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UNSUBSTANTIAL FATHER: A STUDY OF THE HAMLET SYMBOLISM IN JOYCE'S ULYSSES EDWARD DuNcAN T HE aunt is going to call on your unsubstantial father." .Thus jeered Buck Mulligan, ridiculing Stephen Dedalus) chief obsession , the theme of paternity, which in all its various ramifications continued to haunt Stephen throughout the whole of Ulysses. Commentators have long recognized the importance of this father-son relationship for a proper understanding of Joyce's symbolism; indeed, Ulysses is largely the saga of Stephen's search for a father. In spite of this, I feel that it has never been adequately treated. It is true that Stuart Gilbert devotes a whole chapter of his book on Ulysses to a discussion of the paternity theme, but since he uses theosophy aB a Procrustean bed on which to fit Joyce's text, his treatment is necessarily somewhat limited. It is in the Scylla and Charybdis episode, somewhat neglected by commentators, that we may hope to find an answer to the following questions: "Why was Stephen Dedalus not satisfied with ordinary fatherhood, the relationship with Simon, his consubstantial father; and what was the particular relation for which he quested?" The Scylla and Charybdis episode,·usually known as the Library scene, so called beeause it takes place in the National Library in Kildare Street, is significant because of the light which it throws on Stephen's relations with his father and mother. Here Stephen expounds a theory concerning Shakespeare's family, based principally on a study of Hamlet, and, under cover of this ex-position, propounds a theory of fatherhood and rids his soul of some of the bitterness caused by his relations with his own family. I T. S. Eliot states in his essay on Hamlet that this play was probably written by Shakespeare under the stress of some tremendous emotion, so that it became the "objective correlative' for this emotion. He defines "objective correlative'' as "a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events, which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in a sensory experience , are given, the emotion is immediately evoked." He feels, however, that the emotion which Shakespeare was trying to cmnmunicate in Hamlet was too great for the play to express completely, 126 UNSUBSTANTIAL FATHER 127 that it overflows and spoils the artistic form.· He makes no guess as to what this emotion mig~t be and, indeed, the known biographical facts would not warrant any such guess. Stephen, however, proceeding mainly on the internal evidences supplied by the plays and the sonnets, thinks that he has the answer to this riddle and expounds his theory of Hamlet for the benefit of his sceptical hearers. Whatever Shakespearean critics may thmk of the validity of Stephen's theory (and none seem to have taken it seriously) is of no concern to us here. Its interest to us lies in the light which it throws on Stephen himself and his relations with his family. As Edmund Wilson says, it is "a lecture which has little to. do with Shakespeare, but a good deal to do with Stephen himself." I believe, however, that Mr. Wilson is guilty of error when he states that the lecture concerns the relations between Shakespeare and his father. Most other Joycean critics make a similar mistake in concentrating on the father-son relationship which is largely incidental to the main theme, the relationships between Hamlet and his mother, between Shakespeare and Ann Hathaway, and between Stephen and his mother. This is not to minimize the importance of the paternity motif. Nonetheless, Stephen's relations with his mother are the focal point of the dis;. cussion and form a matrix from which arise, later on, the problems concerning paternity. Since Stephen's exposition is rathe:r difficult to follow, rambling a great deal and bringing in much irrelevant material, I shall give the main outline in so far as it concerns my particular theory. Shakespeare, while still a boy, was seduced by Ann Hathaway, a strapping wench and his senior by eight years. Stephen finds ·the evidences for this seduction in Venus and AdonisJ Ann being Venus and the young...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 126-140
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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