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"Knock knock. War's where!": History, Macbeth, and Finnegans Wake

From: Joyce Studies Annual
Volume 2009
pp. 212-223

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Writing to his brother Stanislaus in 1905, Joyce decided to award "the highest palms" in the history of literature to Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Shelley (LII 90). Unsurprisingly, therefore, all three authors reappear in Joyce's own works—the library chapter in Ulysses is the obvious case in point. But out of these three musketeers of Western literature, Shakespeare is certainly the writer whose works suffered the most from Joyce's reinterpretation, from his creative appropriation and his deliberate misreadings.1 As Haines suggests so succinctly in "Wandering Rocks," Shakespeare is indeed "the happy huntingground of all minds that have lost their balance" (U 10.1061–2). This article traces potential resonances of a particular case of Wakean intertextuality in Book II, Chapter 3—the chapter taking place in Earwicker's pub in Chapelizod—that connects Joyce's Wake explicitly to the drunken porter scene in Shakespeare's Macbeth. For not only do porters have a particular currency in the Wake's literary universe, but Joyce's creative appropriation of the Macbeth play also allowed him to develop further the historical tenor of his last novel.

Of course, I am not the first person to observe the Wake's receptiveness to 1930s politics. In a recent article on geopolitical references in Book II, Chapter 3 of Finnegans Wake, Richard Robinson demonstrates the text's "proleptic suggestiveness" in relation to cartographic and political instabilities in 1930s Europe.2 With its explicit references to the Danzig Corridor, Czechoslovakia, and the river Oder in the "Buckley" and the "Norwegian Captain" sections—"frankfurters on the odor" (FW 332.8); "Check or slowback" (FW 332.36); "along the danzing corridor" (FW 333.8)—Joyce's chapter, Robinson persuasively argues, anticipates the imminent remapping of European borders as a result of Nazi expansionism after 1938 (175). While concerns about the changing political landscape, military invasions, and the remapping of unstable territorial borders in Europe were ubiquitous in the years leading up to World War II, Joyce, it seems, capitalized on these cultural fears about unsettled geographical borderlines and military offences to turn II.3 into a politically and historically conscious script. This essay will extend Robinson's suggestive examination of the importance of unstable borders and invaded spaces in Book II, Chapter 3 of the Wake. And although I will focus, in the first place, on textual borders in Joyce's chapter, I hope to show that the unraveling of a particular case of intertextual trespassing, invasion, or interruption might help to generate readings that further underscore the historical dimensions of Joyce's Wake chapter. As we shall see, Shakespeare's Macbeth repeatedly alludes to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and to a potential Jesuit conspiracy, thereby making its responsiveness to contemporary political events very apparent. Joyce's text, I will argue, works in a similar manner. In order to create a script that is sensitive to Nazi activism in the changing political landscape of the 1930s, Joyce appropriated Shakespeare's methodology of textual composition. Hence, in Joyce's Wake, history and intertextuality productively intertwine. In the second half of the 1930s, Shakespeare's drama and historical events both aggressively invade the textual space of Joyce's Work in Progress.

The particular passage I am interested in intrudes on the chapter's tale of the "Norwegian Captain" and interrupts the tale of the Viking invader settling down to marry ALP. It reads: "Knock knock. War's where! Which war? The Twwinns. Knock knock. Woos without! Without what? An apple. Knock knock" (FW 330.30–2). As Shakespeare scholars will instantly recognize, this Wakean passage alludes to the drunken porter scene at the beginning of Act II, Scene 3 in Shakespeare's Macbeth.3 Here is the opening passage of the scene for comparison:

Scene III.—[The same.]

Enter a Porter.

[Knocking within.]

Porter. Here's a knocking, indeed! If a man were Porter of Hell Gate, he should have old turning the key. [Knocking.] Knock, knock, knock. Who's there, i'th'name of Belzebub?—Here's a farmer, that hang'd himself on th'expectation of plenty: come in, time-pleaser; have napkins enow about you; here you'll sweat for't. [Knocking.] Knock, knock. Who...

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