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

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Too much i' the sun

As I noted yesterday, in a recent discussion in the Joyce-Ulysses group, Mr. Stack spotted a covert Paradise Lost allusion in the first chapter of Ulysses. I now am happy to report that it has yielded further bounties, beyond having catalyzed my seeing the allusion to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Ulysses.

I just found an article by David Quint, entitled "Fear of falling: Icarus, Phaethon, and Lucretius in Paradise Lost." in Renaissance Quarterly 57.3 (2004): 847+, where Quint argues persuasively that he has found “a hitherto-undetected network of allusion and motif in Paradise Lost” in which, in part, “Satan falls through Chaos like Icarus in book 2”. Quint’s article is very long, and very convincing, and I recommend a full reading to those who are interested in this topic.

Here is Quint’s summarizing comment, after he quotes the following famous speech by Satan in Paradise Lost:

Which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is hell; my self am hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven. (4.73-78)

“When he speaks these words Satan is no longer in Chaos, but on the terra firma of the Earth in the new, solidly-built universe that God has created in his absence. But he still feels that he is falling. Miltonic wordplay transforms Satan's flight into a vain attempt to flee both from an angry God and, more powerfully, from his own inner torment. This ICARUS IS DROWNING IN A DESPAIR as deep as the infinite reaches of Chaos itself. It is not the universe that is falling, then, Milton responds to Lucretius, but rather THE HARDENED SINNER, who, UNABLE TO REPENT, falls ever further away from his Creator. Moreover, Satan's interior state does not correspond here to the Chaos into which he was falling earlier, but to hell: the hell which is his consciousness of falling itself, of having fallen and continuing to fall from a former state of happiness and goodness. …” END OF QUINT QUOTE

It’s very interesting to think about the above in relation to Stephen Dedalus, isn’t it? I don’t think I need to spell out the many resonances to Stephen’s tormented state of mind as we meet him in Chapter 1.

I was also struck for the first time by ANOTHER allusion to Hamlet in Ulysses, which—I just verified-- I am not the first to spot, but which is precisely the sort of allusion that hides in plain sight from most conventional literary critics.

Schutte on P. 117 of Joyce and Shakespeare, refers to Icarus as an alter ego for Stephen, in relation to the following passage in Ulysses:

“Fabulous artificer. The hawklike man. You flew. Whereto? Newhaven-Dieppe, steerage passenger. Paris and back. Lapwing. ICARUS. Pater, ait. Seabedabbled, fallen, weltering. Lapwing you are. Lapwing be.”

He is responding to the word “Lapwing” which of course is what Hamlet calls Osric, and he is of course correct in this attribution. However, it never dawns on Schutte to step back a pace and realize that Hamlet ALSO compares himself to Icarus, COVERTLY, in one of his most famous statements:

“King Claudius How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
Hamlet Not so, my lord; I am TOO MUCH I’ THE SUN.”

That is Shakespeare’s witty ironic joke on the fate of Icarus! But I don’t think anyone has previously noted the resonance to Icarus in this equally famous soliloquized lament by Hamlet:

“O, that this too too solid flesh would MELT…”

And isn’t that why (in addition to the Wizard of Oz allusion) Mulligan wisecracks about the candle lamenting its melting?

So we see that Joyce has picked up on Milton’s covert allusion to Icarus via the character of Satan; has also picked up on Shakespeare’s covert allusion to Icarus via the character of Hamlet; and has also picked up on Baum’s covert allusion to Icarus in a wackily inspired combination of the falling Dorothy and the melting Wicked Witch of the West; and then Joyce has woven them ALL together tightly--mythology, epic poem, dramatic tragedy, and children’s fantasy--in a rich allusive tapestry which informs our understanding of his protean hero, Stephen Dedalus.

Cheers,
Arnie

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