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Contextual Note: Robert Emmet

Tuesday, October 13, 2009; 04:25 pm Leave a comment Go to comments

Professor Simpson gave me permission to write a contextual note on Robert Emmet:
Robert Emmet was an Irish nationalist who led a rebellion against British rule in 1803. The rebellion was well planned, but was hindered by a need to suddenly move up the date of the rising due to an explosion at one of the spots where Emmet was storing arms. The explosion killed a man, and was sure to cause suspicion if the rebellion didn’t act quickly. Additionally, many of the rebels Emmet was counting on to help his rebellion ended up backing out. Soon after the rebellion started, Emmet actually tried to end it in order to stop the violence, but by that point he did not have enough control to give such an order.  Seeing that the rebellion was failing, Emmet escaped and went into hiding. He was only caught when he moved to a new hiding spot that allowed him to be closer to his fiancée (Thomas Moore actually wrote two songs on the subject of Emmet’s love for his fiancée). After being caught, he was tried and convicted of high treason; Emmet was sentence to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Emmet’s speech upon being sentenced is one of the most revered speeches tied to Irish nationalism:
“I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world – it is the charity of its silence. Let no man write my epitaph. No man can write my epitaph, for as no man who knows my motives and character dares now to vindicate them, let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them rest in obscurity and peace until other times and other men can do justice to them. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then shall my character be vindicated, then may my epitaph be written.”
There are three episodes that I’m aware of that refer to Robert Emmet: 6, 10 and 11. In episode 6 while Bloom is at Dignam’s funeral, he thinks about whether or not Emmet was buried in the same cemetery (Emmet’s actual burial spot is unknown). Interestingly, these thoughts concerning Emmet lead right into Bloom’s thoughts regarding rats eating corpses (94).
Then, in episode 10 Mr. Kernan thinks about Emmet’s execution: “Down there Emmet was hanged, drawn and quartered. Greasy black rope. Dogs licking the blood off the street when the lord lieutenant’s wife drove by in her noddy” (197). (Note: Kernan is incorrect in his assertion that Emmet was drawn and quartered; despite his sentence, Emmet was actually just hanged). Like in the previous reference, Emmet is once again thought of as being consumed by animals post-mortem. Also, Mr. Kernan later wonders where Emmet is buried, just like Bloom did. The line “Greasy black rope” also stands out in this passage. Bloom is later often described as greasy, and is dressed in black because he is mourning Dignam’s death. Consequently, this possible association between Bloom and Emmet’s noose might be a subtle way of showing how Bloom is not accepted as Irish.
At the end of episode 11, Bloom (referred to as “greaseabloom”) reads Emmet’s famous speech while avoiding a prostitute and while farting (238-39). As Professor Simpson mentioned during our break the other day, this action by Bloom is shockingly disrespectful given how highly regarded Robert Emmet is among the Irish. In this scene, Bloom seems to disconnect himself from an Irish identity. This is especially surprising seeing as how it leads into episode 12 where Bloom tries to defend his Irish identity.

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