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Reviewed by:
  • Joyce/Shakespeare ed. by Laura Pelaschiar
  • Luke Thurston (bio)
JOYCE/SHAKESPEARE, edited by Laura Pelaschiar. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2015. xv + 210 pp. $19.95.

What a huge pleasure it is, in these dark days, to read this superb collection with its collective celebration of everything James Joyce himself championed and Joyce scholars have tried to perpetuate: creative, polyglot international dialogue and cultural cross-pollination. Laura Pelaschiar has assembled an all-star cast for her Shakespearean-Joycean production, with scholars drawn from four continents to survey, assess, and reconsider what she calls “[t]he J/S nexus” in its many dimensions and its ceaseless fertility (vii). Reading these essays is a vivid reminder of how central a role the Shakespearean text and its performance played in the development of Joyce’s imagination. The whole Joycean project that took shape [End Page 352] during the years in Trieste did so through an engagement, John McCourt shows, with a distinctly “European Shakespeare” (78)—in other words, with a sense of the dramatist’s global significance that defied contemporary efforts (by the likes of Edward Dowden) to brand him as exclusively English. As Valérie Bénéjam argues, the Shakespearean writing that Joyce thus encountered was an expression not of any given national culture but of life itself, in all its polysemic variety and complexity. It was by understanding and adopting this literary life-force, Bénéjam observes, that Joyce was able to develop his powerful critique (in “Cyclops,” for instance) of the binary, reductive rhetoric espoused by nationalism. For Richard Brown, it was only when Joyce came to experience European modernist reinterpretations of William Shakespeare—notably those of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in the Futurist “tinderbox” of Trieste (109)—that he could achieve his own “self-modernization” (107). This indeed was a way to make the bard an “emblematic figur[e] of modernity” (126) at the very moment he was being ideologically aligned with a cliché of Merrie Olde England. Vike Plock accentuates the radically cosmopolitan dimension of the J/S nexus by focusing on how “Stephen Dedalus . . . rubs shoulders with Goethe” (95), as Joyce’s alter ego vies with Wilhelm Meister for the role of theorist and reincarnation of Hamlet.1 The mixing and merging of cultures and texts is always in play for these devisers and revisers of Shakespeare, Plock emphasizes, in ways that go beyond any “notional gullery” or iconography of the nation-state (FW 57.21).

The figure of “camelot prince of dinmurk” is certainly a major presence in the book, as one might expect given Joyce’s youthful infatuation with that figure in his inky habit (FW 143.07). Paul Fagan reconsiders Vincent John Cheng’s influential idea that “Joyce found in Hamlet an all-encompassing matrix for his purposes” (166) in writing the Wake, suggesting that such a model of structured textual fealty might not fully capture Joyce’s unique gift for tentacular and fluid intertextuality. And a chapter by Cheng himself, whose Shakespeare and Joyce: A Study of “Finnegans Wake” arguably set the agenda for much of what is discussed in these essays,2 stresses how Shakespeare offered Joyce not merely a single glamorous role to appropriate but rather a “room of infinite possibilities” (144), a huge echo-chamber within which to exercise and develop his creative imagination.

One of the great strengths of the book is that it extends and enriches the scholarly debate on the J/S nexus by moving beyond the familiar problematic of Hamlet that has dominated that debate for so many years. Thus, Dieter Fuchs is able to trace a rich tapestry of connections between The History of Troilus and Cressida (443–94) and Ulysses, arguing that Joyce draws creatively on the play to develop [End Page 353] an “art of the gap” that uses analogy as an ironic ruse both to provoke and deride interpretation (24). Pelaschiar’s own chapter, focusing on Bloom and Othello (1198–1248), is one of the highlights of the book. In developing a crucial insight into the way Joyce blends fantasy and reality and turning the tragic misprisions of Othello into the black comedy of ”Circe,” Pelaschiar links Bloom’s...


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pp. 352-355
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