Ulysses – Episode Nine: “Scylla and Charybdis”

In the National Library director’s office, sometime after 1:00
P.M., Stephen casually presents his “Hamlet theory”
to John Eglinton, a critic and essayist; A.E., a poet; and Lyster,
a librarian and Quaker. Stephen contends that Shakespeare associated
himself with Hamlet’s father, not with Hamlet himself. When the
episode opens, Stephen is impatient with the older men’s repetition
of unoriginal, received wisdom on Shakespeare. John Eglinton puts
Stephen in his place by mockingly inquiring about his own literary
accomplishments or lack thereof. From the corner, A.E. expresses
disdain for Stephen’s Hamlet theory, maintaining that biographical
criticism is useless because one should focus only on the depth
expressed by the art. Stephen responds to Eglinton’s mockery of
his youth, pointing out that Aristotle was once Plato’s pupil. Stephen
shows off his knowledge of the philosophers’ work.
Mr. Best, the librarian, enters—he has been showing Douglas Hyde’s Lovesongs
of Connacht to Haines. A.E. expresses his preference for
Hyde’s pastoral poems. Stephen continues with his theory by sketching
a scene from Shakespeare’s London: Shakespeare walks along the river
to his own performance of Hamlet where he plays
not Hamlet but the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Stephen contends that
Hamlet thus corresponds to Shakespeare’s dead son, Hamnet, and unfaithful
Gertrude represents Shakespeare’s adulterous wife, Ann Hathaway.
A.E. reiterates that a critic should focus on the work itself, not
the details of the poet’s personal life, such as his drinking habits
or his debts. Stephen recalls that he himself owes A.E. some money.
Eglinton argues that Ann Hathaway is historically unimportant, and
he cites biographers who depict Shakespeare’s early marriage to Ann
Hathaway as a mistake—a mistake he rectified by going to London.
Stephen counters that geniuses make no mistakes. Lyster re-enters
the room. Stephen, drawing on the plots and imagery of the early
plays, demonstrates that the older Ann seduced young Shakespeare
in Stratford.
A.E. gets up to leave—he is expected elsewhere. Eglinton inquires
if he will be at Moore’s (an Irish novelist) tonight—Buck and Haines
will be there. Lyster mentions that A.E. is compiling a volume of
the work of young Irish poets. Someone suggests that Moore is the
man to write the Irish epic. Stephen is resentful not to be included
in the poetry collection, nor in their social circle. He vows to
remember the snub. Stephen thanks A.E. for taking a copy of Deasy’s
letter for publication.
Eglinton returns to the argument: he believes that Shakespeare
is Hamlet himself, as Hamlet is such a personal character. Stephen argues
that Shakespeare’s genius was such that he could give life to many
characters. Still focusing on Ann Hathaway’s adultery, Stephen points
out that Shakespeare’s middle plays are dark tragedies. His later,
lighter plays testify (through their young female characters) to
the arrival of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, who reconciled the rift
with the grandmother.
Stephen makes another point: the ghost of Hamlet’s father
inexplicably knows the means of his own murder and of his wife’s betrayal.
Shakespeare has granted him this extraneous knowledge because the
character is part of Shakespeare himself. Buck, who has been standing
in the doorway, mockingly applauds Stephen. Buck approaches Stephen
and produces a cryptic telegram that Stephen sent to him at the
Ship instead of showing up himself. Buck playfully chides Stephen
for standing him and Haines up.
A library attendant comes to the door and summons Lyster
to help a patron (Bloom) find the Kilkenny People. Buck
recognizes Bloom standing in the hall and explains that he just
saw Bloom in the National Museum eyeing the rear end of a goddess
statue. Implying that Bloom is a homosexual, Buck teasingly warns Stephen
to beware of Bloom.
Stephen continues: while Shakespeare was in London living
the high life with many sexual partners, Ann cheated on him back
in Stratford—this hypothesis would explain why there is no other mention
of her in the plays. Shakespeare’s will pointedly left her only
his “second-best bed.”
Eglinton suggests that Shakespeare’s father corresponds
to the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Stephen forcefully denies this
supposition, insisting that the ghost of Hamlet’s father is not
Shakespeare’s father, but Shakespeare himself, who was old and greying
at the time the play was written. Fathers, Stephen digresses, are
inconsequential. Paternity is unprovable and therefore insubstantial—fathers are
linked to their children only by a brief sexual act.
Stephen goes on to suggest that Ann cheated on Shakespeare with
his brothers, Edmund and Richard, whose names appear in Shakespeare’s
plays as adulterous or usurping brothers. Eglinton asks Stephen
if he believes his own theory, and Stephen says no. Eglinton asks
why he should expect payment for it if he does not believe it.
Buck tells Stephen it is time for a drink and they leave.
Buck makes fun of Eglinton, a lonely bachelor. Buck reads aloud
a play he was scribbling while Stephen argued—it is a farce, entitled Everyman
His Own Wife or A Honeymoon in the Hand. As they walk out the
front door, Stephen senses someone behind him—it is Bloom. Stephen
steps away from Buck, and Bloom passes between them down the steps.
Whispering, Buck again alludes jokingly to Bloom’s lusty homosexuality.
Stephen walks down the steps, feeling spent.
In Episode Nine of Ulysses, we meet up
again with Stephen, whom we last saw headed to a pub with the men
from the Freeman office. He never met Haines and
Buck at the Ship pub at 12:30, as they had arranged
this morning. Instead, Stephen has wound up here, at the National
Library, performing his “Hamlet theory.” Stephen is trying to interest
Eglinton and A.E. in publishing the theory, and in his own talent
in general. Stephen’s presentation is hardly formal—it rather takes
the shape of a discussion between men-of-letters. There are frequent
interruptions and digressions, and Stephen often ad-libs, using
thoughts or the words of others from earlier in the day.
Episode Nine corresponds to Odysseus’s trial-by-sea in
which he must sail between Scylla, the six-headed monster situated
on a rock, and Charybdis, a deadly whirlpool. The concept of negotiating
two extremes plays out several times within the episode, most notably
in the Plato-Aristotle dichotomy that Stephen mentions. Like Odysseus,
Stephen sails closer to Scylla, and thus Stephen’s thoughts and theories
owe more to Aristotle’s grounded, material, logical sense of the
world (symbolized by the rock) than to Plato’s sense of unembodied
concepts or ideals (symbolized by the whirlpool).
This alignment explains why Stephen grounds Shakespeare’s work
in the lived reality of Shakespeare’s life, whereas A.E. separates
the man from the eternal ideas expressed in his work. Like Odysseus,
Stephen cannot sail too close to Scylla’s rock, though, and the
threat of extreme materialism is represented by Buck and his physically
based humor. Stephen also has to negotiate between his desire for
acceptance from literary men such as Eglinton and A.E. and his disdain
for such men and their movement, the Irish Literary Revival. Stephen
is scornful of A.E.’s mysticism and Eglinton’s superiority, but
he is also bitterly sad at not being considered for A.E.’s compilation
of young Irish poets or for the gathering at Moore’s house.
Part of the reason that Eglinton and the others seem resistant
to Stephen’s Hamlet theory is that the theory is less a traditional
piece of literary-critical investigation than an imaginative performance
of one poet understanding another poet. We have seen Stephen, in
the first three episodes of Ulysses, struggling
with the circumstances of his own life and history and trying to
understand how he can either incorporate them or overcome them to
create art. Stephen’s theory of Hamlet shows that Shakespeare often
wrote his life and times into his work (the culmination being Hamlet as
an expression of his bitterness at his wife’s infidelity) and thus
presents examples of how masterpieces can still be tied to the realities
of lived experience.
Stephen’s meditations on paternity take on a particular
urgency in Episode Nine. Stephen envisions ideal paternity as literary
creation—he argues that Shakespeare is not merely father to his
son Hamnet but to all humanity. Stephen’s further arguments about
the tenuosity of the father-son relationship and the insignificance
of fathers relates to his own experience of alienation from his
father. Much of Stephen’s Hamlet theory seems to develop out of
his own life, and we see Stephen thinking about parallel personal
matters—his mother, his sexuality, and so on—while he argues about
Shakespeare’s life and work.
The cameo appearances of Bloom in this episode remind
us of the sonless Bloom’s suitability as a replacement father figure
for Stephen. The schematics of the chapter reinforce this sense.
Though Stephen himself seems to be the Odysseus figure for a time
in the “Scylla and Charybdis” episode, in the schematic of Shakespeare, Bloom
seems to be the father figure (Shakespeare) and Stephen, the son
(Hamlet). Bloom is aligned with Shakespeare through their similarly
unfaithful wives and dead sons, Hamnet and Rudy, respectively. As
Shakespeare writes the drama of his wife into his art, so did we
see Bloom consider writing a story based on Molly at the end of
Episode Four.