Chapter 9, Part 1
Lecture Ten -- Scylla and Charybdis, I
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
As the first of two lectures on chapter 9, this lecture explains why
Stephen and Bloom each come to the National Library at this
time-just after lunch. The lecture also discusses the chapter’s
reenactment of the Homeric episode of Scylla and Charybdis, two
perils flanking a passage that Ulysses must negotiate on his way
back to Ithaca. In addition, We look at why Stephen feels
compelled to explain his theory of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to a
gathering of Dublin’s literati, even though he has no wish to
become one of them, that is, no wish to join the Irish Literary
I. In moving from chapter 8 to chapter 9, we move from the lunchroom to
the library, from the digestive tract to the brain, from the physical
World of Bloom and his appetites to the intellectual world of Stephen
and his speculations
II. Stephen comes to the library to deliver Deasy’s letter and explain his
theory of Shakespeare.
A. Having delivered one copy of Deasy’s letter to the newspapereditor in chapter 7, he delivers a second copy to the editor ofanother paper in the library.
B. Though delivering Deasy’s letter about cattle is the low-level job
of a “bullockbefriending bard,” Stephen is also building on the
creative work he did at the end of chapter 7.
1. At the end of chapter 7, Stephen the listener becomes Stephenthe talker, the begetter of “The Parable of the Plums.”
2. In this chapter, he offers a theory of Shakespeare that becomesa theory of literary creation-of literary fatherhood.
III. Bloom catches the eye of Mulligan, who scornfully points him out to
Stephen as a wandering Jew with sexual designs on Stephen. But
insofar as Bloom steers a middle way between sensuality and
intellectualism, he reenacts Ulysses’s passage between Scylla and
Charybdis--and offers Stephen a model to follow.
A. When Bloom comes to the library to look up a newspaper ad sothat he can copy its design, Mulligan scornfully points him out toStephen and makes several remarks:
1. Bloom knows Stephen’s “old fellow”-thus linking him withStephen’s father.
2. Bloom has been eyeing the buttocks of the naked Venus in themuseum.
3. Bloom is a “wandering jew” who lusts after StephenB. But as a wanderer, Bloom recalls Ulysses’s passage through Scylla
Charybdis and, thus, offers Stephen a model to follow.
1. Scylla and Charybdis are a pair of perils flanking a narrowstrait. After losing six men to the teeth of Scylla, a she-monster who lives in a cave halfway up a cliff, Ulysseshimself gets caught by Charybdis, a whirlpool. He saveshimself by clinging to the branch of a tree, thus managing tomake his way between the two perils.
2. On his way out of the library, Bloom passes between Stephenand Mulligan.
a. Stephen stands for the intellect.
b. Mulligan embodies sensuality.3. In passing between them, Bloom suggests a middle waybetween mere sensuality and the whirlpool of pure ideas.
4. He thus presents a model for Stephen, who must learn togenerate his art from the physical, material life of Dublin.
IV. This chapter reveals the parallels between Shakespeare’s Hamlet,
Homer’s Odyssey, and the life of Stephen Dedalus.
A. The plot of Hamlet shares two major points with Homer’sOdyssey.
1. The play and the epic each begin with a prince whose royalfather is absent, and in each case, the queen is confronted byone or more suitors who usurp the authority of the missingking in his own household.
2. In each work, a son is roused to act on behalf of his dead ormissing father by killing or helping to kill those who wouldusurp his place.B. Fittingly, then, Joyce’s re-creation of Homer also recalls some
features of Shakespeare’s play.
1. As Hamlet is haunted by the ghost of his father, Stephen ishaunted by the ghost of his mother.
2. Because Mulligan accuses Stephen of killing his mother,Stephen has to bear the sort of guilt that Shakespeare loads onthe back of Claudius, who killed Hamlet’s father inShakespeare’s play.
V. In light of these parallels, Shakespeare shows Stephen how he can
make his way between two extremes: between the world of hard facts
and the world of poetic idealism, between the soul-devouring
machinery of journalism and the self-indulgent sentimentality of the
A. Stephen will not join the “pressgang” because if he did so, hewould be ground up by the machinery of journalism, just asUlysses’s men were ground up by the teeth of Scylla.
B. His alternative is the Irish Literary Revival, but that presents the
alternative risk of self-indulgent sentimentality and a whirlpool of
idealistic self-absorption. ‘
1. The Irish Literary Revival sought to revive the Irish languageand culture.
2. Among its leaders was George Russell, who believes that artshould reveal to us “formless spiritual essences.”
3. Rather than losing himself in a whirlpool of Platonic idealismStephen would rather risk himself with the visible, tactile,audible data of sensory experience.C. In Stephen’s eyes, the Irish Literary Revival is not only vitiated by
dreamy mysticism but sucked down by its nostalgic yearning to
revive the old Irish language-rather than working with the sights
and sounds of contemporary life.
1. Ironically, the only character to speak Irish in this novel so faris Haines, the Englishman.
2. On his arrival at the library, Mulligan mocks the would-bepeasant speech of the plays of John Millington Synge: anilliterate version of English hardly sufficient for the kind ofliterature Stephen yearns to produce.D. Though we read this novel in light of Homer’s Odyssey, Stephen
seeks his literary father neither in Homer nor in the Irish Literary
Revival but in Shakespeare.
1. Shakespeare is a world-class writer, probably the greatestplaywright of all time.
2. Irish literature needs to generate a figure who can rivalShakespeare’s Hamlet.
3. Stephen can meet this challenge only by working out his owninterpretation of Hamlet and all of Shakespeare’s plays and,thus, finding a literary father in Shakespeare.
4. The quest for a literary father leads him to the ghost of OldKing Hamlet, who resembles not only Shakespeare himselfbut also Ulysses and Leopold Bloom.
VI. Stephen reads Hamlet and all of Shakespeare’s other work as basically
autobiographical-the disguised expression of his own family life.
A. From data furnished by three biographies of Shakespeare, Stephenconcocts his own weird story of Shakespeare’s life, then arguesthat Shakespeare’s plays reflect that life.
B. Russell thinks biographical research is a waste of time because the
only thing important about Shakespeare’s plays are the “ideas”
C. Nonetheless, Stephen is determined to show what Hamlet reveals
about the life of the playwright and, specifically, how the ghost of
Old King Hamlet stands for Shakespeare himself.
Goldberg, The Classical Temper.
Kellogg, “Scylla and Charybdis,” in Hart and Hayman, pp. 147-79
Questions to Consider:
1. What does Stephen think of Goethe’s assessment of Hamlet as-in the
words of the librarian» “a beautiful ineffectual dreamer who comes to
grief against hard facts”?
2. If Stephen is reenacting the life of Homer’s Telemachus, Why does he
spend so much time talking about Shakespeare’s Hamlet-rather than