The Epistemology of Stephen's Hamlet Reading
I’ve been enjoying the collective Ulysses read organized at Infinite Zombies (and here’s a great write-up about Infinite Zombies at knoxnews.com). My comments over there tend to swell to a length that is very possibly obnoxious, so I thought I’d share this, still relatively brief, question here. (Another interesting set of questions worthy of consideration surrounds the very idea of online collective readings—I’m loathe to call them online “book clubs,” though exactly why I’m not sure; perhaps a lingering sense of indignity b/c of Oprah’s Book Club? But that would be silly and unfair to an incredibly influential institution that promoted reading the work of writers like Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, etc... is this Shandyesque sort of digression why my comments are so long?) Stephen’s long discourse on Shakespeare and Hamlet, anticipated since Mulligan's comment to Haines ("He proves by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father" Gabler 1.555-57), occupies most of episode nine (the “Scylla and Charybdis” episode). There is plenty to be said here about literary critical approaches (Stephen's biographical reading vs. Russell's appeal to "ideas, formless spiritual essences...eternal wisdom, Plato's world of ideas" [9.49ff]). At Infinite Zombies there has been some mention of the metafictional shell game Joyce seems to be playing here, as Stephen (so often read through the lens of Joyce's biography) offers a biographical reading Shakespeare. At the heart of Stephen's argument is the suggestion that Hamlet is somehow based on Shakespeare's own son, Hamnet; that his wife may have had an affair with his brother, à la Gertrude, etc. etc. But by the end Stephen offers something like an epistemology, of which the biographical reading of Hamlet operates in service. What I take to be the peroration of Stephen's argument:blog comments powered by Disqus
Maeterlinck says: If Socrates leaves his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. If Judas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend. Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves. The playwright who wrote the folio of this world and wrote it badly (He gaves us light first and sun two days later), the lord of things as they are whom the most Roman of catholics call dio boia, hangman god, is doubtless all in all in all of us, ostler and butcher, and would be bawd and cuckold too but that in the economy of heaven, foretold by Hamlet, there are no more marriages, glorified man, an androgynous angel, being a wife unto himself.The reading of Hamlet ultimately leads up to this, I think, much broader epistemological claim about how we know the world. But in this novel of a single day, are the characters walking through Dublin always meeting only themselves? That seems a very solipsistic vision for a novel that at all points seems interested in multiple viewpoints and perspective. Or, as Mulligan realizes, Stephen's is a fundamentally masturbatory view of the world where, indeed, "there are no more marriages" (cf. Hamlet "We will have no more marriages"), but where "Everyman [is] His Own Wife" (9.1171). I used to be charmed by this peroration; but now I find it a rather depressing view of the world. And, like Stephen's aesthetic theory, elaborated towards the end of Portrait, I am strongly inclined to take Stephen's reading of Hamlet as a sort of object lesson in how not to read Ulysses. Is that too simple?