Thoughts on Ulysses 6 and Hamlet Act V


From Joyce’s drafts of Ulysses. Just because that’s kind of cool.

Our tackling of Ulysses in my freshman seminar is well under way by now (I’m going into my fifth week of class or something ridiculous like that—can you believe it? I can’t) and so I guess it’s time to post a bit of what I’ve written about it. Each week in my seminar, we have to write a response paper, 1 to 2 pages single spaced about the reading we did for that week’s class (easier said than done, especially as my professor usually provides us with prompts which are themselves longer than the assignment). Being the wonderfully brilliant gentleman of a real lit professor that he is, though, my prof doesn’t care much for anything beyond beautifully expressed good ideas and so he allows us to turn in papers which are essentially collections of disconnected, analyzed evidence. I rejoiced when he first told us that we could do this, but I think I’m the only one who’s done it. It also turns out that what seems like the easier option, isn’t really. I shouldn’t be surprised.

Anyway. Without further ado, my semi-organized notes and analyses of Ulysses Chapter 6 and Hamlet Act V:

Nails (recurring motif): “I believe they clip the nails and the hair…” (72) Bloom says corpses’ nails are cut and kept in an envelope. Bloom looks at his nails in carriage. Wonders if Dignam would bleed if cut on a nail. Crucifixion? Being crucified? By friends? Cut off from friends, from present, from future. Can only think of the past (Rudy and father). Bloom is also in an odd position. Having no son he cannot further his line, in a way he very literally has no future. This adds to his vulnerability, particularly in the face of death in this chapter. When he dies, it will be final. He will have left no mark of himself on earth, as he would if he had a son in whom he could see himself. He will be forgotten sooner than most.

Hamlet’s relationship with time and death is also interesting. Like Bloom, Hamlet has very little present and is instead defined by past events. Hamlet, though, insists upon drawing his past into his present, making it deathly and meaningless. Bloom concentrates so much on past events, past deaths, far less willingly and consciously than Hamlet. Both had a father who asked them to remember him, but while Hamlet makes remembering his father a crusade, Bloom tries not to think about it.

“Full of his son. He is right. Something to hand on. If little Rudy had lived. See him grow up.  Hear his voice in the house. Walking beside Molly in an Eton suit. My son. Me in his eyes. Strange feeling that would be. From me. Just a chance. Must have been that morning in Raymond terrace she was at the window watching the two dogs at it by the wall of the cease to do evil. … Give us a touch, Poldy. God I’m dying for it. How life begins.” (73). In the midst of life we are in death. He cannot think of death without thinking of life, of the act of creating life. Seeing Dedalus so “full of his son,” Bloom can’t help but think of his own son, his son who cannot fill him up as he is dead. He imagines Rudy growing up, imagines him at Eton, imagines what it would have been like to have seen himself in his son. To have created new life like that, which leads him to think of what must have been the moment of his son’s conception. There seems to be a sort of disgust for the way life begins: “How life begins.” Or maybe it’s that life begins this way and goes on straight to death. He sees no point (no joy?) in creating life if it only leads to death. Rudy, case in point. [This passage also contains dogs, which seem to be some sort of recurring motif.]

We return to Rudy later when Bloom sees a child’s funeral going by. (79)

“Molly. Milly. Same thing watered down.” (74). Bloom admits to conflating his wife and daughter (whose names can’t be so similar by accident). Later: “[Milly] mightn’t like me to come that way without letting her know. Must be careful about women. Catch them once with their pants down. Never forgive you after. Fifteen” (83). Calls into question his relationship with his daughter. Talks of her almost like a lover. Walked in on her at 15 and can’t get thoughts out of his head since? Inappropriate thoughts at any time, let alone while at a funeral. But so full of life.  (Later he even thinks for a moment of necrophilia (94)—about as inappropriate as one can get at a funeral.)

“Dogs’ home over there. Poor old Athos! Be good to Athos, Leopold, is my last wish. Thy will be done. We obey them in the grave.” (75) Again with dogs. Bloom remembers his father’s last wish: that Bloom take care of his dog Athos (so named for the drunken musketeer?). Bloom ponders the power of the dead that the living should obey them even once they are beneath the sod. This ties into the whole idea that the dead never really leave us. Even in the midst of life we are in death, quotes Cunningham. And by the end of the chapter Bloom has subverted it: “in the midst of death we are in life.” (89) Life and death are intertwined, inseparable. Bloom goes on to think about what it would be like if all the dead really did walk among us, commenting how hard it would be to remember everyone. “Besides how could you remember everyone?” (93). Bloom: “I will appear to you after death. My ghost will haunt you after death.”

Thoughts are full of the mundane, the un-solemn. Cunningham even suggests that they “look a little serious” (78) at one point. (Bloom thinks that Dignam, apparently a jolly fellow, wouldn’t have begrudged them a laugh.) (See in Hamlet, when Hamlet comments “Has this fellow no feeling of his business? He sings in grave-making” (V.1.67-68). In Hamlet’s tragic world, merrymaking and death should not mix. The tragicomic is beyond him. It is certainly not beyond Leopold Bloom.) This ties in with the whole appearance thing. In order to mourn, one must appear to be mourning. Also, whole societal strictures thing. (“Girl’s face stained with dirt and tears, holding woman’s arm, looking up at her for a sign to cry. Fish’s face, bloodless and livid” (83). It’s a ritual to show the emotion at certain times. One must look the part.) Seeing the funeral through the eyes of a man who was not close to the deceased we get a picture that is very true to life. Bloom is not thinking what he thinks he is meant to be thinking, but is instead pondering life and death as general things. (For instance: they all begin, out loud, to reminisce about Dignam while Bloom thinks of what a heavy drinker he was (79). This is uncensored stuff. Means a lot more than the precut stuff the others are spouting.) Things which are part of life the same way that a newspaper article is or a lawyer who has fallen to selling shoelaces is. They deserve no more weight in thinking about them than other pressing matters and we can gain a much more “encyclopedic” knowledge of them, of how one thinks generally about them, when the death is an observed, removed one. Among the things the men discuss unrelated to the funeral: the newspaper article (75) and Bloom remembers that he must change a book for someone. The others in the carriage wish to preserve decorum and save the reading of the article for later. Bloom keeps the paper and begins to peruse the obituaries, noting the “inked characters fast fading on the frayed breaking paper” (75). The impermanence of life and of memory. Not even the reports of their deaths last long. We are not long for this world and neither are our memories. [Bloom saves this paper and, during the service, kneels on it to ease the pain in his knee and thinks a good deal more about that than the dead man.] Bloom and the others are not a particularly solemn lot, and often forget decorum, but death is a heavy presence, felt by them all. They constantly return to it in their minds, in their conversation. Make conscious efforts to get away from and return to it. [seeing the pub and making a mental note to return after funeral (82)]

Lots of juxtaposition too between the high and the low: high religious language and pomp and circumstance of death are contrasted with low, vulgar, improper language, often for comic effect. Very reminiscent of the gravediggers in Hamlet. The gravity of death can only be touched on through a mix of levity and solemnity. Too serious and everything loses its meaning: see Bloom listening to Father Coffey later and realizing that he says the same thing for everyone and it means nothing.


In a desperate and procrastinatory search for pictures with which to illustrate this post and break up the words, words, words, I found this guy‘s blog. He has a series of illustrations for Ulysses, which are, at the very least, fun.

“A man in a buff suit with a crape armlet. Not much grief there. Quarter morning” (76). The idea that mourning is quantifiable. Conflation of true emotion with societal expectations: “He isn’t in full mourning dress, so he musn’t really have been affected by the death.” Rather like Hamlet. In Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius associate Hamlet’s feelings for his father, his mourning with his full mourning dress and advise him to “cast [his] nighted color off” (I.2.70) Hamlet is angered at the accusation that his mourning extends only to his clothes: “I know not ‘seems.’ ‘Tis not alone my inky cloak… Nor the dejected havior of my visage… These indeed ‘seem,’ For they are actions that a man might play; But I have within which passes show, These but the trappings and the suits of woe” (I.2.79-89). This also ties into the societal pomp and circumstance which comes along with death. Bloom notes it later, while listening to Father Coffey proclaim the same meaningless words he does over every dead body simply because “he has to do it” (86), “But he has to say something,” (86) “Makes them feel important to be prayed over in Latin. . .” (85) this entire passage discusses the ritual that surrounds death and its ridiculousness. All the ritual has reduced death to nothingness. The same words over everyone lose their meaning. Bloom goes on to meditate that all the making of coffins for the dead “does seem a waste of wood” (90). He imagines a new system of burial through which we could eliminate the need for a coffin, but realizes it wouldn’t catch on as “they’re so particular. … I see what it means. To protect him as long as possible, even in the earth” (90). The futility of man’s fight against death extends even past his actual death. Coffins are totally pointless, they means nothing, just like the specific words of the last rites mean nothing and the manner in which the coffin is carried means nothing. But we adhere to them anyway out of fear. Something has to be done. Something must stand between us and the endless black inevitability of death, even if it is only ritual pomp and circumstance. We are all forgotten eventually. Praying for souls in hell or in heaven is a useless gesture. Seems to be saying two contradictory things: that we forget the dead inevitably and that they stay with the living (Rudy and Bloom’s father and their indelible marks on him). Which is it? Are the dead forgotten by everyone save those they meant the most to? Seems trite, silly, obvious. Encyclopedic treatment: is the contradiction the point? We both forget the dead before we want to and can never forget them no matter how we try? As long as we remain living, so too do the dead live with us, despite the fact that their obituaries fade? Or is it that we forget them and they don’t forget us? “Begin to be forgotten. Out of sight out of mind” (91). This is clearly not the case with Rudy and Bloom’s father. But then Bloom devises a system to help us remember the dead: recording our voices on records and then playing them once someone’s died. To keep the dead with us, present with the living. As Bloom watches Dignam’s coffin descending into the ground, he thinks of his own plot: already bought and paid for, waiting for him beside the small body of his dead son. Is this a comfort? Later, he thinks of how he pays the gardener to keep Rudy’s grave free of weeds (93): why this futile gesture? Why does it matter? He thinks of it after suggesting that they should “plant him and have done with him. Like down a coalshoot,” (93) and then seems to stop himself and take it back, realizing that he is going to visit his son’s (or maybe’s it’s his father’s?) grave on the 27th and that he himself puts money and effort into the maintenance of the grave, futile symbol though it is. We cling to our symbols, to our protection, no matter how useless it may be.

The incidence with Boylan. They see him from their carriage and the other men call out to him and immediately Bloom began to “review the nails of his left hand, then those of his right hand. The nails, yes. Is there anything more in him that they she sees? Fascination. Worst man in Dublin. That keeps him alive. … My nails. I am just looking at them: well pared. And after: thinking alone. … He clasped his hands between his knees and, satisfied, sent his vacant glance over their faces” (76). It’s interesting that, in a chapter about a funeral, about death, that this is perhaps the most emotionally charged moment in the chapter. Certainly one of the most personal for Bloom. He sees the man his wife is having an affair with and begins examining his fingernails, perhaps distracting himself, pretending he does not care, exercising self-restraint, all the while wondering what on earth this other man has that he doesn’t. What they—she—sees in him. It’s a very human gesture. Surely more full of pathos than anything he does or says at the funeral. It’s especially contrasted with the sort of fake emotion Dedalus displays as they walk pas his wife’s grave later: “Her grave is over there, Jack… I’ll soon be stretched beside her. Let Him take me whenever He likes” (86). This speech is very dramatic and seems largely put on for the benefit of his audience. Bloom displays more emotion, more real human emotion, in examining his finger nails than Dedalus does in his proclamation. Interesting note: we have nails coming up again here. They, like dogs, recur throughout the chapter. Here there could almost be a crucifixion parallel drawn? His self-restraint around Boylan is his own form of suffering?

Bloom ponders the idea of the dead returning to life/earth a lot. “Must be his deathday. For many happy returns” (77). Could be a pun on returns. Again, in discussion of suicide. How people used to think they might return from dead, so they’d drive stakes through their hearts. Bloom’s discussion of Lazars. Bloom cannot bring himself to accept this idea of life after death. In the end, death is final. “Once you are dead you are dead” (87), thinks Bloom—Lazarus is tosh. They talk of Parnell and the idea that he’s not actually in his grave and Hynes says “Parnell will never come again… He’s there, all that was mortal of him” (93). Similar conclusions drawn in Hamlet, but far more physical. Yorick’s skull in Hamlet’s hand is a physical reminder of the finality of death. In the end, no matter who we were, we end up a pile of old bones. We will all “cease to be” eventually and this terrifies Hamlet. Bloom, on the other hand, much like the gravediggers, seems to accept this truth and maybe even finds comfort in it. There is no point in railing against that which we cannot change. Hamlet also conflates the dead body—the skull—with the person he once knew. For the gravedigger, these are separate things. The skull is a skull. It has very little to do, in his mind, with the Yorick he knew. Hamlet, though, begins to confuse them, and memories of Yorick become disgusting to him.

Bloom is very much an outsider in the group. Not because they attempt to ostracize him, but simply because he is different. Only one referred to by last name. (Later on, Hynes doesn’t even know his Christian name. He is a complete outsider. And when he attempts to ask Hynes the name of the fellow in the macintosh, Hynes pays so little attention to him (because he feels superior? Anything Bloom has to say can’t be important?) that he misunderstands and puts down the man’s name as Macintosh.) Bloom is Jewish (the incident where they see the Jew outside the window, Power makes the joke, Cunningham continues it and realizes his mistake), he takes a much more humanistic view of death and the body. The discussion about Dignam’s sudden death, which Bloom says is the best way as there’s no suffering. To an Roman Catholic, dying suddenly is the worst fate as there is no time to confess or prepare for death, leaving the soul in doubt as to its destination in the afterlife. Similarly, Bloom seems to be of a more scientific mind than the others. He calls the heart a pump (87) and pictures the body repeatedly. He makes the joke about Lazarus coming fifth. When Bloom begins to tell the story of Reuben and his son, Cunningham takes over the story and finishes it. Not because he means to be rude, but because Bloom is an outsider, he is of little importance to these friends.

This incident is interesting too because of Dedalus’ comment that a florin for saving Reuben’s son’s life was “One and eightpence too much” (78). He is placing a quantifiable value on life—albeit a very low (nonexistent?) one. What do life and death mean? How much is a person worth? Is a life worth saving? Putting quantifiers on the unquantifiable. A bit like the mourning thing.

Bloom’s exclusion lets him serve a very similar purpose to the gravediggers in Act 5 of Hamlet. He is entirely apart from the tragedy of Dignam’s death as the gravediggers are apart from and care nothing for the terror and misery surrounding Elsinore and Ophelia’s death. This apartness is shocking (as it allows for thoroughly inappropriate thoughts and comments, conclusions about death and life), but it also serves, in a way, to enhance the tragedy. The gravediggers, indeed, appear to have a broader view of life and death than Hamlet does, to understand them more fully than he does, as he is limited by his closeness to the events of the play.

The discussion of suicide: Bloom’s father committed suicide some years before. Power does not know that and comments that a suicide is a disgrace to the family and Dedalus says that any suicide is also a coward (79). Leads Bloom to think, not of his father directly, but of Ophelia and the rules to being allowed a Christian burial, which come into question in Hamlet (Ophelia is ultimately allowed a proper Christian burial; Bloom’s father would not have been). Again this brings up some idea of the value of human life and death. Does a suicide matter less, deserve less than someone who died some other way because they took the matter into their own hands? “They used to drive a stake of wood through his [a suicide’s] heart in the grave. As if it wasn’t broken already” (80). Bloom is a humanist (able to be so because he is not Catholic?). He recognizes the tragedy of suicide. Ophelia: a larger tragedy than Hamlet because she pulls off suicide? It’s not the act of suicide itself that makes it tragic, but the events that lead to it: the position a person would have to be in mentally to want to do that and to do it. Their heart would indeed have to be broken. He also simply recognizes that they are human. The idea that they might return from the dead as some sort of vampire or zombie dehumanizes them, diminishes their tragedy.

Value of life again in the incident where they discuss whether Childs was innocent. “Better for ninetynine guilty to escape than for one innocent person to be wrongfully condemned,” says Cunningham (82). Placing values on lives according to whose lives they are.

“More dead for her than for me,” (84) thinks Bloom when he sees Dignam’s widow. The idea that death is different in every situation, to every person. To Bloom, Dignam’s death is hardly real and so he can ponder its generalities. Its larger significance. To the widow, Dignam’s death means a lost husband, means mouths to feed with no stable source of income, means a whole new way of life. These are concrete things. Bloom gets nothing of that from this funeral. Instead, Bloom is led to think of other deaths. Though we are at a funeral, the largest presence of Death is not the dead man, Dignam, but Bloom’s dead son Rudy and his dead father. Their presence is felt throughout, weighing on Bloom. Present with him, the way he thinks about the dead never really leaving. Their memories leaving imprints. Both death and life are permanent. Life is permanent in death. Even in death we are in life. Death is irreversible and permanent, but it effects life immensely. The two are hopelessly intertwined.

Oh, and all page numbers refer to the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of Hamlet and the Gabler Edition of Ulysses.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: