities in cultural antagonism with each other. The unionist Edward Dowden is represented in the figure of Eglinton and the nationalist cause, embraced by Yeats, is advocated by A.E.. Both political allegiances are reflected in their socially constructed versions of Shakespeare’s persona. ‘Fact’ was a key term in Dowden’s criticism, he argued that Shakespeare is ‘inexorable in his plays to all rebels against the fact’, like Hamlet and Richard II. For Dowden, Shakespeare ‘feared that he might falter from his strong self-maintenance into a Hamlet’. This conception of the playwright was of a man who ‘evidently lived in no dream-world’. For Yeats, on the other hand, Shakespeare was ‘irresistibly drawn to Hamlet, Richard II, Coriolanus, and Timon’. His sympathies are with men ‘made useless to the State’ by their spiritual ‘abundance’. Dowden lived in a country, ‘where everything has failed’. This makes him glorify ‘the perfection of character which had, he thought, made England successful.’ By contrast, Yeats’ ‘Nationalist’ reading of Shakespeare produces ‘an anaemic and politically impotent poet of the Celtic Twilight’. The Quaker librarian in the opening of the episode expresses this opposition but displaces it onto a description of Goethe’s ‘Wilhelm Meister’, which also contains an analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: ‘The beautiful ineffectual dreamer who comes to grief against hard facts’ (p.235). Stephen moves his argument between these two views of Shakespeare, that could be crudely described as either a feminised Irish (mother) or a hyper-masculine English (father), but subscribes to neither. In Ulysses the maternal and paternal roles are symbolically expanded. Although Stephen, like Hamlet, has troubled relations with his biological parents he has even more complex feelings in regards to his metaphorically authoritative parents: imperialistic, patriarchal England and mother Ireland.
Stephen chooses a biographical treatment of Shakespeare even though ‘[w]e know nothing but that he lived and suffered’ (p.248); this allows him to construct an image of Shakespeare that fits neither the nationalist Irish version nor the imperialist English account of the famous playwright. Stephen promptly admits he does not believe his own theory and one must assume that his account of Shakespeare is for aesthetic satisfaction and symbolic meaning. He argues that Shakespeare identifies with Hamlet’s betrayed father, speaking to his own dead son Hamnet: ‘I am the murdered father: your mother is the guilty queen, Ann Shakespeare, born Hathaway’ (p.241). In Stephen’s story Shakespeare was haunted by Ann’s adultery until a spirit of reconciliation came about at the birth of his granddaughter. He chooses to present apparent ‘facts’ about ‘the second best bed’ which the revivalist A.E. sneers on as ‘interesting only to the parish clerk’. On the other hand he ‘strips Shakespeare of the cultural eminence and centrality which Dowden takes for granted’. Contrary to the English trend of bardolatry, Stephen presents a Shakespeare who ‘will never be a victor in his own eyes’ (p.251), not the image of English mastery and self-control Dowden would have approved of:
Ravisher and ravished […] He goes back, weary of the creation he has piled up to hide him from himself, an old dog licking an old sore […] untaught by the wisdom he has written or by the laws he has revealed. […] He is a ghost, a shadow now, the wind by Elsinore’s rocks or what you will, the sea’s voice, a voice heard only in the heart of him who is the substance of his shadow, the son consubstantial with the father. (p.252)
Stephen mysticises the process of fatherhood and, as was commonly done by Renaissance writers, apparently makes the maternal link the only certainty:
Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession […] .Amor matris, subjective and objective genitive, may be the only true thing in life. (p.266)
The artist, however, has the power to ‘weave and unweave his image’. Artistic creativity/paternity is here presented as a kind of potential auto genesis:
When Rutlandbaconsouthamptonshakespeare or another poet of the same name in the comedy of errors wrote Hamlet he was not the father of his own son merely but, being no more a son, he was and felt himself the father of all his race… (p.267)
This is not the traditional kind of bardolatry but there is a belief in a somewhat transubstantiating power behind artistic creation. Here is a fantasy of redemption and freedom from both biological and metaphorical parental authority. Stephen makes Shakespeare ‘Himself his own father’ (p.267); by aligning himself with Shakespeare he reveals to us his own desire, and by implication Joyce’s, to be free of the fetters of origin. Stephen in Portrait declares: ‘When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.’ Ellmann highlights how focused Ulysses is on confronting issues of origin and paternity:
A theme of Ulysses, Joyce intimates, is reconciliation with the father…Insofar as the movement of the book is to bring Stephen, the young Joyce, into rapport with Bloom, the mature Joyce, the author becomes, it may be said, his own father.
Joyce insists on neither a feminine or masculine Shakespeare, but instead, conflates the two, in a fantasy of a mixed gender in one: the ‘beardless’ (p.671) face that is fatherless. As Declan Kiberd aptly comments: ‘repudiation of the genetic father in a colonial situation takes on a revolutionary character, since it implies not just a rejection of authority but of all official versions of the past’.
Modernism’s simultaneous hope and fear that patriarchal authority (in family, in empire, in literature) is a ‘mythical construct’, can be traced among its many roots to Hamlet’s ‘The King is a thing…Of nothing.’ (IV.ii.28/9). The turn of the century gave way to a new fascination with self-invention, free from the burdens of responsibility to the past, both in its greatness (the weight of literary masters in the vein of Shakespeare) and its horrors (the carnage and destruction caused by the First World War). After ‘Th’ unnerved father falls’ (II.ii.485) there is a new space for creation. Bloom was Joyce’s new ‘womanly man’. Wilde argued that ‘every man must form a stylized conception of himself, that is, ‘conceive of himself’’. Modernism’s protagonists were men like Jay Gatsby, who ‘sprang from some extraordinary conception of himself’ and embodied a new freedom, but along with it came new crisis of identity. The fact that writers such as Joyce and Eliot relied so heavily on the past to create their art, immediately poses problems with the fantasy of individuation. Christina Britzolakis rightly notes:
For Stephen Dedalus in Portrait, authorship is constituted as a negativity, the non serviam pronounced against the institutional claims of Church, State and Family. In Ulysses however, the writer’s control over the meanings his text produces has become part of a wider exploration of the self-contradictory nature of authority.
Shakespeare’s identity is appropriated, interpreted, constantly re-created for political and artistic ends, by Dowden, Yeats, Joyce and a string of others who wish to adapt the notion of tradition, literary authority and creative genius to suit their ends. So although he is figured as ‘Himself his own father’ in Ulysses, this is true perhaps only of the creative moment when he produced his works. As Gibson explains, Joyce displays an attitude to Shakespeare of both ‘fidelity and betrayal’; ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ is scattered with Shakespearean quotations and words, but many of them are slightly modified. ‘Where Malone wanted to purge Shakespeare of fabrications, contaminations, modernisms, alien additions, Joyce deliberately introduces them’. Some rare Shakespearean words are used, but some that sound like Shakespeare, Gibson notes, such as ‘brooding’, are actually Miltonic. We are unclear in Joyce’s imitation where he is directly quoting Shakespeare, or altering the sense. A wonderful example, again given by Gibson, is the word ‘firedrake’, which in Henry VIII means pustule-faced, but Joyce beautifies its connotation: ‘A star, a daystar, a firedrake, rose at his birth’. Joyce acknowledges Shakespeare as an authoritative figure in literature but indirectly undermines him, rejecting an idolatrous submission to the shadow of his genius. Although there is an element of attack in Joyce’s dissemination of Shakespearean words the simultaneous compliment of imitation and even friendly veneration disarms some of the competitive aggression which Bloom’s model of literary influence appears to assume: poets must ‘wrestle with their strong precursors, even to the death’. Joyce’s attitude perhaps echoes more the pre-18th century ideas on collaboration between writers. This enables him to interact with Shakespeare on the same stage, with a new equality. Gibson actually calls him Joyce’s ‘playfellow’. The hierarchy of father and son is confused; Shakespeare preceding Joyce, but Joyce writing him into his novel, appropriating his individuality, reforging and recreating.
The author is never truly free from the authority of origins, or from subsequent posthumous authorities. The fantasy of auto-genesis is ultimately only a fantasy since familial relations can be perhaps abandoned but are inevitably necessary. Shakespeare explores this idea in Coriolanus, where in another struggle to break away from the biological mother and symbolic fatherland, the protagonist discovers that he cannot ‘stand’ as if he were ‘author of himself’ (V.iii.35/36), and his attempt to erase his Roman identity leaves him ‘a kind of nothing’ (V.i.13). Rejection of the ties of origin can lead to a feeling of displacement that can clearly be detected in the somewhat lost and wandering Stephen. When Stephen says: ‘The note of banishment, banishment from the heart, banishment from home, sounds uninterruptedly from The Two Gentlemen of Verona onward till Prospero breaks his staff….’ (p.272), he is talking about Shakespeare but one cannot help wondering whether he is in fact referring to himself. The desire to escape can be inverted into a sense of banishment as the melancholic artist is too far on the outside of the symbolic order. As Mousely points out: ‘the concept of the self as free-floating paradoxically deprives the individual of any meaningful social and political agency’. Joyce left Ireland but spent the remainder of his life writing about the country and its politics. In a political essay, he openly states: ‘The economic and intellectual conditions of [the Irish] homeland do not permit the individual to develop…No self-respecting person wants to stay in Ireland. Instead he will run from it…’. Living so far on the outside he wished to situate himself, like Stephen, as apolitical. The apparent physical distance was perhaps an illusion masking the psychological subordination to the pull of his motherland. Britzolakis has another helpful comment relating this once again to the Hamlet paradigm: For modern writers ‘Hamlet is the Oedipal locus of an ‘anxiety of influence’, at once underwriting and dismantling paternity as the structure through which the Modernist author tries to name himself’ (my italics). This leads to a feeling of being suspended between association and rejection, Hamlet finally breaks free into death, but Stephen is left hanging in inaction. ‘Stephen’s serious and troubled Hamlet-like alienation from his father and from patriarchal authorities is in part redeemed by his acceptance of the anti-heroic Bloom’, yet at the end of the novel they part and Stephen wanders on, apparently less aware of the profound connection than Bloom. Perhaps Joyce underscores that there is no answer to the complicated problem of balance between individuation and acceptance of authority.
– Bloom, Harold, The Anxiety of Influence (Oxford, 1997)
– Bradley, A. C., Shakespearean Tragedy (Penguin, 1991)
– Britzolakis, Christina, ‘Speaking Daggers: T.S.Eliot, James Joyce and Hamlet’ in New Essays on Hamlet (AMS, 1994) p.227
– Eliot, T.S. ‘Hamlet and His Problems’, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1922)
– Ellmann, Richard, James Joyce (Oxford, 1959)
– Gibson, Andrew, Joyce’s Revenge: History, Politics and Aesthetics in Ulysses (Oxford, 2002)
– Gilbert, Stuart, James Joyce’s Ulysses (Faber, 1930)
– Greer, Germaine, Shakespeare’s Wife (Bloomsbury, 2008)
– Joyce, James, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Oxford University Press, 2000)
– Joyce, James, Dubliners (Penguin, 2000)
– Joyce, James, Ulysses (Penguin, 1992)
– Joyce, James, Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing (Oxford, 2000)
– Kiberd, Declan, ‘Introduction to Ulysses’ in Joyce, James, Ulysses (Penguin, 1992)
– Lamos, Colleen R., ‘Cheating on the father: Joyce and gender justice in Ulysses’ in Joyce in Context (Cambridge, 1992)
– Mahaffey, Vicki, ‘Ulysses and the End of Gender’ in European Joyce Studies 10: Masculinities in Joyce (Atlanta, 2001)
– Mahaffey, Vicki, ‘Framing, Being Framed and the Janus Faces of Authority’ in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, A Casebook, ed. Mark A Wollaeger (Oxford University Press, 2003), p.207
– Mousely, Andrew, ‘Hamlet and the Politics of Individualism’ in New Essays on Hamlet (AMS, 1994) p.67
– Russell, John, Hamlet and Narcissus (Associated University Presses, 1995)
– Shakespeare, William, Hamlet in Tragedies Volume 1 (Everyman’s Library, 1992)
– Shakespeare, William, Coriolanus (Arden, 1976)
– Tanner, Tony, ‘Introduction to Hamlet’ in Shakespeare, William, Tragedies Volume 1(Everyman, 1992)
– Thompson, Ann and Taylor, Neil, ‘Introduction to Hamlet’ (Arden, 2006)
– Van Boheemen-Saaf, Christine, ‘Postcolonial Masculinity and Gender Trauma’ in European Joyce Studies 10: Masculinities in Joyce (Atlanta, 2001)
 This is not to suggest however, that Joyce displays the somewhat bardolatrous attitude which Harold Bloom injects into his model of literary influence: as ‘children of Shakespeare’ ‘we are monumentally over-influenced by him’. Harold Bloom The Anxiety of Influence (Oxford, 1997), p.xviii
 ‘Yeats rounded on what he took to be Dowden’s scorn for ‘the Irish Literature movement and Irish literature generally’ taken from Andrew Gibson, Joyce’s Revenge: History, Politics and Aesthetics in Ulysses (Oxford, 2002), p.62