Home > Uncategorized > Did Joyce Write Hamlet? Maybe not, but Stephen wants to.

Did Joyce Write Hamlet? Maybe not, but Stephen wants to.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009; 02:02 pm Leave a comment Go to comments

Peterson, Richard F. “Did Joyce Write Hamlet?” James Joyce Quarterly 27 (1990): 365-372.


            This article was significantly better, both in quality of writing and strength of argument, than the last one I read.  By looking closely at Stephen’s argument concerning the correlation between Shakespeare’s life and Hamlet, Peterson extrapolates Stephen’s points to the artist’s own life as he searches “for a way of expressing himself” (365). Peterson sees Stephen as identifying with Shakespeare’s struggles as an artist, admires how he “transformed a personal sea of troubles into a radiant, universal, dramatic form of life” (366). Stephen also identifies with Shakespeare’s fleeing of his birthplace, seeking instead a large city to nurture his artistic growth. In order to deal with his own issues of being an artist trapped within the baseness of life, he transfers his pain onto Shakespeare, constructing a rather tenuous back story for the Bard, “reinvent[ing] the life of Shakespeare to fit his own personal and artistic struggle” (366).

            Just as Stephen draws details of Shakespeare’s life out of his work, Peterson interprets Stephen’s analysis to be representative of the poet’s life. Peterson argues that Ann Hathaway represents Stephen’s mother in his emotional development. Luckily, however, Stephen’s Ann is two fold (otherwise that would be weird). Stephen’s mother represents the force stunting his development; just as Hamlet must cope with his (as Stephen sees it) premature entrance to the adult world, so must Stephen defeat the haunting image of his mother’s ghost in order to continue to progress as an artist (369). As I said, the representation is twofold: on the other side is, oh yes, the church. Stephen “sees the Church mortally wounding his youth,” just as Ann did to Shakespeare, giving him a “terrifying fear of death” that he must overcome, and “create, like his Shakespeare counterpart…a new world out of his own spiritual and emotional void” (369, 370). Thus, Stephen transfers his own emotionally scarring experiences, and their effect on him, onto Shakespeare. All told, Peterson’s argument is interesting and well-expressed, using excellent textual references and very focused analysis.

  1. pimlottk
    Wednesday, October 7, 2009; 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm

    Hey guys, I totally posted this last night but clearly it didn’t work. Sorry for the inconvenience!!

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