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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

ANSWER TO MY TRICK QUESTION: THERE’S THE RUB!

I received one answer to my trick question--in the Janeites group-- from the very astute Elissa Schiff, and she was spot-on when she wrote:

“answer to #1: Hamlet, Act V, scene ii, ~line 340ff; answer to #2: Ulysses - 3 possibilities the Cyclops chapter, or Oxen in the Sun chapter, or late scene where Bloom, the father, finally meets up with Stephen, the "son." “

The obvious answer #1 was indeed the climactic scene of Hamlet, and the two male characters are Hamlet and Horatio, who do indeed spend a lot of face time together in the play. And the trick answer #2 was indeed from Joyce’s Ulysses, as I will explain in detail further down in this post.

This post is a long one, by the way, because I quote at length from both Hamlet and Ulysses, but if you are interested enough in my point to have clicked on the link for THIS post, I think you won’t mind the length, as it is the only way to give the full flavor of what I am arguing, without your having to scurry to read the texts of both of those works.

So first, here is the text of the ultra-famous scene in Hamlet where those words all appear:

HAMLET
Heaven make thee free of it! I follow thee.
I am dead, Horatio. Wretched queen, adieu!
You that look pale and tremble at this chance,
That are but mutes or audience to this act,
Had I but time--as this fell sergeant, death,
Is strict in his arrest--O, I could tell you--
But let it be. Horatio, I am dead;
Thou livest; report me and my cause aright
To the unsatisfied.

HORATIO
Never believe it:
I am more an ANTIQUE ROMAN than a Dane:
HERE’S YET SOME LIQUOR LEFT.

HAMLET
As thou'rt a man,
Give me THE CUP: let go; by heaven, I'll have't.
O good Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.

March afar off, and shot within

What warlike noise is this?

OSRIC
Young Fortinbras, with conquest come from Poland,
To the ambassadors of England gives
This warlike volley.

HAMLET
O, I die, Horatio;
The potent POISON quite o'er-crows my spirit: (V.2, Hamlet)

The “liquor” of course is the dregs of Claudius’s poison intended for Hamlet but drunk by Gertrude instead; and the dying Hamlet talks Horatio out of committing “sympathetic suicide” so that Horatio can live to tell Hamlet’s tale.

And NOW here is the passage in the Eumaeus episode of Ulysses—yes, Elissa, that is the scene late in Ulysses, right after Circe when Bloom and Stephen start talking to each other--- which contains all those same words and elements:

[Bloom] “…It's a horse of quite another colour to say YOU BELIEVE IN THE EXISTENCE of a supernatural God.

—O that, Stephen expostulated, has been PROVED CONCLUSIVELY BY SEVERAL OF THE BESTKNOWN PASSAGES IN HOLY WRIT, APART FROM CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE.

On THIS KNOTTY POINT however the views of the pair, POLES APART as they were both in schooling AND EVERYTHING ELSE with the marked difference in their respective ages, clashed.

—Has been? the more experienced of the two objected, sticking to his original point with a smile of unbelief. I'm not so sure about that. That's a matter for everyman's opinion and, without dragging in the sectarian side of the business, I beg to differ with you in toto there. My belief is, to tell you the candid truth, that those bits were genuine forgeries all of them put in by monks most probably or it's the big question of our national poet over again, who precisely wrote them like HAMLET and Bacon, as, YOU WHO KNOW YOUR SHAKESPEARE INFINITELY BETTER THAN I, OF COURSE I NEEDN’T TELL YOU. Can't you DRINK THAT COFFEE, by the way? Let me stir it. And take a piece of that bun. It's like one of our skipper's bricks DISGUISED. Still NO-ONE CAN GIVE WHAT HE HASN’T GOT. Try a bit.

—Couldn't, Stephen contrived to get out, his mental organs for the moment refusing to dictate further.

Faultfinding being a proverbially bad hat Mr Bloom thought well to stir or try to THE CLOTTED SUGAR FROM THE BOTTOM and reflected with something approaching acrimony on the Coffee Palace and its temperance (and lucrative) work. To be sure it was a legitimate object and beyond yea or nay did a world of good, shelters such as the present one they were in run on teetotal lines for vagrants at night, concerts, dramatic evenings and useful lectures (admittance free) by qualified men for the lower orders. On the other hand he had a distinct and painful recollection they paid his wife, Madam Marion Tweedy who had been prominently associated with it at one time, a very modest remuneration indeed for her pianoplaying. The idea, he was strongly inclined to believe, was to do good and net a profit, there being no competition to speak of. SULPHATE OF COPPER POISON SO4 or something in some dried peas HE REMEMBERED READING OF IT in a cheap eatinghouse somewhere BUT HE COULDN’T REMEMBER WHEN IT WAS OR WHERE. Anyhow inspection, medical inspection, of all eatables seemed to him more than ever necessary which possibly accounted for the vogue of Dr Tibble's Vi-Cocoa on account of the medical analysis involved.

—Have a shot at it now, he ventured to say of the coffee after being stirred.

Thus prevailed on to at any rate taste it Stephen lifted THE HEAVY MUG from the brown puddle it clopped out of when taken up by the handle and took A SIP OF THE OFFENDING BEVERAGE.

—Still it's solid food, his good genius urged, I'm a stickler for solid food, his one and only reason being not gormandising in the least but regular meals as the sine qua non for any kind of proper work, mental or manual. You ought to eat more solid food. You would feel a different man.

--Liquids I can eat, Stephen said. But O, oblige me by taking away that knife. I can't look at the point of it. IT REMINDS ME OF ROMAN HISTORY.

Mr Bloom promptly did as suggested and removed the incriminated article, a blunt hornhandled ordinary knife with nothing particularly Roman or antique about it to the lay eye, observing that the point was the least conspicuous point about it.

--OUR MUTUAL FRIEND'S STORIES ARE LIKE HIMSELF, Mr Bloom _apropos_ of knives remarked to his _confidante sotto voce_. Do you think they are genuine? HE COULD SPIN THOSE YARNS for hours on end all night long and lie like old boots. Look at him.

END OF EXCERPT FROM ULYSSES

You judge for yourself if the matrix of allusion that I have outlined is a figment of my imagination (and note that this excerpt begins with Bloom and Stephen debating the existence of a supernatural God, i.e., debating the existence of something significant), or was merely an unconscious allusion by Joyce to Hamlet. Note that “Holy Writ” in the mind of the atheist Stephen would most plausibly be the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, not the Bible!

And did you notice the sly allusion to the third equally famous author, that Joyce inserted in that same scene? Of course I am referring to Charles Dickens, the author of Our Mutual Friend. And in a very real sense, Dickens, who was obsessed with Shakespeare during his entire life, and alluded to his plays hundreds of times in all his novels, was thus a “mutual friend” of both Shakespeare and Joyce!
And, if you still retain any doubt, allow me now to recall two of my recent posts in this blog which I claim ALSO connect Leopold Bloom with Hamlet in previously undetected ways:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/10/sign-sure-this-finance-jews-day-joyce.html

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/10/shape-of-stephen-dedalus.html

PLUS…in another post I wrote in the Joyce –Ulysses group, I made the argument for Bloom’s nickname “Poldy” being an ultrasly allusion to the character of “Pylades” in the ancient Greek play cycle The Oresteia, a character who has been likened by many Shakespearean scholars to….who else? Horatio from Hamlet!

Now, even if I have succeeded in making you wonder if I have found something intentional on Joyce’s part, your first reaction may be---very clever, but who cares? And my answer is that while I am not prepared to reveal my own still tentative exegesis of what I think Joyce was up to in all of this, I presented this trick question to illustrate a theme which has played out hundreds of times during the course of my literary sleuthing into the works of Austen, then Shakespeare, and now also Joyce, and which is of the greatest importance to me as I try to convince lovers of these great writers that I have, by my quirky methodology of literary sleuthing, found important things that have eluded literary scholars who have preceded me in this quest.

Perhaps the strongest foundational dogma of my research is that when a great author goes to the trouble of inserting a sly allusion (to a prior author’s fiction, and/or to some real-life historical event, whether past or present, including events in the author’s personal life), there is ALWAYS an IMPORTANT reason. It’s never trivial, it’s never “just a pun”, it’s never “just careless”, and it’s rarely unconscious.

There have been few works of literature which have been read as widely and as closely, by armies of very intelligent scholars and amateur readers, as Austen’s novels, Shakespeare’s plays, and Joyce’s Ulysses. And yet, on hundreds and hundreds of occasions, I have found allusions which, to the best of my ability to confirm via the Internet, scholarly databases, and actual print books, I am the first to take public notice of. And in hundreds and hundreds of other instances, there has been one or two previous scholars who have noted the allusion, and maybe even have ascribed a significance to the allusion, but the insight has not reached the general awareness of readers of those authors, but remains a bit of scholarly esoterica.
My belief is that what accounts for this pattern is that long-standing standards of critical interpretation of the greatest works of literature are WRONG! It turns out, I have found, in one of literary history’s greatest ironies, that the greatest authors are the BIGGEST tricksters when it comes to this sort of literary shell game. Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Joyce, Tolstoy, and many of the others in the highest tier of literary reputation engaged regularly and systematically in this sort of punning, secretive legerdemain, which is generally looked down upon by many literary critics as somehow beneath their genius.

And the second strongest foundational dogma of my research is that when an author peppers one of their masterpieces with such covert allusions, it will always be found that they are not random and disconnected, but they actually comprise, in aggregate, a coherent alternative interpretation of the story of the novel or play, and my term for that secret story is the “shadow story”.

So, I leave it to you who are interested in Ulysses to ask yourselves why Joyce would go to the trouble of hinting very covertly, and yet, upon examination, distinctly, of a correspondence between “Poldy” Bloom and Hamlet’s sidekick Horatio in several places in Ulysses?

Have I (to quote Joyce’s own sly metafictional description of the reader’s dilemma in assessing the probability of a secret allusion to Hamlet in that passage) “proved conclusively by several of the bestknown passages in Holy Writ, apart from circumstantial evidence” that Joyce was up to this sort of trickery?

Aye—as Bloom might have said before entering a Turkish bath for a massage--there’s the rub!

Cheers, ARNIE

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