James Joyce

A 20th century interlude: Happy Bloomsday!

If you are in the Dublin area, or if you are a fan of James Joyce, you might be taking time today to celebrate Bloomsday in your own way. If you are not familiar with Bloomsday, allow me to catch you up.

On Thursday June 16, 1904, soon to be renowned author James Joyce went on his first outing with Nora Barnacle, seen here.

Nora would soon shed her unfortunate surname in favour of Joyce’s. As a present to his darling wife, Joyce set the date of his greatest work, Ulysses, on the day of their first outing, June 16, 1904.

Ulysses is the story of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, and those around him. It follows Mr. Bloom from 8:00am to just after midnight. In great detail, Joyce tracks Bloom’s movements and actions. Today in Dublin, groups of people are recreating Bloom’s journey through their city as part of Bloomsday celebrations.

Ulysses is celebrated for its monumental achievements in style, its depth and breadth, its humour, and for Mr. Leopold Bloom, one of the greatest characters in literature since Hamlet. In fact, Joyce was notably influenced by Shakespeare and there is a bit of Hamlet in both Bloom and Stephen Deadalus, Joyce’s supposed alter-ego.

But of course, I would not be posting this on a Shakespeare blog if there were the only loose Shakespearean connection. Joyce’s reverence of the Bard is clearly laid out through the voice of Stephen Deadalus in Ulysses, in the episode “Scylla and Carybdis”


— You will say those names were already in the chronicles from which he took the stuff of his plays. Why did he take them rather than others? Richard, a whoreson crookback, misbegotten, makes love to a widowed Ann (what’s in a name?), woos and wins her, a whoreson merry widow. Richard the conqueror, third brother, came after William the conquered. The other four acts of that play hang limply from that first. Of all his kings Richard is the only king unshielded by Shakespeare’s reverence, the angel of the world. Why is the underplot of King Lear in which Edmund figures lifted out of Sidney’s Arcadia and spatchcocked on to a Celtic legend older than history?

— That was Will’s way, John Eglinton defended. We should not now combine a Norse saga with an excerpt from a novel by George Meredith. Que voulez-vous? Moore would say. He puts Bohemia on the seacoast and makes Ulysses quote Aristotle.

— Why? Stephen answered himself. Because the theme of the false or the usurping or the adulterous brother or all three in one is to Shakespeare, what the poor is not, always with him. The note of banishment, banishment from the heart, banishment from home, sounds uninterruptedly from The Two Gentlemen of Verona onward till Prospero breaks his staff, buries it certain fathoms in the earth and drowns his book. It doubles itself in the middle of his life, reflects itself in another, repeats itself, protasis, epitasis, catastasis, catastrophe. It repeats itself again when he is near the grave, when his married daughter Susan, chip of the old block, is accused of adultery. But it was the original sin that darkened his understanding, weakened his will and left in him a strong inclination to evil. The words are those of my lords bishops of Maynooth: an original sin and, like original sin, committed by another in whose sin he too has sinned. It is between the lines of his last written words, it is petrified on his tombstone under which her four bones are not to be laid. Age has not withered it. Beauty and peace have not done it away. It is in infinite variety everywhere in the world he has created, in Much Ado about Nothing, twice in As you like It, in The Tempest, in Hamlet, in Measure for Measure, and in all the other plays which I have not read.

He laughed to free his mind from his mind’s bondage. Judge Eglinton summed up.

— The truth is midway, he affirmed. He is the ghost and the prince. He is all in all.

— He is, Stephen said. The boy of act one is the mature man of act five. All in all. In Cymbeline, in Othello he is bawd and cuckold. He acts and is acted on. Lover of an ideal or a perversion, like José he kills the real Carmen. His unremitting intellect is the hornmad Iago ceaselessly willing that the moor in him shall suffer.

— Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuck Mulligan clucked lewdly. O word of fear!

Dark dome received, reverbed.

— And what a character is Iago! undaunted John Eglinton exclaimed. When all is said Dumas fils (or is it Dumas père?) is right. After God Shakespeare has created most.

— Man delights him not nor woman neither, Stephen said. He returns after a life of absence to that spot of earth where he was born, where he has always been, man and boy, a silent witness and there, his journey of life ended, he plants his mulberrytree in the earth. Then dies. The motion is ended. Gravediggers bury Hamlet pére and Hamlet fils. A king and a prince at last in death, with incidental music.


This whirlwind of words is typical of Joyce, but in it contains his views on Shakespeare: namely that Shakespeare stood above the world and encapsulated within himself, every inch of humanity. That Shakespeare is both Hamlets (the father and the son) suggests Shakespeare’s universality. But what I find most fascinating in this little rant is Joyce’s theory of banishment in Shakespeare – how it is present from the early works (Two Gentlemen) right until The Tempest.

There is a truth in this that we do not often consider. How many of Shakespeare’s characters are banished – whether self-banishment or by others? Perhaps Romeo’s laments are now ringing in your ears as he lies sobbing in the Friar’s cell. Hamlet too is banished by Claudius in Act IV. Malcolm and Donalbain, and Fleance too, are banished (or if they did not flee they would have been killed.) Perdita – banished. Prospero and Miranda – banished. Rosalind and her father – yes. Shylock suffers a spiritual banishment at the hands of the Christians. Coriolanus – deadly banishment. How many of the characters of the history plays are sent into exile? I think you get the idea. Banishment in Shakespeare knows no limit: comedy or tragedy, or history – there is a separation of characters from their homes. But why? Joyce does not quite answer this.

What are your thoughts?

Ulysses is a novel that celebrates home even as Leopold Bloom is estranged from it. Bloomsday is a day to celebrate Dublin if you are there, but home wherever you are. Even in the midst of pondering over banishment in Shakespeare, take this time to celebrate your home – whatever that may be.

Happy Bloomsday to one and all!

Valeo amici