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Joyce, T. S.

Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Great Shakespeareans
Volume XII
Great Shakespeareans
Each volume in the series provides a critical account and analysis of those figures
who have had the greatest influence on the interpretation, understanding and
cultural reception of Shakespeare, both nationally and around the world.

General Series Editors:

Peter Holland, University of Notre Dame, USA
Adrian Poole, Trinity College Cambridge, UK

Editorial Advisory Board:

David Bevington (University of Chicago, USA), Michael Cordner (University of
York, UK), Michael Dobson (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham,
UK), Dominique Goy-Blanquet (University of Picardy, France), Barbara Hodgdon
(University of Michigan, USA), Andreas Höfele (University of Munich, Germany),
Tetsuo Kishi (Kyoto University, Japan), Russ McDonald (Goldsmith’s College,
University of London, UK), Ruth Morse (University of Paris 7, Denis Diderot,
France), Michael Neill (University of Auckland, New Zealand), Stephen Orgel
(Stanford University, USA), Carol Rutter (University of Warwick, UK), Ann
Thompson (King’s College, University of London, UK) and Paul Yachnin (McGill
University, Canada).

Great Shakespeareans: Set I

Volume I: Dryden, Pope, Johnson, Malone, edited by Claude Rawson
Volume II: Garrick, Kemble, Siddons, Kean, edited by Peter Holland
Volume III: Voltaire, Goethe, Schlegel, Coleridge, edited by Roger Paulin
Volume IV: Lamb, Hazlitt, Keats, edited by Adrian Poole

Great Shakespeareans: Set II

Volume V: Scott, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy, edited by Adrian Poole
Volume VI: Macready, Booth, Irving, Terry, edited by Richard Schoch
Volume VII: Jameson, Cowden Clarke, Kemble, Cushman, edited by Gail Marshall
Volume VIII: James, Melville, Emerson, Berryman, edited by Peter Rawlings
Volume IX: Bradley, Greg, Folger, edited by Cary DiPietro

Great Shakespeareans: Set III

Volume X: Marx and Freud, Crystal Bartolovich, Jean E. Howard and David Hillman
Volume XI: Berlioz, Verdi, Wagner, Britten, edited by Daniel Albright
Volume XII: Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett, edited by Adrian Poole
Volume XIII: Empson, Wilson Knight, Barber, Kott, edited by Hugh Grady

Great Shakespeareans: Set IV

Volume XIV: Hugo, Pasternak, Brecht, Césaire, edited by Ruth Morse
Volume XV: Poel, Granville Barker, Guthrie, Wanamaker, edited by Cary Mazer
Volume XVI: Gielgud, Olivier, Ashcroft, Dench, edited by Russell Jackson
Volume XVII: Welles, Kozintsev, Kurosawa, Zeffirelli, Mark Thornton Burnett, Kathy
Howlett, Courtney Lehmann and Ramona Wray
Volume XVIII: Hall, Brook, Ninagawa, Lepage, edited by Peter Holland
Joyce, T. S. Eliot,
Auden, Beckett
Great Shakespeareans
Volume XII

Edited by
Adrian Poole
Continuum International Publishing Group
The Tower Building 80 Maiden Lane
11 York Road Suite 704
London SE1 7NX New York NY 10038


© Adrian Poole and Contributors 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted

in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior
permission in writing from the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN: 978-1-4411-3991-7

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett / edited by Adrian Poole.
p. cm. -- (Great Shakespeareans v. 12)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4411-8743-7 (hardcover : alk. paper) -- ISBN 978-1-4411-3991-7
(ebook pdf)
 . Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 -- Criticism and interpretation. 2. Joyce,
James, 1882-1941 -- Criticism and interpretation. 3. Eliot, T. S. (Thomas Stearns),
1888-1965 -- Criticism and interpretation. 4. Auden, W. H. (Wystan Hugh),
1907-1973 -- Criticism and interpretation. 5. Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989 --
Criticism and interpretation. I. Poole, Adrian.

PR2976.J68 2012


Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN


Series Editors’ Preface

Peter Holland and Adrian Poole vi
Notes on Contributors viii
Note on References to Shakespeare x
Copyright Permissions xi

Adrian Poole 1

Chapter 1 James Joyce

Maud Ellmann 10

Chapter 2 T. S. Eliot
Anne Stillman 57

Chapter 3 W. H. Auden
Jeremy Noel-Tod 105

Chapter 4 Samuel Beckett

Dan Gunn 149

Notes 198
Select Bibliography 217
Index 221
Series Editors’ Preface

What is a ‘Great Shakespearean’? Who are the ‘Great Shakespeareans’?

This series is designed to explore those figures who have had the
greatest influence on the interpretation, understanding and reception of
Shakespeare, both nationally and internationally. Charting the effect of
Shakespeare on cultures local, national and international is a never- ending
task, as we continually modulate and understand differently the ways in
which each culture is formed and altered. Great Shakespeareans uses as its
focus individuals whose own cultural impact has been and continues to be
powerful. One of its aims is to widen the sense of who constitute the most
important figures in our understanding of Shakespeare’s afterlives. The list
is therefore not restricted to, say, actors and scholars, as if the performance
of and commentary on Shakespeare’s works were the only means by which
his impact is remade or extended. There are actors aplenty (like Garrick,
Irving and Olivier) and scholars too (Bradley, Greg and Empson) but
our list deliberately includes as many novelists (Dickens, Melville, Joyce),
poets (Keats, Eliot, Berryman), playwrights (Brecht, Beckett, Césaire) and
composers (Berlioz, Verdi and Britten), as well as thinkers whose work
seems impossible without Shakespeare and whose influence on our world
has been profound, like Marx and Freud.
Deciding who to include has been less difficult than deciding who to
exclude. We have a long list of individuals for whom we would wish to
have found a place but whose inclusion would have meant someone else’s
exclusion. We took long and hard looks at the volumes as they were shaped
by our own and our volume editors’ perceptions. We have numerous regrets
over some outstanding figures who ended up just outside this project.
There will, no doubt, be argument on this score. Some may find our
choices too Anglophone, insufficiently global. Others may complain of the
lack of contemporary scholars and critics. But this is not a project designed
to establish a new canon, nor are our volumes intended to be encyclopedic
in scope. The series is not entitled ‘The Greatest Shakespeareans’ nor is it
‘Some Great Shakespeareans’, but it will, we hope, be seen as negotiating
Series Editors’ Preface vii

and occupying a space mid-way along the spectrum of inclusivity and

Our contributors have been asked to describe the double impact of
Shakespeare on their particular figure and of their figure on the under-
standing, interpretation and appreciation of Shakespeare, as well as
providing a sketch of their subject’s intellectual and professional biography
and an account of the wider context within which her/his work might be
understood. This ‘context’ will vary widely from case to case and, at times,
a single ‘Great Shakespearean’ is asked to stand as a way of grasping a large
domain. In the case of Britten, for example, he is the window through
which other composers and works in the English musical tradition like
Vaughan Williams, Walton and Tippett have a place. So, too, Dryden
has been the means for considering the beginnings of critical analysis of
the plays as well as of the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays influenced
Dryden’s own practice.
To enable our contributors to achieve what we have asked of them,
we have taken the unusual step of enabling them to write at length. Our
volumes do not contain brief entries of the kind that a Shakespeare
Encyclopedia would include nor the standard article length of academic
journals and Shakespeare Companions. With no more than four Great
Shakespeareans per volume – and as few as two in the case of volume 10
– our contributors have space to present their figures more substantially
and, we trust, more engagingly. Each volume has a brief introduction by
the volume editor and a section of further reading. We hope the volumes
will appeal to those who already know the accomplishment of a particular
Great Shakespearean and to those trying to find a way into seeing how
Shakespeare has affected a particular poet as well as how that poet has
changed forever our appreciation of Shakespeare. Above all, we hope Great
Shakespeareans will help our readers to think afresh about what Shakespeare
has meant to our cultures, and about how and why, in such differing ways
across the globe and across the last four centuries and more, they have
changed what his writing has meant.
Peter Holland and Adrian Poole
Notes on Contributors

Maud Ellmann is the Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Professor of the

Development of the Novel in English at the University of Chicago. She has
written widely on modernism and literary theory, particularly feminism
and psychoanalysis. Her most recent book is The Nets of Modernism:
Woolf, James, Joyce, and Freud, published by Cambridge University Press
in 2010. Previous books include The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing, and
Imprisonment (Harvard, 1993) and Elizabeth Bowen: The Shadow Across the
Page (Edinburgh, 2003).

Dan Gunn is Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the

American University of Paris, where he is also Director of the Center
for Writers and Translators. He is the author of Psychoanalysis and Fiction
(Cambridge University Press, 1988), Wool-Gathering or How I Ended Analysis
(Brunner-Routledge, 2002) and the novels Almost You and Body Language.
He is co-editor of the multi-volume The Letters of Samuel Beckett (Cambridge
University Press), and editor of the chapbooks collectively entitled The
Cahiers Series (Sylph Editions).

Jeremy Noel-Tod is a Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the

University of East Anglia. His writing on modernist and contemporary
poetry has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, London Review of
Books, Guardian, New Statesman and PN Review. He is the editor of the Oxford
Companion to Modern Poetry (forthcoming, 2013).

Adrian Poole is Professor of English at the University of Cambridge,

and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. His monographs include
Shakespeare and the Victorians (Arden, 2003) and Tragedy: a Very Short
Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2005). He has co-edited with Gail
Marshall Victorian Shakespeare, 2 vols (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), and has
written extensively on nineteenth-century novelists including Dickens,
Eliot, Hardy, Stevenson and James. He is editor of the Cambridge Companion
Notes on Contributors ix

to English Novelists (2009) and one of the general editors of the Complete
Fiction of Henry James, to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Anne Stillman teaches English at the University of Cambridge and is a

Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. She wrote her doctorate on the
dramatic and the theatrical in the poetry of T. S. Eliot, and is currently
turning this work into a monograph. Her publications include ‘Sweeney
Among the Marionettes’ (in Essays in Criticism, 2009), ‘Discretion and
Indiscretion in the Letters of T. S. Eliot’ (in The Cambridge Quarterly
2011) and ‘Ezra Pound’ in T. S. Eliot in Context, edited by Jason Harding
(Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Note on References to Shakespeare

All references to Shakespeare are to The Riverside Shakespeare, gen. ed.

G. Blakemore Evans, 2nd ed. (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).
Copyright Permissions

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and we apologise in
advance for any unintentional omission. We would be pleased to insert the
appropriate acknowledgement in any subsequent edition.

Grateful acknowledgements are due as follows:

Chapter 2: T. S. Eliot

Excerpt from The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original
Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound. Copyright © 1971 by Valerie
Eliot. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
Company. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909–1917 by T. S. Eliot.

Text copyright © by Valerie Eliot. Reprinted by permission of Houghton
Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Excerpts from Collected Poems 1909–1962 by T. S. Eliot. Copyright 1948

by Faber & Faber Ltd. Copyright © renewed 1976 by Esme Valerie
Eliot. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
Company. All rights reserved.

Excerpts from Selected Essays by T.S. Eliot. Copyright 1950 by Houghton

Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Copyright © renewed 1978 by
Esme Valerie Eliot. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted also by permission of
Faber & Faber Ltd.

Excerpts from The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volume I: 1898–1922. Copyright ©

1988 by SET Copyrights Limited. Reprinted by permission of Houghton
xii Copyright Permissions

Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted also

by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd.

Excerpt from the introduction to Selected Poems of Marianne Moore (London:

Faber & Faber, 1935) © 1935 by Marianne Moore; renewed © 1963 by
Marianne Moore and T. S. Eliot and reprinted by permission of Faber &
Faber Ltd.

Excerpts from To Criticize the Critic © Valerie Eliot 1965 and reprinted by
permission of Faber & Faber Ltd.

Excerpt from The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism © T. S. Eliot, 1933,
1964 and reprinted by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd.

Excerpts from On Poetry and Poets © T. S. Eliot 1957 and reprinted by

permission of Faber & Faber Ltd.

Material from the Hayward Bequest, King’s College Cambridge, including

excerpts from ‘Prize Day Address at the Methodist Girls’ School in
Penzance in Essays, Addresses, and Verses; and the unpublished lecture ‘The
Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’ reprinted by permission of Faber &
Faber Ltd.

Chapter 3: W. H. Auden

Excerpts from The English Auden, 2nd edition © 1977 by Edward Mendelson,
William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears, executors of the Estate of W. H.
Auden. Reprinted by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Excerpts from The Enchafèd Flood © 1951 by W. H. Auden. Reprinted by

permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Excerpts from Secondary Worlds © 1968 by W. H. Auden. Reprinted by

permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Excerpts from The Complete Works of W. H. Auden: Plays and other Dramatic
Writings, 1928–1938 © 1988 by W. H. Auden. Reprinted by permission of
Curtis Brown, Ltd.
Copyright Permissions xiii

Excerpts from Lectures on Shakespeare © by W. H. Auden. Reprinted by

permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Excerpts from Forewords and Afterwords © 1973 by W. H. Auden. Reprinted

by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Excerpts from The Collected Poems of W. H. Auden © W. H. Auden. Reprinted

by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Excerpts from ‘The Sea and the Mirror’, copyright 1944 and renewed
1972 by W. H. Auden, ‘The Truest Poetry is the Most Feigning’, copyright
1954 by W. H. Auden and renewed 1982 by The Estate of W. H. Auden,
‘Thanksgiving for a Habitat’, copyright © 1963 by W. H. Auden and
renewed 1991 by The Estate of W. H. Auden, ‘Ode to Terminus’, copyright
© 1968 by W. H. Auden, ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’, copyright 1940 and
renewed 1968 by W. H. Auden, ‘New Year Letter’, copyright 1941 and
renewed 1969 by W. H. Auden, ‘In Praise of Limestone’, copyright 1951
by W. H. Auden and renewed 1979 by The Estate of W. H. Auden, ‘Forty
Years On’, copyright © 1968 by W. H. Auden., ‘On This Island’, copyright
1937 and renewed 1965 by W. H. Auden, ‘The Quest’, copyright 1941 and
renewed 1969 by W. H. Auden, ‘At the Grave of Henry James’, copyright
1941 and renewed 1969 by W. H. Auden, ‘Under Which Lyre’, copyright
© 1976 by Edward Mendelson, William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears,
Executors of the Estate of W. H. Auden., from COLLECTED POEMS OF
W. H. AUDEN by W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.

Excerpts from The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays © W. H. Auden. Reprinted
by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Excerpts from ‘Writing’, copyright © 1962 by W. H. Auden and renewed

1990 by The Estate of W. H. Auden, ‘Making, Knowing and Judging’,
copyright © 1956 by W. H. Auden and renewed 1984 by The Estate of W. H.
Auden, ‘Balaam and His Ass’, copyright 1954 by W. H. Auden, renewed
1982 by The Estate of W. H. Auden, ‘The Globe’, copyright © 1962 by W. H.
Auden and renewed 1990 by The Estate of W. H. Auden, ‘The Prince’s
Dog’, copyright © 1958 by W. H. Auden and renewed 1986 by The Estate
of W. H. Auden, ‘Brothers & Others’, copyright © 1962 by W. H. Auden
and renewed 1990 by The Estate of W. H. Auden, ‘The Joker in the Pack’,
copyright © 1960 by W. H. Auden and renewed 1988 by The Estate of W. H.
Auden, ‘Robert Frost’, copyright © 1962 by W. H. Auden and renewed 1990
xiv Copyright Permissions

by The Estate of W. H. Auden, ‘Music in Shakespeare’, copyright © 1957 by

W. H. Auden and renewed 1985 by The Estate of W. H. Auden, from THE
DYER’S HAND AND OTHER ESSAYS by W. H. Auden. Used by permission
of Random House, Inc.

Excerpts from AUDEN, W. H.; Prose, and Travel Books in Prose and Verse. ©
1996 The Estate of W. H. Auden, Published by Princeton University Press.
Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press, and by permission
of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Excerpts from AUDEN, W. H.; The Complete Works of W. H.Auden: Prose

Volume II. © 2002 by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Intro & Notes © 2002 by
Edward Mendelson. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press,
and by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Excerpts from AUDEN, W. H.; Prose, Volume IV: 1956–1962. Published

by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission of Princeton
University Press, and by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Excerpts from Auden, W. H.; Juvenilia © 1994 Cloth, 2003 paperback

edition Estate of W. H. Auden, published Princeton University Press.
Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press, and by permission
of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Chapter 4: Samuel Beckett

Excerpts from works by Samuel Beckett both published and unpublished

are reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of Samuel Beckett, c/o
Rosica Colin Limited, London.

Excerpts from The Letters of Samuel Beckett Vol. 1, 1929–1940, edited by

Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Lois More Overbeck, Dan Gunn and George
Craig, copyright © The Estate of Samuel Beckett 2009, published by
Cambridge University Press, are reproduced by kind permission of
Cambridge University Press.

Excerpts from The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol.2, 1941–1956, edited

by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More
Overbeck; The Letters of Samuel Beckett © The Estate of Samuel Beckett
Copyright Permissions xv

2011; Introduction, translations and notes © George Craig, Martha Dow

Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck, published by Cambridge
University Press, reproduced with permission.

Excerpt from ‘Dante and the Lobster’ by Samuel Beckett as it appears

in More Pricks than Kicks, copyright ©1972 by Grove Press Inc. Used by
permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc., and by permission of Faber & Faber

Excerpt from ‘Company’, copyright ©1980 by Samuel Beckett and excerpts

from ‘Worstward Ho’, copyright © 1983 by Samuel Beckett, as they appear
in Nohow On (Grove Press, 1996). Used by permission of Grove/Atlantic,
Inc, and by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd.

Excerpt from ‘First Love’ as it appears in The Complete Short Prose 1929–1989,
copyright © 1995 by the Estate of Samuel Beckett. Used by permission of
Grove/Atlantic, Inc, and by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd.
Adrian Poole

It would be scurrilous to describe this volume as the one about two

Irishmen, an Englishman and an American. More respectable to start
with their high academic credentials. Joyce, Eliot, Auden and Beckett
all enjoyed a University education, they were in their various ways excep-
tionally learned (not simply by formal routes), and their art takes a delight
in ‘difficulty’ that keeps the riff-raff at bay. Such indeed, from one point
of view, are the insignia of ‘modernism’. But, as we shall see, the scurrility,
irreverence and playfulness they found in Shakespeare are essential
features of what in return they did with him. Of course, there is another
side to this. Eliot wrote admiringly of the ‘alliance of levity and seriousness
(by which the seriousness is intensified)’.1 There are more rambunc-
tious ways of putting this, such as Finnegans Wake would require. But we
can begin by recognizing that the clowns and fools, rascals and rogues,
ingenious malcontents and scathing wits are at least as important to the
modernists’ Shakespeare as the noble lovers, princes and statesmen who
appealed to their Victorian forebears.
Many twentieth-century artists have been drawn to Shakespeare’s
attendants, to marginal figures who witness the top dogs’ shenanigans,
and beyond the pale to the outcast, vagrant and migrant. In their own lives
and art, these four writers courted displacement. Auden was the only one
to end up in the country of his birth, and even he managed to die abroad,
in Vienna. As Dan Gunn contends, ‘elsewhere’ was what Beckett strove for.
We can readily think of them all pondering that bravura exclamation of
Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, as he turns his back on the city of his birth, on
mother and wife and child: ‘There is a world elsewhere.’ (3.3.135)
The elsewheres they sought and made for themselves were various, as
were the homescapes they left behind. But there are obvious reasons for
pairing Joyce with Beckett and Eliot with Auden. The former grew up in or
near Dublin and finished their formal education there, Joyce at University
College, Beckett at Trinity College; both sought refuge on the Continent.
Born on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Eliot and Auden became in mid-life
2 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

citizens of each others’ countries. Their formal education had culminated

in Oxford, though Eliot had already been forcefully shaped by Harvard.
Joyce and Beckett were more deeply marked by the Dublin they abandoned
than Eliot and Auden were by any city; the latter found it easier to retain
(and in later life, for Auden, to renew) their connexions with the world of
Oxford, than Joyce and Beckett ever did with the city of their youth and
Eliot and Auden remained actively in touch with an academic milieu
as Joyce and Beckett did not, and the fact that their critical and creative
writings affect each other puts them in a different relation to Shakespeare.
Among his many University affiliations and commitments, in 1937 Eliot
lectured on ‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’ at Edinburgh; in
1946­–9, Auden lectured on virtually all the plays and poems at the New
School for Social Research in New York. It is true that Joyce lectured on
Hamlet in Trieste in 1912–13, and that the young Beckett taught some
Shakespeare, without enthusiasm, to the teenagers of Campbell College,
Belfast,2 but these were no more than temporary ploys. Their influence on
late twentieth-century Shakespeare (and beyond) has been less direct than
Eliot’s and Auden’s, but at least in Beckett’s case the routes can be clearly
discerned, as Gunn’s essay demonstrates, through the powerful mediation
of the Polish critic Jan Kott, and of theatre-practitioners such as Peter Hall
and Peter Brook.3
There is another way of pairing the four of them. Joyce (born 1882)
and Eliot (born 1888) belonged to the same generation. As regards
Shakespeare, the authorities whom they could not help but assimilate, if
only then to reject, included some potent figures in the shape of Edward
Dowden and A. C. Bradley, Georg Brandes and Sidney Lee (Anne Stillman
adds a specifically American cast to the young Eliot’s development).
Beckett and Auden were born some 20 years later, in 1906 and 1907; they
were not oppressed by the late Victorian and Edwardian patriarchs who
loomed over Joyce and Eliot, including the ‘Shakespeare’ of those times. In
fact, among the authority figures they did have to deal with were precisely
Joyce (for Beckett) and Eliot (for Auden).
There were some good reasons for hostility towards the Shakespeare
inherited by the first generation of modernists from their nineteenth-
century predecessors. One was the extent to which he had been annexed
by a political and cultural agenda that saw him as ‘the greatest Englishman’.
By the tercentenary of his death in 1916, this was the image promoted by
the contributors from around the globe to Israel Gollancz’s Book of Homage
to Shakespeare; for some, the temptation to fuse Shakespeare’s voice with
Introduction 3

King Henry V’s was irresistible.4 W. B. Yeats was not one of them, being
more involved in the violent domestic events commemorated in his poem
‘Easter, 1916’. He had already expressed his greater sympathy for Richard
II, the king whose failings the regenerate Prince Hal was supposed to
redeem.5 When the Anglo–Welsh David Jones came to write his master-
piece In Parenthesis (1937) about his experiences in the Great War, he
invoked the play Henry V only to ignore the title character and concentrate
on the Fluellens and Pistols.6 As for the preceding confrontation in the
Henry IV plays between Prince Hal and Falstaff, W. H. Auden’s sympathy
for the saintly rogue and distaste for the cold-blooded heir to the throne
were even more blatant. Jeremy Noel-Tod dwells on Auden’s ‘resistance, as
a reader of Shakespeare, to heroic gestures and transcendent absolutes’
(142). Meanwhile, at a less exalted social level, ‘Shakespeare’ could seem
to stand for the comfortable commercial prosperity that underpinned the
regal and imperial values, turning the icons of European Literature such
as Dante, Goethe and Shakespeare into ‘Daunty, Gouty and Shopkeeper’:
thus Joyce, scurrilously, in Finnegans Wake, and Auden, gleefully repeating
him (see Ellmann, 15 and Noel-Tod, 105).
For in the wake of Victorian and Edwardian biography, the idea of
Shakespeare as the supreme artist was to say the least fraught, as Henry
James’s magnificently bewildered late essay on The Tempest (1907) insisted.
Everything that could be known about the man from Stratford indicated
ordinariness. Where could he have found his astonishing gifts? How could
he have kept going back to the mundane world of Stratford? Here was an
idea of the artist radically at odds with the modernists’ needs to escape
from everything associated with ‘home’. Listen to Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus
claiming to hear in Shakespeare the summons to flight: ‘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, [. . .] .’ (quoted Ellmann, 28) Dan Gunn writes of Beckett
that ‘he was drawn towards the foreign as an escape from almost everything
that might be considered home’ (Gunn, 153). This is close to the way Auden
thought of escaping from England: ‘I couldn’t grow up. English life is for
me a family life, and I love my family but I don’t want to live with them’.7
Another good reason for antagonism towards the late nineteenth-
century Shakespeare was focussed in Hamlet and his play. After watching
a performance of Hamlet in Trieste in 1908, Joyce complained about ‘the
gross dramatic blunders of the play’ (Ellmann, 16). A few years later,
D. H. Lawrence saw a performance in an Italian village that provoked an
extravagant meditation on the protagonist and what he represented: ‘I had
4 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

always felt an aversion from Hamlet: a creeping unclean thing he seems, on

the stage, [. . .] The character is repulsive in its conception, based on self-
dislike and a spirit of disintegration.’8 Most notoriously, the young T. S. Eliot
adjudged the play ‘most certainly an artistic failure’.9 The early twentieth
century does not hold a monopoly on such violent reactions to the play
and its protagonist, and Freud was at hand with an explanation of why this
might be so. Joyce liked to spin alternative theories about the dramatist’s
personal investment in his play, not in the complex allegedly focused in
Hamlet junior, but in the sexual betrayal suffered by Hamlet senior. For
Joyce, Eliot, Lawrence and their generation, the passions ignited by this
play in particular, and Shakespearean drama in general, had much to do
with the permission it offered, or the demands that it made, to speak more
freely about sexual incitement, inhibition and injury, and more widely,
about the realities of physical existence and bodily needs, our everyday
Eliot would modify his early views, and the exasperation with a specifi-
cally Victorian Hamlet to a large extent dies away, allowing renewed
interest in Hamlet the inquirer, asking sharp questions of a vertiginous
world. Specifically, a European world suffering a melt-down comparable
in scale and quality to the protracted European crisis of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries. What struck Eliot about Renaissance culture,
Richard Halpern notes, was ‘its essential modernity’.10 Right now, however,
in the wreckage of post-war Europe, it was not Italy that provided the most
powerful examples, provocations and threats: it was France and Germany.
Especially, for the young Eliot, the France of Mallarmé, Laforgue, Claudel
and Valéry, in whose work could be glimpsed other ways of thinking about
Hamlet. Claudel strikingly calls Hamlet ‘un professeur d’attention’, a word
that anticipates the attentiveness and waiting that would be the subject of
Beckett’s first great drama. In ‘La Crise de l’Esprit’ (1919), Valéry sees the
modern intellect typified by its heterogeneity, ‘its mixture of fragments of
past culture’; ‘The European Hamlet watches a million Ghosts [. . .] He has
for his phantoms all the objects of our controversies.’11
For all these writers, the generic instability of Shakespeare’s art is a
crucial feature, and a liberating one. In this respect, the concept of the
‘grotesque’ is vital. Not that it is a new one. As essays on Dickens and
Hardy in an earlier volume have demonstrated, the idea of the grotesque
developed increasing purchase in the nineteenth century, taking courage
from Shakespeare’s example in challenging the purity and integrity of
genre, of character, of language, and promoting kinds of black sardonic
ribaldry that the modernists would take to new extremes. We should
Introduction 5

note the significance for mid-twentieth-century Shakespeare criticism of

G. Wilson Knight’s emphasis on the dark comedy in King Lear, and the
welcome later afforded to Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories of carnival and the
grotesque body.12 Joyce’s progress from Dubliners to the Wake marks an
increasing commitment to carnival and the derangement of all hierarchies,
including the verbal. More soberly, and traditionally, Eliot questioned the
discreteness of tragedy and comedy: ‘to those who have experienced the
full horror of life, tragedy is still inadequate [. . .] In the end horror and
laughter may be one.’ (quoted Stillman, 80)
‘The words of a dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living’.
Thus wrote W. H. Auden, grotesquely, ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’ (1939),
as Jeremy Noel-Tod reminds us (127). Writing in 1937, in a general intro-
duction to his work, Yeats declared his ambivalent feelings towards England
and the English: ‘I owe my soul to Shakespeare, to Spenser and to Blake,
perhaps to William Morris, and to the English language in which I think,
speak, and write.’13 Other Irish-born writers would put it differently. Maud
Ellmann dwells on the important passage in A Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man in which Stephen Dedalus complains: ‘The language in which
we are speaking is his before it is mine. [. . .] My soul frets in the shadow
of his language.’ (13) His language – Shakespeare’s, surely? But no: as
Ellmann points out, it is a brilliantly calculated snub to name the oppressor
who casts this shadow as – Ben Jonson. Many modern writers have fretted
in the shadow of the English language, especially those whose origins
have involved subjection to colonial or imperial authority. ‘It is perhaps
the fact of writing directly in English which is knotting me up,’ Beckett
tells a correspondent, ‘Horrible language, which I still know too well.’
(quoted Gunn, 153) Neither Eliot nor Auden take such an exasperated
attitude towards the language of Shakespeare (and Jonson, and others).
Nor, indeed, does Joyce: after all, it is Stephen speaking in Ulysses, not his
author. By the time of Finnegans Wake, Joyce was striving for ‘a language
which is above all languages’, and could claim: ‘I have discovered that I can
do anything I want with language.’ (quoted Ellmann, 52) When it comes
to self-confidence in the face of Shakespeare’s putative authority, linguistic
and otherwise, Joyce and Auden are alike in their exuberance as Eliot and
Beckett are in their anxiety. But Eliot never sought to escape from the
shadow of language, Shakespeare’s or any other. On the contrary, the more
shadows the better.
For any artist born into a society that has experienced political and
cultural subordination to British rule, there are strong motives for freeing
yourself from the shadow of Shakespeare. This includes or included
6 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Americans, at least until they acquired imperial powers of their own. Joyce
and Eliot both grew up under the shade cast by imperial rule, though
for Eliot the empire stretched back to Athens, Rome and Jerusalem. For
Joyce, it was nearer and specifically British, while the remoter past was a
less exigent, more welcoming elsewhere. As for Shakespeare, did he really
need to be slain, or even fled from? The rivalry he incited in Joyce took
increasingly riotous form. Initially, it entailed the calculated impudence
of embracing Ibsen as an alternative to the English bard (following the
example of his fellow countryman, creator of the word ‘bardolatry’,
George Bernard Shaw). But Joyce’s tactics change, Ellmann argues, and
his relations with Shakespeare can be understood through the metaphors
of incorporation, of swallowing, consumption and digestion in which his
art revels: ‘Joyce’s answer is to swallow Shakespeare’s life and works into his
own omnivorous prose. If you can’t beat him, eat him.’ (10) Shakespeare’s
words certainly get modified in the guts of Finnegans Wake, in which
the allusions to Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s
Dream (or ‘Miss Somer’s nice dream’) are particularly prominent.14 This
is ‘mutual cannibalism’, Ellmann concludes: ‘it is difficult to tell where
Shakespeare ends and Joyce begins’ (12).
Something similar can be said of T. S. Eliot, though for different reasons,
Anne Stillman suggests. So familiar have we become with the passage in
‘A Game of Chess’, derived from Enobarbus’s great speech in Antony and
Cleopatra, that when we read or hear the passage in Shakespeare we now
find it tinged with associations from The Waste Land. So, too, with certain
lines and passages in The Tempest that recur in Eliot’s own verse, such as
Ariel’s song of magical transformation – ‘Into something rich and strange’
(1.2.402). Eliot is far less direct in his dealings with Shakespeare than
either Joyce or Auden, and less confident too, despite some early bravado.
In this respect, Eliot and Beckett draw close to each other, and the fact that
they have had a deeper effect on the way we have come to read, think and
respond to Shakespeare than either Joyce or Auden may be derived from
this indirection. Their relations with Shakespeare are less combative than
those of Joyce and Auden; the bones they have to pick with him are less
personal and particular. It was helpful to the young Eliot’s precarious confi-
dence in his own creativity to view Shakespeare amidst his contemporaries:
‘[w]hen I was young I felt much more at ease with the lesser Elizabethan
dramatists than with Shakespeare: the former were, so to speak, playmates
nearer my own size’ (quoted Stillman, 64). It is striking that, for all the
massive influence on subsequent Shakespearean criticism that has been
attributed to him, Eliot should only have published two full-length essays
Introduction 7

directly concerned with Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet and His Problems’ (1919)

and ‘Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca’ (1927). Shakespeare is
deeply present in his thinking about poetry and specifically about the possi-
bilities of poetic drama, but his thoughts emerge, as Stillman brings out,
abruptly, surprisingly, in response to specific questions of poetic compo-
sition, technique or effect.
Auden’s engagements with Shakespeare are at once more direct and
less perturbed. Shakespeare was essential to him, Jeremy Noel-Tod argues,
‘as a dramatist of national and social identity; as a poet preoccupied with
poetry’s power; and as an ironist of the paradox [. . .] that ‘‘The Truest
Poetry is the Most Feigning’’ (105). Like Eliot, Auden was particularly
drawn to Hamlet, The Tempest and Antony and Cleopatra, though for different
reasons and to different effects; in Prospero, he saw ‘Hamlet transformed’
into a ‘puppet master’ (quoted, 126). The difference between the two
poets’ temperaments can be gauged from Auden’s composition of The Sea
and the Mirror (1944), a ‘commentary’ on The Tempest which he said aimed
at ‘something which is in a way absurd, to show in a work of art, the limita-
tions of art’ (quoted, 135). As for Caliban, such an essential figure now
for thinking about the primitive in Shakespeare, and about the colonial
and post-colonial subject, Auden outrageously endows him with the voice
of high culture, in the style of late Henry James. Auden enjoys arguing
with Shakespeare and through Shakespeare. He passes strong adverse
judgments on Romeo and Juliet, on Prince Hal, and in favour of Falstaff
and other rogues – ‘When has Autolycus / ever solemned himself?’15 – all
in the jubilant service of his own political and religious beliefs. Auden is
akin to Joyce in the shameless licence with which he treats Shakespeare,
and in his admiration for Shakespeare’s portrayal of human weakness
and inadequacy, including his own. Yet this issues in a view of art and
the artist very different from Joyce’s (and Eliot’s), a conclusion Auden
claims to be Shakespeare’s own, that art does not matter very much, after
all. ‘Shakespeare never takes himself too seriously’, he notes approvingly
(quoted Noel-Tod, 108).
Beckett’s claims to inclusion in this volume are less immediately evident
than those of the preceding three writers. In his early fiction and in the
plays that first brought him international renown, there are obvious refer-
ences to Shakespeare, to Hamlet, King Lear and Prospero. And yet, by the
time he wrote En attendant Godot and Fin de partie in the late 1940s and
mid-1950s, Beckett had moved beyond the orbit of the Anglophone literary
world, or so at least it seemed. These works were conceived and written
‘elsewhere’, in a language to which Shakespeare was himself an outsider.
8 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

It was only then, Dan Gunn suggests, that Beckett’s work could make a
real connection ‘to a Shakespeare whose achievement can indeed accom-
modate his own achievement-less world, a Shakespeare whose commitment
to impoverishment, loss, the grotesque, the impossible, the aporetic, the
unutterable, the inconsequential, is as keen as even Beckett could wish’
(150). Auden’s conscious identification with Shakespeare’s sympathy for
human fragility consorted with his own positive convictions, political and
religious. In Beckett’s case, the attention to deprivation goes so deep as to
exceed beliefs of any kind, including beliefs about art. Shakespeare does
not actively enter into the formation of Beckett’s own art, which depends
more on jettisoning ‘resources’ than summoning them. Beckett’s work is
rather a means of recognizing those elements in Shakespeare that they
have in common. Hence, as Gunn argues, the influence that Beckett has
exerted on Shakespeare, or our responses to Shakespeare, over the last 50
years. Beckett’s art epitomises attitudes that have grown to dominate our
view of Shakespeare through the twentieth into the twenty-first century,
attitudes towards the integrity of character and genre, towards figures,
elements and forces that seem peripheral or excluded, and towards the
body, especially in the frailties and compulsions it exerts on our selves.
Hence the attraction already noted, for modern writers and readers and
performers, of Shakespeare’s outsiders, and the experiences embodied in
his plays and poetry of marginality, estrangement, dissociation, distraction,
craziness. As, for example, Yeats’s ‘Crazy Jane’, of whom it has been said
that she is ‘like a sexually demented female Othello or Leontes or, most of
all, like a female Lear in the storm’. Neil Corcoran goes on to note ‘how
usefully counter-cultural a force Yeats found Shakespeare at this point of
his writing life’.16
One might also think of the crazed Ophelia, and reflect how much less
useful Shakespeare has proved to women writers as a counter-cultural
force. Virginia Woolf’s is the classic statement of this frustration in A
Room of One’s Own (1928), where she imagines the fate of Shakespeare’s
wonderfully gifted sister Judith, the rebel fugitive ‘who killed herself one
winter’s night and lies buried at some cross-roads where the omnibuses
now stop outside the Elephant and Castle’ – ‘who shall measure the heat
and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s
body?’17 For Woolf, Shakespeare still stands for an idea of ‘freedom’
towards which all true artists aspire: ‘the mind of an artist, in order to
achieve the prodigious effort of freeing whole and entire the work that is
in him, must be incandescent, like Shakespeare’s mind’.18 But the impedi-
ments and advantages are not equally shared, and the margin is a place
Introduction 9

where life often just withers away. When the poet H. D. imagines Claribel,
the invisible daughter in The Tempest, whose marriage in Tunis prompts
her royal father’s voyage, she finds none of the heat and violence Woolf
attributes to Judith Shakespeare. Or indeed the passions and adventures
bestowed by their author on Juliet, Portia, Rosalind and so on. Pallidly
grateful for being conceived at all, this Claribel mourns for everything she
has not been endowed with:

I had no voice
To chide the lark at dawn,
Or argue with a Jew,
Be merciful;

I had no wit
To banter with a clown,
Or claim a kingdom
Or denounce a throne;

I had no hand
To snatch a dagger,
Or pluck wild-flowers,
For a crown.19

There is a great deal more to be said about the relations between

Shakespeare and women artists since the generation of Woolf and
H. D., the reclamation and re-writing of Shakespearean roles and stories
and situations. But Stillman notes the chastening thoughts that Eliot has
about ‘greatness’, its debilitating pressure on any writer during his or her
lifetime: ‘greatness is a matter, so far as we are concerned, of chance, of
what happens afterwards when we are dead; and that depends on a great
many things outside of ourselves’. (quoted, 59) The ‘great many things’
include the traditions to which Shakespeare has made a uniquely powerful
contribution. They are also the traditions some of the limits of which Woolf
deplored when she thought ‘of the safety and prosperity of the one sex
and of the poverty and insecurity of the other and of the effect of tradition
and of the lack of tradition upon the mind of a writer’.20 They are the
traditions that Joyce and Beckett refused to be trapped in and went on to
challenge; they are the traditions that Eliot and Auden chose to explore
and re-fashion – all in search of something that might be called ‘incandes-
cence’, amongst other things.
Chapter 1

James Joyce
Maud Ellmann

Shakespeare for Breakfast

‘Ah there’s only one man he’s got to get the better of now, and that’s
that Shakespeare!’1 So Joyce’s wife Nora is reputed to have said about
her husband as he toiled at the word-smithy of Finnegans Wake. Although
the remark may be apocryphal, it captures the bravura of Joyce’s contest
with Shakespeare, a contest that begins in Joyce’s early literary essays and
reaches its most famous climax in the ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ episode of
Ulysses. Set in Dublin’s National Library, this is the chapter where Joyce’s
avatar Stephen Dedalus launches his theory of Hamlet to the leading
literati of pre-revolutionary Ireland. As his jovial antagonist Buck Mulligan
announces, Stephen’s theory is ‘quite simple. He proves by algebra that
Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the
ghost of his own father’.2
For Joyce the novelist, to get the better of Shakespeare is to surpass the
greatest poet and dramatist in English, arts in which Joyce scarcely distin-
guished himself. How could the author of Pomes Pennyeach hope to outdo
the poet of Venus and Adonis, or the author of Exiles trump the playwright of
King Lear? Joyce’s answer is to swallow Shakespeare’s life and works into his
own omnivorous prose. If you can’t beat him, eat him. Thus ‘Will Breakfast’
features on the menu of Finnegans Wake, along with morning specials such
as ‘homelette’, in honour of Hamlet, and ‘shakespill and eggs’.3
Digestion – and indigestion – of Shakespeare’s works takes place at
every level of Joyce’s writing, shaping action, character and language.
Leopold Bloom, the hero of Ulysses, shares many misfortunes attributed
to Shakespeare by Stephen, including an unfaithful wife and a dead son.
Joyce’s final hero HCE, who goes by many pseudonyms in Finnegans Wake,
also bears a strong resemblance to Shakespeare, as well as to the drunken
porter in Macbeth; in fact, there are many hints that his family name is
James Joyce 11

Porter. In creating HCE/Porter and Bloom, Joyce swallows Shakespeare

whole, incorporating his precursor into his own creatures. In other
instances, Joyce takes bite-sized pieces out of Shakespeare, snatching
‘quashed quotatoes’ from the Bard, such as this version of Hamlet’s most
famous question: ‘me ken or no me ken Zot is the Quiztune’ (FW 183.22;
110.14). These mashed quotations testify to Joyce’s ambivalence towards
Shakespeare, since they acknowledge the authority of that which they
distort. What looks like iconoclasm also serves as an inverted form of
reverence. Eliot described Joyce as a blasphemer rather than a heretic,
because ‘no one can possibly blaspheme unless he profoundly believes
in that which he profanes’.4 Joyce, by blaspheming Shakespeare’s works,
backhandedly affirms their immortality.
‘As we, or mother Dana, weave and unweave our bodies, Stephen said,
from day to day, their molecules shuttled to and fro, so does the artist
weave and unweave his image.’ (U 9.376–8) Weaving and unweaving his
image is what Joyce does throughout his writing, beginning with the essay
‘The Portrait of the Artist’ (which was rejected as incomprehensible by
the Dublin literary journal Dana in 1904) and concluding with HCE in
Finnegans Wake, a work described by Philip Kitcher as ‘A Portrait of the
Artist as an Aging Man’.5 In Ulysses, Stephen argues that Shakespeare
evinces the same autobiographical compulsion, weaving and unweaving
his image throughout his works, which therefore represent a serial self-
portrait of their own creator. A similar theory had already been broached
by Joyce’s contemporary Frank Harris, a literary journalist who set out ‘to
prove from Shakespeare’s works that he has painted himself twenty times
from youth till age at full length’.6 According to Stephen, Shakespeare’s
features re-emerge in all his characters, whether exalted or debased.
Hence the playwright is both ‘bawd and cuckold’: ‘His unremitting
intellect is the hornmad Iago ceaselessly willing that the moor in him
shall suffer.’ (U 9.1021–4) Here, Stephen may be thinking of the theatrical
tradition whereby actors playing Iago and Othello switch parts on alternate
nights, suggesting a profound identity between these roles. In any case,
Joyce repeatedly portrays himself as bawd and cuckold – ‘the grand old
greeneyed lobster’ (FW 249.3) – self-portraits in which his own molecules
shuttle to and fro with those of Shakespeare.
Freud argues that the psychic mechanism of identification originates in
infantile fantasies of cannibalism, in which the object of desire is incor-
porated into the desirer and thereby annihilated as a separate entity.7
Similarly Joyce consumes Shakespeare in order to incorporate but also
to obliterate his rival. This chapter traces how Joyce struggles to get the
12 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

better of ‘that Shakespeare’, a struggle that begins with ‘silence, exile,

and cunning’ in Stephen Hero and the Portrait, where Joyce denies the
overwhelming ‘Shikespower’ of his rival, and culminates in Finnegans
Wake, where Joyce devours his precursor.8 In the middle of this journey,
Shakespeare serves as Virgil to Joyce’s Dante, the precursor conducting the
ephebe into an inferno of sexual betrayal where every Othello turns into
his own Iago, tortured and torturing at once. This is the infernal contrapasso
that emerges in Stephen’s discourse on Hamlet in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’,
where he unravels the Shakespearean family plot. Its cast of characters –
the unfaithful wife, the warring brothers, the seductive daughter and the
cuckolded father, who is always threatening to come back as a ghost – later
provides Joyce with the major theme and variations of Finnegans Wake.
The present chapter traces how Joyce’s appetite for Shakespeare grows
by what it feeds on. In his early career, however, Joyce suppresses this
appetite, glorifying Ibsen at Shakespeare’s expense. At this stage, it is not
that Joyce refuses to take Shakespeare in, but rather that he never lets him
out, withholding the very mention of his name; in digestive terms, this is
a case of constipation rather than anorexia. In Ulysses, on the other hand,
Joyce incorporates Shakespeare by means of Stephen’s iconoclastic theory
of Hamlet. Here, Shakespeare is engorged without being absorbed, like
‘belly jonah’ in the whale (FW 323.7). Finnegans Wake, finally, dissolves
the boundaries between Joyce and Shakespeare: in this ‘eatmost’ work,
what you eat is what you are (FW 58.14). Here Joyce gets the better of
Shakespeare by digesting his words into his own ‘soluble[s]’, until it is
difficult to tell where Shakespeare ends and Joyce begins (FW 299.F3).

Not Shakespeare: Stephen Hero and A Portrait of the Artist as a

Young Man

Joyce’s rivalry with Shakespeare goes back at least as far as his schooldays
at Belvedere College. Here a brawny classmate, Albrecht Connolly, tried
to bully the frail, myopic Joyce into admitting that Shakespeare was the
greatest poet. When Joyce refused, Connolly tried to force a concession
by twisting his arm and frogmarching him along the footpath. Although
Joyce was in tears, he never gave in. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,
published in 1916, Shakespeare’s name is erased from this scene, which is
recast as Stephen’s refusal to ‘admit that Byron was no good’.9 Through
this alteration, Joyce portrays his boyhood self as the brave defender of the
libertine, rather than the arrogant opponent of the Bard.
James Joyce 13

Meanwhile his rivalry with Shakespeare goes underground; instead of

direct confrontation, Joyce avoids any mention of Shakespeare, whose
name remains conspicuously absent from the Portrait. This absence looms
largest in the famous discussion between Stephen and the Dean of
Belvedere, an ‘English convert’ to Irish Catholicism who is puzzled by the
Irish dialect word for funnel, ‘tundish’.

–Is that called a tundish in Ireland? asked the dean. I never heard the
word in my life.
–It is called a tundish in Lower Drumcondra, said Stephen, laughing,
where they speak the best English. [. . .]
–Tundish! Well now, that is interesting! [. . .]
–The question you asked me a moment ago seems to me more inter-
esting. What is that beauty which the artist struggles to express from
lumps of earth, said Stephen coldly.
The little word seemed to have turned a rapier point of his sensi-
tiveness against this courteous and vigilant foe. He felt with a smart of
dejection that the man to whom he was speaking was a countryman of
Ben Jonson. He thought:
–The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How
different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I
cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language,
so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I
have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul
frets in the shadow of his language. (P 204–5)

Here, Stephen falls prey to colonial abjection. Humiliated by the quaintness

of his own provincial vocabulary, he imagines the Dean to be basking in
possession of the English language, which was foisted on the Irish by their
conquerors. For Stephen, English will always be an ‘acquired speech’,
and every word he speaks or writes entails his exile from the home-grown
tongue of Ireland. Not that the Irish language offers any refuge from this
predicament. When urged to learn Irish by his nationalist friend Davin,
Stephen retorts: ‘My ancestors threw off their language and took another.
[. . .] They allowed a handful of foreigners to subject them. Do you fancy
I am going to pay in my own life and person debts they made? What for?’
(P 220) Joyce himself briefly attended Irish language classes, taught by no
lesser nationalist than Padraic Pearse, who was later to become the leading
ideologue of the Easter Uprising. But Joyce walked out in disgust when
Pearse claimed that the Irish word for thunder was superior to the English;
14 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

thunder happened to be Joyce’s favourite word, as well as his most flaunted

phobia. Asked in Paris why he was afraid of thunder when his children were
not, Joyce replied, ‘Ah, they have no religion’ – a surprising criticism from
a self-proclaimed apostate (JJ 61, 514).
In the Portrait, stung by the Dean’s unwitting barb, Stephen tries to
change the subject back to pure aesthetics, and to speak of how the artist
squeezes beauty out of ‘lumps of earth’, beauty that transcends the much-
disputed sod of Ireland. But the ‘little word’ tundish has turned into a
rapier-point, piercing Stephen’s carapace of arrogance. Whereas Oscar
Wilde delighted in the fact that ‘the English have condemned me to speak
the language of Shakespeare’, Stephen feels mortified by this necessity –
so mortified that he substitutes Jonson for Shakespeare, the lesser for the
greater genius.10 ‘He felt with a smart of dejection that the man to whom
he was speaking was a countryman of Ben Jonson.’ This switch of names is
almost as flagrant as the famous line where Yeats substitutes Byzantium for
the holy city of Jerusalem. It is as if Stephen, like the young Joyce wriggling
in a schoolyard bully’s grip, is still refusing to admit the pre-eminence of
Joyce may have known that the word ‘tun-dish’ appears, with an obscene
innuendo, in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, where Lucio jokes that
Claudio has been condemned to death ‘For filling a bottle with a tun-dish’
(3.2.172). In any case, when Stephen complains that ‘my soul frets in the
shadow of his language’, the pronoun ‘his’ encompasses the repressed
figure of Shakespeare, along with the explicit references to the Dean and
his countryman Ben Jonson. To fret means to worry, but also to bind or
weave or interlace with rich embroidery; when applied to animals, it means
to eat or gnaw away. The word ‘fret’ therefore encapsulates the ways that
Stephen/Joyce contends with Shakespeare’s shadow, fretting under the
anxiety of influence while gnawing at the master’s works and weaving them
into new fretworks, new intercrossing patterns.11
Although Shakespeare’s name is erased from the Portrait, it surfaces
briefly in Stephen Hero, an earlier version of the novel written in 1904–6.
Here, Joyce recalls his education in Shakespeare at the hands of the
Jesuits. The Dean of Stephen’s college, Father Butt, informs his pupils that
Shakespeare has sounded the depths of human nature, providing moral
exemplars to learn from and live by. Among the greatest of these exemplars
is Othello, but Father Butt’s protégés are forbidden to see the play
performed because of its ‘many coarse expressions’. In another scene, the
priest reads Twelfth Night to his pupils but omits Feste’s songs, presumably
because of their amorous innuendos. Stephen Daedalus (not Dedalus until
James Joyce 15

the Portrait) objects to the censorship. But Father Butt explains that these
songs serve only to amuse the Duke, not to impart the moral lessons of
the play.12 Here Joyce allows his readers to imagine Stephen’s indignation,
rather than presenting it directly. This authorial restraint looks forward
to Stephen’s aesthetic theory in the Portrait, which argues that the ‘artist,
like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above
his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his
fingernails’ (P 233).
In Stephen Hero, we learn that Father Butt ‘had read a series of papers at
a total abstinence club to prove that Shakespeare was a Roman Catholic: he
had also written against another Jesuit father who had very late in life been
converted to the Baconian theory of the authorship of the plays’ (SH 25).
To Catholicise Shakespeare is to bring him closer to the Irish, getting the
better of his Englishness, a ploy that Joyce mocks in the ‘Cyclops’ episode
of Ulysses by including ‘Patrick W. Shakespeare’ in an epic catalogue of
Irish luminaries (U 12.190–1). Yet as a nationalist stratagem, to hibernicise
Shakespeare is self-defeating, since it implies the absence of a Patrick equal
to William, or an Irish rival to the English Bard. It is partly for this reason
that the young Joyce sought his literary forefather outside either of the
warring islands, flying by the nets of English imperialism and Irish nation-
alism.13 For Joyce, as for Stephen, it was ‘not in Shakespeare’ but in Ibsen
that a worthy precursor could be found: ‘the minds of the old Norse poet
and of the perturbed young Celt met in a moment of radiant simultaneity’
(SH 40). Eschewing ‘Daunty, Gouty and Shopkeeper’ (FW 539.6) – the
daunting triumvirate of Dante, Goethe, and Shakespeare – Stephen exalts
Ibsen as the saviour of the dying art of drama, the only playwright with the
power to put ‘life – real life – on the stage’.14
Without mentioning Ibsen by name, Joyce launches a manifesto for
the new realism in his early essay ‘Drama and Life’ (1900). This essay
consigns Shakespeare to the dust heap of history, granting him credit
only for dealing the necessary deathblow to classic drama. According to
Joyce, Greek tragedy was ‘born of religion’, whereas Shakespeare’s drama
‘arose out of a movement in literature’, and his plays therefore consist of
‘literature in dialogue’. To clarify this puzzling distinction, Joyce argues
that ‘drama’ belongs to the realm of necessity, ‘literature’ to the realm of

Human society is the embodiment of changeless laws which the whimsi-

calities and circumstances of men and women involve and overwrap.
The realm of literature is the realm of these accidental manners and
16 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

humours – a spacious realm; and the true literary artist concerns himself
mainly with them. Drama has to do with the underlying laws first, in all
their nakedness and divine severity, and only secondarily with the motley
agents who bear them out. (OCPW 23–4)

Unlike the Greek tragedians, Shakespeare situates his drama in the realm
of accident, paying more attention to the motley agents than to the laws
that they embody. In this sense, Shakespeare bears a stronger affinity to
Cervantes than to Aeschylus, and belongs to the demotic era of the novel,
rather than the theocratic age of classic drama. Even so, Joyce insists that
Shakespearean drama, like its classic predecessor, is extinct. ‘Both of these
dramas having done their work as prologues to the swelling act, they may
be relegated to the department of literary curios.’ (OCPW 24) Here, it is
ironic that Joyce misquotes Macbeth’s line about the ‘happy prologues to
the swelling act’ in order to relegate its author to oblivion, since the effect
of the citation is to praise Shakespeare, not to bury him. It is also worth
noting that the ‘swelling act’, in its original context in Macbeth (1.3.128),
alludes to regicide, an allusion consonant with Joyce’s bardicidal ambitions
in ‘Drama and Life’; later Stephen plays up the erotic innuendoes of
the phrase in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’. In any case, Joyce’s impudence is
hilarious: who else would have the gall to describe Shakespeare – not to
mention the masters of the Attic stage – as a literary curio?
For Joyce, Ibsen surpasses Shakespeare, whose drama is clunky and
improbable, despite his ‘gift of seraphic music’ (OCPW 23). After watching
a performance of Hamlet in Trieste in 1908, Joyce berated the gross
dramatic blunders of the play. He complained, as Voltaire had before him,
that ‘Ophelia’s madness took all the force out of Hamlet’s simulation,
and that her love for her father, whom the audience have seen to be a
paltry old imbecile, is a caricature of Hamlet’s passion; and the evil in the
King’s character that accounts for Hamlet’s hatred must be supposed for
it is not dramatically explained.’ Yet even Ibsen sometimes falls short of
Joyce’s standards. ‘Ibsen is too simple’, he told Stanislaus Joyce on 16 May
1907, as the brothers ambled through Trieste. ‘Mrs Alving, for instance,
is Motherhood’, just as a drunk young labourer and his mother entering
a nearby trattoria stand for ‘youth and motherhood’ (JJ 266).15 If Ibsen
succeeds where Shakespeare fails in staging ‘underlying laws, in all their
nakedness and divine severity’, Ibsen’s archetypes verge perilously close to
Moreover Ibsen fails the test of realism. ‘Absolute realism is impossible,
of course’, but Ibsen goes too far in the opposite direction by omitting ‘all
James Joyce 17

question of finance from his thirteen dramas’. When Stanislaus objected

that some people might be less preoccupied with money than Joyce, his
brother retorted: ‘Maybe so, by God [. . .] but I’d like to take twenty-five
lessons from one of those chaps.’ (JJ 266–7) Shakespeare, by contrast, was
‘the son of a maltjobber and a moneylender’, who ‘drew Shylock out of his
own long pocket’, as Stephen claims in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ (U 9.741–2).
The playwright of Timon of Athens, who describes money as the ‘visible god,
/ That sold’rest close impossibilities / And mak’st them kiss’, could scarcely
be accused of indifference to finance (4.3.386–8). Despite Shakespeare’s
admirable attention to money, however, Joyce continued to defend Ibsen
at Shakespeare’s expense. Challenged in the late 1930s to rank the
dramatists, Joyce proclaimed that Ibsen ‘towers head and shoulders above
[Shakespeare] when it comes to drama. No one approaches him there.’ (JJ
694) Yet although Ibsen still surpasses all competitors in drama, by this time
Joyce would probably concede the palm for ‘literature’ to Shakespeare, the
master of the realm of accident.

Shakespearean Dialectics: ‘Scylla and Charybdis’

Despite the accolades to Ibsen in Joyce’s early writings, the Norwegian poet
all but vanishes from Ulysses – a disappearance all the more surprising since
Joyce told Stanislaus in 1907 that he intended to turn his story ‘Ulysses’ into
‘a Dublin ‘Peer Gynt’’ (JJ 265). In the completed novel, however, only one
mention of Ibsen’s name remains to memorialise Stephen’s youthful enthu-
siasm. Shakespeare, on the other hand, seizes the limelight, especially in the
‘Scylla and Charybdis’ episode, when Stephen delivers his theory of Hamlet
in the National Library. Joyce named ‘dialectic’ the ‘technic’ of this episode,
partly because Stephen’s performance takes the form of a Socratic dialectic
or investigation by discussion: a technique previously revived by Wilde
in his dialogic essays.16 But Stephen has also been reading the dialectical
thinker Bruno of Nola, whom Joyce cited in his 1901 essay ‘The Day of the
Rabblement’ (OCPW 50). Stephen’s argument about Shakespeare draws on
Bruno’s theory of the union of opposites, a theory that later provides a major
leitmotif of Finnegans Wake. As Joyce explained to his patron Harriet Weaver:

I ought to tell you a few things. [...] Bruno Nolano (of Nola) [. . .] was
quoted in my first pamphlet The Day of the Rabblement. His philosophy is a
kind of dualism – every power in nature must evolve an opposite in order
to realise itself and opposition brings reunion etc. etc.17
18 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Accordingly, ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ is organised in terms of oppositions: life

and art, flesh and word, matter and spirit, real and ideal. These extremes
are advocated by voices from the floor. First of all, George Russell (also
known as Æ, the co-founder with Yeats of the Dublin Hermetic Society)
dismisses the current craze for biographical theories about Shakespeare’s
work as ‘the speculation of schoolboys for schoolboys’.

—All these questions are purely academic, Russell oracled out of his
shadow. I mean, whether Hamlet is Shakespeare or James I or Essex.
[. . .] Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences. (U 9.46–53)

While Russell advocates idealism – ‘formless spiritual essences’ – Mulligan’s

bawdy humour brings Shakespeare and his critics rudely down to earth.
Having burst into the library, interrupting Stephen’s eloquence, Mulligan
mocks, ‘You were speaking of the gaseous vertebrate, if I mistake not?’

Buck Mulligan thought, puzzled.

—Shakespeare? he said. I seem to know the name.
A flying sunny smile rayed in his loose features.
—To be sure, he said, remembering brightly. The chap that writes like
Synge. (U 9.488, 507–10)

Stephen, whose sense of humour is largely restricted to his own jokes, is

not amused. Nonetheless, Mulligan’s materialism provides the necessary
antithesis to Æ’s idealism. As a Brunonian, Stephen strives to unify these
antitheses in his portrait of Shakespeare, and to reconcile the body
(‘gaseous vertebrate’) with the soul (‘formless spiritual essences’).
To theorise about Shakespeare on June 16th 1904 is also to struggle
with the opposition between British imperialism and Irish nationalism.
In his 1907 essay ‘Ireland: Island of Saints and Sages’, originally written
in Italian, Joyce excoriates the English for reducing his country to

what England did in Ireland over the centuries is no different from what
the Belgians are doing today in the Congo Free State. [. . .] She inflamed
its factions and took possession of the wealth. [. . .] by introducing a
new system of agriculture, she reduced the power of the native leaders
and granted huge estates to her soldiers; she persecuted the Roman
church when it rebelled, and stopped only when it, too, had become
an instrument of subjection. Her main concern was to keep the country
James Joyce 19

divided. [. . .] She was as cruel as she was cunning: her weapons were, and
are, the battering-ram, the club and the noose. (OCPW 119)

In addition to these weapons, England exported Shakespeare to the

furthest reaches of its fractious empire in a cultural equivalent of ‘shock
and awe’. ‘Music hath charms. Shakespeare said’, Leopold Bloom meditates.
‘Quotations every day in the year. To be or not to be. Wisdom while you
wait.’ (U 11.904–6) As usual, Bloom gets his quotations wrong – ‘music hath
charms to soothe the savage breast’ comes from William Congreve, not
from Shakespeare – but, as an advertising canvasser, Bloom understands
the brainwashing effect of repetition. So did the British by exporting
Shakespeare to soothe the savage breasts of its rebellious colonies: the
academic discipline of English literature, which was established in the same
era as the scramble for Africa, helped to ensure British cultural domination
by providing ‘wisdom while you wait’ from Shakespeare.
In this political context, Stephen has to steer between Scylla and
Charybdis, between the many-headed monster of British imperialism and
the devouring whirlpool of Irish nationalism. As a critic, Stephen is no
historicist: his discourse scarcely touches on the politics of Elizabethan
England, but ‘frets’ persistently on those of modern Ireland, although this
fretting – in every sense of the word – often transpires beneath the surface.
The looming obstacle that Stephen has to tackle is the Irish sense of
cultural inferiority to England. ‘Our young Irish bards, John Eglinton
censured, have yet to create a figure which the world will set beside Saxon
Shakespeare’s Hamlet.’ (U 9.43–4) Stephen responds to this challenge
in the manner of Oscar Wilde, who proposed that the critical rather
than creative spirit provides the driving force of innovation in the arts.
In Wilde’s dialogue ‘The Critic as Artist’, Gilbert launches the counter-
intuitive argument that ‘it is the critical faculty that invents fresh forms. The
tendency of creation is to repeat itself. It is to the critical instinct that we
owe each new school that springs up, each new mould that art finds ready
to its hand.’ Accordingly, Stephen resists the temptation to repeat Saxon
Shakespeare by subjecting him to the inventive force of Irish criticism.
Wilde’s Gilbert points out that the greatest writers, including Shakespeare,
‘did not go directly to life for their subject-matter, but sought for it in myth,
and legend, and ancient tale’. In the same way ‘the critic deals with materials
that others have, as it were, purified for him’.18 Following Wilde’s principles,
Stephen – the artist as critic – refashions the materials that Shakespeare has
purified, along with those distilled by previous Shakespearean scholars, in
order to create his own quixotic vision of the dramatist.
20 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Stephen’s first task is to demolish the long-standing tradition that

identifies Shakespeare with Prince Hamlet. ‘I may as well warn you,’
Eglinton cautions, ‘that if you want to shake my belief that Shakespeare is
Hamlet you have a stern task before you.’ (U 9.370–1) Since Shakespeare
reputedly played the part of the Ghost in Hamlet, Stephen argues that the
poet must have seen himself as the dead father rather than the living son.
In Stephen’s words:

—The play begins. A player comes on under the shadow, made up in

the castoff mail of a court buck, a wellset man with a bass voice. It is the
ghost, the king, a king and no king, and the player is Shakespeare who
has studied Hamlet all the years of his life which were not vanity in order
to play the part of the spectre. (U 9.164–8)

If Shakespeare identified himself with the ghost, it follows that his wife Ann
Hathaway must have been the guilty queen. If so, who fathered Hamnet,
Shakespeare’s son who died in childhood? Was Shakespeare the ‘only
begetter’ of his son, or did Ann Hathaway commit adultery – like Queen
Gertrude – with one of Shakespeare’s brothers?19
Not one but two. The evidence for her betrayal, Stephen claims, lies
in the names of Shakespeare’s scoundrels. Although Shakespeare’s third
brother Gilbert ‘is nowhere’ to be found in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, ‘an
Edmund and a Richard are recorded in the works of sweet William’.

In his trinity of black Wills, the villain shakebags, Iago, Richard Crookback,
Edmund in King Lear, two bear the wicked uncles’ names. Nay, that last
play was written or being written while his brother Edmund lay dying in
Southwark. (U 9.911–14)

Thus Shakespeare avenged himself against his treacherous brothers by

giving their names to two of the worst villains in his canon, Edmund in
King Lear and Richard III. Stephen has no explanation for Iago, however,
the worst of these ‘black Wills’ – an omission that returns to haunt the
nightmare of the ‘Circe’ episode.
Meanwhile Shakespeare’s humiliations did not end with Ann’s supposed
adulteries. Stephen adopts Frank Harris’s hypothesis that Mr. W. H., the
dedicatee of the Sonnets, acted as Shakespeare’s go-between with the Dark
Lady.20 But instead of pleading Shakespeare’s cause, the young rogue made
love to her himself. Betrayed by both mistress and wife, Shakespeare’s ‘two
rages commingle[d] in a whirlpool’, producing the Charybdean turmoil of
James Joyce 21

the tragedies (U 9.464). The most implausible implication of this theory,

as Stephen admits, is that the Dark Lady found the young man’s sweet-talk
more seductive than Shakespeare’s eloquence. How could any woman
resist the poet of Romeo and Juliet? And why would Shakespeare, ‘a lord of
language’, choose a ‘lordling’ to intercede for him? (U 9.453–4)

Why? Belief in himself has been untimely killed. He was overborne in

a cornfield first (ryefield, I should say) and he will never be a victor in
his own eyes after nor play victoriously the game of laugh and lie down.
Assumed dongiovannism will not save him. No later undoing will undo
the first undoing. The tusk of the boar has wounded him there where
love lies ableeding. (U 9.455–9)

The imputation is that Shakespeare, like the ‘tender boy’ of ‘Venus and
Adonis’ (l. 32) was overcome by a lustful older woman, ‘a bay where all
men ride’ (U 9.452–3).

If others have their will Ann hath a way. By cock, she was to blame. She
put the comether on him, sweet and twentysix. The greyeyed goddess
who bends over the boy Adonis, stooping to conquer, as prologue to the
swelling act, is a boldfaced Stratford wench who tumbles in a cornfield a
lover younger than herself. (U 9.256–60)

Ann hath a way of seducing Will against his will, putting the come-hither
on the virgin teenager eight years her junior.21
Stephen’s ‘boldfaced Stratford wench’ echoes Shakespeare’s description
of Venus as ‘a bold-faced suitor’ who tumbles Adonis from his horse, in a
scandalous reversal of sex-roles: ‘She red and hot as coals of glowing fire,
/ He red for shame, but frosty in desire.’ (ll. 35–6) To be seduced, for
Shakespeare, was to be castrated, wounded ‘where love lies a’bleeding’. This
is how Adonis dies in Shakespeare’s poem, when a wild boar, besotted like the
goddess by the handsome huntsman, nuzzles up to his ‘soft groin’, unaware
that his tusk has plunged into the flesh. ‘Had I been toothed like him,’ Venus
confesses, ‘With kissing him I should have killed him first’ (ll. 1117–18). It
seems that Ann Hathaway was indeed toothed like a boar, in that her kisses
murdered Shakespeare’s manhood. Once vanquished, Shakespeare never
regained his self-confidence. ‘Assumed dongiovannism will not save him’; he
can play Don Giovanni but he can never recover his lost ‘will’ or potency.
Ravished by his wife, cuckolded by his brothers, cheated by his mistress
and Mr W. H., Shakespeare retaliated with the only weapon in his arsenal
22 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

– his pen – using his writing to punish his betrayers. In Hamlet, he cast
himself as the Ghost, who returns from the grave to annihilate his court
and dynasty. As Stephen observes, ‘Nine lives are taken off for [the] father’s
one’ – a curious miscount, since only eight deaths take place in Hamlet.22
Perhaps the ninth life is that of Shakespeare, since the play makes ‘a ghost
by absence’ of its author. Stephen puts the question:

Is it possible that that player Shakespeare, a ghost by absence, and in the

vesture of buried Denmark, a ghost by death, speaking his own words to
his own son’s name (had Hamnet Shakespeare lived he would have been
prince Hamlet’s twin), is it possible, I want to know, or probable that he
did not draw or foresee the logical conclusion of those premises: you are
the dispossessed son: I am the murdered father: your mother is the guilty
queen, Ann Shakespeare, born Hathaway? (U 9.174–80)

It is known that Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died at the age of 11 years, a

number Joyce borrows in Ulysses where we learn that Bloom’s son Rudy
died at only 11 days. According to Stephen, Hamnet Shakespeare died at
Stratford so that ‘his namesake may live forever’ (U 9.173). At the time
of writing Hamlet, Shakespeare was fatherless as well as sonless, his father
having died some months before the first performance of the play. For
this reason, Stephen proposes that Shakespeare, by playing the Ghost, was
ghosting for his own dead father. At the same time, the playwright resur-
rected the ‘son of his body’ – Hamnet – as the ‘son of his soul’ – Hamlet
– but only to condemn his newly recreated child to a second death (U
9.171–2). In this way, Shakespeare, as ‘dio boia’ or ‘hangman god’, assumed
the power of life and death over the creatures of his ‘Great Shapesphere’
(U 9.1049; FW 295.4).
In Hamlet, Shakespeare wipes out his faithless family: the wife and
brothers who betrayed him for each other, the son who abandoned him for
death. But he reserved a further punishment for Ann. Because this lusty
Venus aroused his will (or sexual desire) and overcame his will (or power of
decision), Shakespeare used his ‘last will intesticle’ (FW 413.17) to reassert
his will to vengeance. He left her his secondbest bed. Stephen’s mention
of this notorious bequest sets off a Charybdean whirligig in Joyce’s prose,
which also plays on the name ‘Best’, a secondbest scholar:

James Joyce 23

Leftabed (U 9.701–6)

Despite this punitive will, Shakespeare’s late plays breathe a spirit of recon-
ciliation, intimating that the poet’s ‘two rages’ have been mollified. How?
‘What was lost is given back to him: his daughter’s child’, Stephen says (U
9.422). The birth of a grand-daughter has softened Shakespeare’s heart.
Her image may be found in the redemptive daughter-figures of The Tempest
and A Winter’s Tale, Cordelias who survive the vengeance of their ‘cold mad
feary father[s]’ (FW 628.2). ‘Miranda, a wonder, Perdita, that which was
lost’ (U 9.421–2).
When Stephen concludes his exposition, he is asked, ‘Do you believe
your own theory?’ Without hesitating Stephen replies, ‘No’ (U 9.1065–7).
Joyce himself, on the other hand, was not so sceptical. It is likely that he
sketched out the theory in Trieste, where he delivered a course of lectures
in English on ‘Amleto di G. Shakespeare’ between November 1912 and
February 1913 at the Università Popolare. The lectures have vanished, but
portions of Joyce’s copious notes have survived, now housed in the Cornell
University Library.23 One notebook contains background material on
Shakespeare’s life and times, mostly culled from John Dover Wilson’s Life
in Shakespeare’s England: A Book of Elizabethan Prose (1911). This collection
of extracts illustrates (in the words of its editor) ‘the social atmosphere
which surrounded our greatest poet at different periods of his career’.24 In
addition, Joyce’s notes contain 60 sheets of transcriptions of background
and critical material related to Hamlet. Many of Stephen’s touchstones are
anticipated by these notes, such as Shakespeare’s premature seduction, his
shotgun wedding and his father’s application for a coat of arms. Further
passages transcribed by Joyce include Amleth’s tirade against his mother in
Saxo’s Historia, Voltaire’s condemnation of Hamlet as ‘a rude and barbarous
play’ and a funny passage from W. S. Gilbert’s Hamlet burlesque entitled
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (1891), where Ophelia tries to account for
Hamlet’s antic disposition:

Well, there again

Opinion is divided. Some men hold
That he’s the sanest, far, of all sane men –
Some that he’s really sane but shamming mad –
Some that he’s really mad but shamming sane –
Some that he will be mad, some that he was
24 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Some that he couldn’t be. But on the whole

(As far as I can make out what they mean)
The favourite theory’s somewhat like this
Hamlet is idiotically sane
With lucid intervals of lunacy.

Joyce also notes that Shakespeare worked as a ‘poor teacher’, which may
account for Stephen’s job as a poor teacher, mocked by his well-heeled
pupils in the ‘Nestor’ episode. 25
It is clear from Joyce’s notes that he embellished his Trieste lectures
with lively historical and biographical material. But his theory about
Shakespeare probably predates these lectures, existing in embryo some
years before Stephen’s performance in the National Library. Many Irishmen
had already published such theories, including Edward Dowden, Justice
D. H. Madden, Judge D. P. Barton and, most recently, George Bernard
Shaw. As William M. Schutte has shown, most of Stephen’s data derives from
three well-known sources, all published in 1898: Sidney Lee’s biography of
Shakespeare, the English translation of Georg Brandes’s two-volume study
and Frank Harris’s essays in The Saturday Review, which formed the core of
his popular book The Man Shakespeare and his Tragic Life Story.26
Far-fetched though Stephen’s theory seems, it belongs to a craze of
speculation about Shakespeare’s private life that burgeoned at the turn of
the century. ‘Frank Harris is upstairs,’ Oscar Wilde wrote to Robert Ross in
February 1899, ‘thinking about Shakespeare at the top of his voice.’27 Nor
was Wilde himself immune to this enthusiasm; his fictional dialogue ‘The
Portrait of Mr. W. H.’ (1891) satirises such theories but also acknowledges
their fatal attraction. Like The Picture of Dorian Gray, ‘The Portrait of Mr.
W. H.’ is a story about three men and a picture, where one confidant after
another falls for the contagious theory that the Sonnets were dedicated
to Willie Hughes, supposedly a fetching boy-actor at the Globe. In the
course of the story, two of these confrères die, supposedly as martyrs to the
Willie Hughes hypothesis: ‘To die for one’s theological beliefs is the worst
use a man can make of his life, but to die for a literary theory! It seemed
impossible.’28 The all-male cast of characters in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ may
owe something to Wilde’s story, where the shadowy figure of Mr. W. H.
(identified by Wilde’s theorists as Shakespeare’s catamite rather than his
rival) gives rise to a homosocial circuit of exchange. Stephen, however,
evades the question of Shakespeare’s pederasty, replacing Wilde’s attempt
to chercher le garçon with a more conventional attempt to chercher la femme.
Later we shall see how ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ hovers
James Joyce 25

round the episode, but Stephen strives to keep his Shakespeare straight –
although straightness will never look the same.29
To paraphrase Stephen’s theory, as I have attempted above, gives
little indication of the rocks and whirlpools that impede the reader’s
journey through this episode. For one thing, Stephen’s exposition is
constantly interrupted with objections from the floor. These interrup-
tions, compounded by Joyce’s abjuration of inverted commas – ‘perverted
commas’, as he called them – often make it difficult to distinguish
Stephen’s speech from the voices of his interlocutors, or from the silent
promptings of his stream of consciousness.30 In addition to catcalls from
the groundlings, ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ is frequently invaded by dramatic
elements, as well as by Elizabethan turns of phrase, as if the prose were
momentarily ventriloquized by Shakespeare. If Stephen uses criticism to
get the better of Shakespeare, this struggle re-enacts itself within the prose
where Shakespearean drama often seems to get the better of Joycean
Take this passage, for example, in which Stephen identifies the characters
in Shakespeare’s plays with members of their author’s family:

—As for his family, Stephen said, his mother’s name lives in the forest
of Arden. Her death brought from him the scene with Volumnia in
Coriolanus. His boyson’s death is the deathscene of young Arthur in King
John. Hamlet, the black prince, is Hamnet Shakespeare. Who the girls
in The Tempest, in Pericles, in Winter’s Tale are we know. Who Cleopatra,
fleshpot of Egypt, and Cressid and Venus are we may guess. But there is
another member of his family who is recorded.
—The plot thickens, John Eglinton said.
The quaker librarian, quaking, tiptoed in, quake, his mask, quake,
with haste, quake, quack.
Door closed. Cell. Day.
They list. Three. They.
I you he they.
Come, mess.
He had three brothers, Gilbert, Edmund, Richard. [. . .] The playhouse
sausage filled Gilbert’s soul. He is nowhere: but an Edmund and a
Richard are recorded in the works of sweet William. (U 9.879–9)

In the first part of this passage, Stephen points out that the Forest of Arden
bears the maiden name of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden. Since the
26 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Forest of Arden represents the ‘green world’ where sexual prohibitions are
suspended, its name suggests incestuous desire, although Stephen is not
quite Freudian enough to point this out. Instead, he identifies Mary Arden
with Volumnia, mother of Coriolanus, and Hamnet Shakespeare with the
child Arthur in King John, as well as with the homophonous Hamlet. 31 As
Stephen reminds his audience, the young girls in the late plays stand for
Shakespeare’s grand-daughter, while the temptresses Cleopatra, Cressida,
and Venus stand for Shakespeare’s unfaithful wife, or for his equally false
Building up the suspense, Stephen reserves his trump card for the
end of this passage, when he names the supposed co-respondents to Ann
Hathaway’s adultery, Edmund and Richard Shakespeare. To mark this
dramatic climax, the conventions of the stage burst into the narrative,
transforming the prose dialogue into an ‘entr’acte’ (U 9.484). For an
amusing interlude, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s bawdy subplots, Stephen
himself becomes a character in a play scripted by a hidden arranger. This
sly arranger also plays games with the names of Stephen’s listeners, such as
MAGEEGLINJOHN, an amalgamation of John Eglinton’s pseudonym with
his real name William Kirkpatrick Magee. But it is impossible to tell who is
responsible for jamming Magee’s names together, or for interjecting drama
into narrative. Nor is it clear who indulges in the wordplay on ‘quaking’
and ‘quacking’ triggered by the arrival of the Quaker librarian John Lyster.
Is it Stephen who is re-imagining this scene as theatre, or is it an invisible
satirical director?
The telegraphic paragraphs that follow exacerbate these ambiguities.
The phrase ‘Door closed’, for instance, could be attributed to Stephen’s
stream-of-consciousness, but it aspires to the condition of a stage-direction,
implying a mysterious stage-manager. Free indirect discourse is a third
alternative. The staccato monosyllables – ‘Cell. Day.’ – refer to the bright
day shut out by the closed door, which makes a cell or dark enclosure
of the library. Here, Stephen may associate the ‘cell’ with the balcony
scene in Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo hastens to his ‘ghostly [sire’s]
close cell’ to arrange a speedy marriage (2.2.190). Although Romeo is
speaking of the officiating priest, the term ‘ghostly sire’ looks forward
to the Ghost in Hamlet, who bids his son to ‘List, list, O, list!’ (1.5.22). It
is this imperative that Stephen remembers in the following fragments:
‘They list. Three. They.’ Given that he is speaking to an audience of four
– Mulligan, Eglinton, Best and Lyster – Stephen may be conflating them
with Shakespeare’s three brothers, or with the three witnesses who ‘list’
to the Ghost in Hamlet: the Prince, Horatio and Marcellus. In any case,
James Joyce 27

Stephen suspects that his listeners are betrayers-in-the-making, comparable

to Shakespeare’s brothers. The next line, ‘I you he they’, suggests a merger
of subject-positions, as if the commas between ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’ and ‘they’
had been effaced. Perhaps Stephen is thinking of Shakespeare’s ‘myriad-
minded’ capacity to interfuse his personality among his characters, so that
the artist is at once invisible and everywhere, ‘all in all’ (U 9.1050) – I in
you in he in they.32 Stephen then reminds himself to hurry up and deliver
the pièce de resistance – ‘Come, mess’: here ‘mess’ is an imperative to serve
up food.
Evidently this passage demands some guesswork on the reader’s part,
particularly with regard to attribution. Throughout this episode, Stephen’s
stream-of-consciousness – more whitewater than stream – often seems to
crash on Scyllan rocks, creating Charybdean vortices and vanishing points.
Yet these interruptions do not merely interfere with Stephen’s message;
rather, interference is itself the message. Stephen’s theory is disrupted
by his listeners’ objections much as Shakespeare’s art was fractured by
his life, goading the dramatist to forge new unities from the shards. As
Stephen argues, ‘Where there is a reconciliation [...] there must have been
first a sundering.’ (U 9.334–5) In Shakespeare’s case, the reconciliation
of the final comedies arises from the sundering enacted in the tragedies.
Meanwhile the dialectic of sundering and reconciliation makes itself
felt in the rhythm of Joyce’s prose, its alternation between breakage and
The idea of reconciliation through sundering also evokes the political
predicament of Ireland in the year 1922, when Ulysses was published
in Paris two months after the Anglo–Irish treaty was signed in London.
As Nathan Wallace has pointed out, both the novel and the treaty
‘proposed new reconciliations – by sundering – to Irish audiences back
home’.33 What Stephen is tacitly attacking, according to Wallace, is Edward
Dowden’s theory of Shakespearean reconciliation, which ignores the
necessity of sundering. Dowden (1843–1913), who was elected Professor
of English literature at Trinity College Dublin in 1867, was a unionist who
helped to establish the Shakespeare industry, or in Joyce’s words: ‘William
Shakespeare and company, limited. The people’s William. For terms apply:
E. Dowden, Highfield house ....’ (U 9.729–30). The joke here is that Ulysses
was published by Sylvia Beach’s Parisian press Shakespeare and Co., far
from the Shakespeare cottage industry that Dowden conducted from his
home at Highfield House, Rathgar, Co. Dublin.
Dowden, who authored one of the most influential biographies of
Shakespeare ever written, argues that the dramatist’s career culminated
28 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

in The Tempest, where Shakespeare in the guise of Prospero brings

about reconciliation by fiat. Arrogating to himself the powers of divine
judgement, Shakespeare/Prospero forces union on his enemies. At the
same time, he punishes Caliban, the native of the magic island who was
taught by its invaders how to curse, as the Irish were taught to curse in
English. Dowden wrote in a letter of 1865:

I can’t [. . .] believe that Ireland will produce such a thing [as a
Shakespeare] or anything but long-eared asses (or at most a Duns Scotus
or two); the idiotic noises the true Irishman makes from generation
to generation are certainly not human, but are part of the irony on
humanity of the Aristophanic Spirit who presides over the World-Drama
– a chorus of asses.34

For Dowden, reconciliation is a matter of working out the beast of Irish

nationalism in order to unite with Shakespeare’s England.
As we shall see, Joyce stands up for asses in Finnegans Wake, paying homage
to Bottom, the ass-eared visionary of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as
to Balaam’s talking ass in Numbers 22. In Ulysses, Stephen counters Dowden’s
Bard as apogee of English imperialism by presenting Shakespeare as a
provincial exile, like Joyce himself. ‘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.’ (U 9.999–1002)
Shakespeare left Stratford for London much as Joyce left Dublin for Paris,
but neither was exactly banished; their exile was self-imposed, regardless
of the pressures brought to bear upon them. The ‘note of banishment’
(in addition to its glamorous association with Dante) pertains to Stephen’s
immediate predicament, ostracised from Dublin’s literary in-crowd. As
Schutte has pointed out, ‘‘Scylla and Charybdis’ is the story of the defeat of
Stephen’s misguided but understandable effort to receive recognition from
literary Dublin.’35
For one thing, Stephen has never been invited to Dowden’s Highfield
House, but it seems that Mulligan has received this mark of favour, since
he boasts of having asked his famous host about ‘the charge of pederasty
brought against the bard’. Dowden, Mulligan reports, ‘lifted his hands and
said, All we can say is that life ran very high in those days. Lovely!’ (U 9.732–3)
Stephen’s unspoken response is ‘catamite’, possibly a slur on Mulligan’s
relationship with Dowden (U 9.734). Snubbed by Dowden, Stephen also
feels ignored by Æ, who has to leave early for an appointment at the
James Joyce 29

Irish Homestead, a weekly Dublin newspaper aimed at rural Ireland – ‘the

pig’s paper’, in Stephen’s resentful phrase (U 9.321). When Æ stands up,
Eglinton asks him whether he is going to George Moore’s, presumably
for a literary soirée from which Stephen has been pointedly excluded. At
the end of the episode, Eglinton mentions this evening gathering again,
adding that ‘Notre ami Moore says Malachi Mulligan must be there.’ (U
9.1098–9) To add injury to insult, Mulligan proceeds to hustle Stephen to
the pub – ‘Come, Kinch. Come, wandering Aengus of the birds’ – in order
to drink away the poor teacher’s earnings (U 9.1093).
From this point onwards, Stephen begins to recede into the background
of the novel, while Bloom advances into the limelight. In this way, the
callow Adonis is superseded by the amiable ‘bawd and cuckold’, Poldy.
Bloom’s life coincides with Shakespeare’s in significant details: both were
seduced en plein air by savvy temptresses, Bloom by Molly on the Hill
of Howth, and Shakespeare by Ann in a cornfield (or a ryefield). Ann
betrayed Shakespeare with his brothers, while Molly betrays Bloom with the
virile Blazes Boylan, as well as with dozens of imagined lovers. Ultimately
it is Poldy who vindicates Stephen’s dialectical principle that reconcili-
ation depends upon a prior sundering, by curling up with Molly after her
adulterous tryst. Instead of seeking vengeance for her sundering infidelity,
Bloom kisses ‘the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump’,
reconciled to the dozing occupant of his best bed (U 17.2241).

French Triangles

—You are a delusion, said roundly John Eglinton to Stephen. You have
brought us all this way to show us a French triangle. (U 9.1064–5)

Joyce’s obsession with French triangles emerges as early as Dubliners, in

stories such as ‘Two Gallants’, where two down-and-outs connive in seducing
a young ‘slavey’ to cheat her of her earnings. Likewise Gabriel Conroy in
‘The Dead’ makes the shattering discovery that his wife is still in love with
her childhood sweetheart, Michael Furey, who died of consumption many
years before. Between ‘The Dead’ and Ulysses, Joyce took up the theme of
the French triangle in Exiles, his only play, which he began in 1914, just
before the outbreak of World War I, and published in 1918.
In his Notes to Exiles, Joyce notes that in modern renditions of cuckoldry,
‘the centre of sympathy appears to have been aesthetically shifted from the
lover or fancyman to the husband or cuckold’.36 He attributes this shift to
30 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, but the same principle applies to Paul de Kock’s
Le Cocu and to Eduard Dujardin’s Les lauriers sont coupés, the work to which
Joyce attributed his discovery of the interior monologue (CJ 64). In Exiles,
Richard Rowan urges his wife Bertha to embark on an affair with his best
friend (and her former lover) Robert Hand. Rowan hopes that jealousy will
galvanise his creativity, inspiring Shakespearean tours de force; perversely,
he also yearns to be humiliated and betrayed. Like Bloom in the ‘Circe’
episode of Ulysses, Rowan wants to play voyeur, metaphorically peeping
through the keyhole while his friend ‘goes through’ his wife (U 15.3788–9).
‘In the very core of my ignoble heart,’ Rowan confesses to Hand, ‘I longed
to be betrayed by you and by her – in the dark, in the night – secretly,
meanly, craftily. By you, my best friend, and by her. I longed for that
passionately and ignobly, to be dishonoured for ever in love and in lust.’37
Like Richard Rowan, Joyce sought to be betrayed in order to jumpstart
his genius. Nora told Frank Budgen in 1918, ‘Jim wants me to go with
other men so that he will have something to write about.’ (JJ 445) Some
years earlier, in 1909, Joyce belatedly discovered that his friend Vincent
Cosgrave had been pursuing Nora while Joyce was courting her in 1904.
This discovery plunged Joyce into jealous torments, and even when Nora
managed to assuage his doubts, her husband insisted on picking at the
wound. This fretting persists in his writing, which repeatedly conjures up
French triangles, consisting of a passive husband (Bloom/Shakespeare),
who competes yet also colludes with a virile rival (Boylan/Richard–
Edmund Shakespeare) for the favours of an amorous woman (Molly/Ann
René Girard, in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, has demonstrated how the
European novel is dominated by French triangles, in which the bond
that draws the rival men to one another is often stronger than the bond
that draws them both to the ostensible beloved.38 Shakespeare’s Sonnets
exemplify this structure; as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has observed: ‘The
Girardian point that the speaker cares as much about the fair youth as
about the dark lady for whom, in the last group of sonnets, they are rivals,
is Shakespeare’s point, and no critic is likely to be more obsessive about the
orderliness of the symmetry than the poet is himself.’39 In Sonnet 42, for
example, the speaker admits to being more distressed by the young man’s
betrayal than the woman’s:

That thou hast her, it is not all my grief,

And yet it may be said I lov’d her dearly;
That she hath thee is of my wailing chief,
James Joyce 31

A loss in love that touches me more nearly.

Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye:
Thou dost love her because thou know’st I love her, . . . (ll. 1–6)

It is galling enough that the young man has inveigled the affections of
the lady, but even worse that she has beguiled the young man: ‘That she
hath thee is of my wailing chief’. However, the speaker triumphs over this
betrayal by interpreting the lovers’ passion for each other as the mimesis
of his love for them: ‘Thou dost love her, because thou know’st I love her’.
This sentiment endorses Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen’s theory that there is no
‘essential bond between desire and its object’:

the desire for an object is a desire-effect; it is induced, or at least secondary,

with respect to the imitation – the mimesis – of the desire of others. In
other words, desire is mimetic before it is anything else.40

If this is so, Shakespeare desires the Dark Lady less than he desires the
young man’s desire; his love for her is routed through his wish for mutual
mimesis with his rival. For this reason, he cannot enjoy this love without
conspiring in his own betrayal.
Like Shakespeare, Bloom colludes in his wife’s adultery, acting as ‘the
hornmad Iago ceaselessly willing that the moor in him shall suffer’ (U
9.1021–4). Knowing that Molly has an assignation with Blazes Boylan in
the afternoon, Bloom leaves the house at 7 Eccles Street to make sure
the lovers are not disturbed. Both bawd and cuckold, Bloom uses Molly’s
beauty to entice the dashing Boylan into his domain. In a similar way,
Bloom flashes Molly’s photograph at Stephen in ‘Eumaeus’, encouraging
the younger man to relish her pneumatic charms. When he takes Stephen
home in ‘Ithaca’, he fantasises that Molly might lure the young man back as
a frequent visitor to 7 Eccles Street, although Stephen’s abrupt departure
demolishes this castle-in-the-air. Possibly intuiting his host’s imaginings,
Stephen walks off into the night, rejecting both the sleeping hostess and
her husband.
In this daydream, Bloom offers Molly as an object of exchange to
establish a homosocial bond with Stephen, while denying any homosexual
incentive in this dubious transaction. Notwithstanding this denial, Bloom
is frequently associated with the ‘ousted possibility’ of homosexuality
in Ulysses.41 Spotting Bloom in the National Library, Mulligan nudges
Stephen: ‘He knows you. He knows your old fellow. O, I fear me, he is
Greeker than the Greeks.’ (U 9.614–15) Here, Joyce may be suggesting that
32 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

it takes one to know one. Mulligan, the dandy who opens Ulysses attired in
a yellow dressing-gown, redolent of the ‘boom in yellow’ associated with
decadence, may be trying to ‘out’ Bloom and Stephen as a decoy for his own
proclivities.42 Mulligan has probably been influenced by Otto Weininger
(1880–1903), the fiercely misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic author
of Sex and Character (1903), which became a runaway success after
Weininger, at the age of 23, flamboyantly committed suicide in the house
where Beethoven had died. A Jew who converted to Christianity in 1902,
Weininger condemned the Jewish character as feminine and irreligious,
deprived of individuation or a sense of good and evil.43 Although Bloom is
only half-Jewish, this is enough for Mulligan to mock him as ‘Greeker than
the Greeks’, more pederastic than the guests at the Symposium.
As Joseph Valente has pointed out, Mulligan’s arrival at the National
Library, shortly followed by that of Bloom, turns the conversation decisively
towards Shakespeare’s sexual ambiguity.44 Shortly after Mulligan’s entrance,
Best mentions that an actress, Mrs Bandman Palmer, played Hamlet on
15 June 1904 in Dublin. On 16 June, Bloom saw a poster for this perfor-
mance in ‘Lotus-Eaters’, prompting him to wonder whether Hamlet was a
woman, which would explain why Ophelia committed suicide (U 5.194–7):
a theory first advanced by the American Shakespeare scholar Edward P.
Vining, as Eglinton informs the company in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ (U 9.
518–19). Best proceeds to praise Wilde’s Portrait of Mr W.H. as the ‘most
brilliant of all’ the Irish ‘brilliancies of theorising’ – a story that takes for
granted Shakespeare’s passion for young men (U 9.517–22).45 But instead
of acknowledging this passion, Stephen argues that Shakespeare attains
masculine transcendence by means of his castrating experience with Ann.
In Odyssean terms, this symbolic castration is the toll that Shakespeare
pays to Scylla to avoid drowning in Charybdis, feminised by Homer as a
‘whirling maelstrom’ hidden by a ‘shaggy mass of leaves’.46 Through his
humiliation with Ann, Shakespeare sacrifices wholeness in order to accede
to masculinity, rescued from the ‘whirling maelstrom’, the all-engulfing
maternal principle. Hence ‘loss is his gain’, in what amounts to a Freudian
resolution of the Oedipus complex (U 9.476).
Echoing Dowden, Stephen argues that Shakespeare’s work is ‘the creation
he has piled up to hide from himself’ (U 9.475).47 The same could be said
of Stephen’s theory, which ignores the gay possibilities of Shakespeare’s
biography to emphasise its heterosexual trajectory. This requires Stephen
to ignore such complications as Sonnet 20, where Shakespeare praises ‘the
master mistress’ of his soul as ‘A man in hue, all hues in his controlling,
/ Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth’. It is from these
James Joyce 33

lines that Wilde’s suicidal literary theorists glean their evidence for Willie
Hughes, ‘a man all hues’, as Joyce’s Best lamely puns (U 9.524). But
Stephen ignores at least one of these hues by downplaying the homoerotic
innuendoes in Shakespeare’s work, including those in ‘Venus and Adonis’,
where the goddess is portrayed as a virile sexual harasser, lacking only the
requisite ‘tooth’ to plunge into the young man’s groin.
The reason for Stephen’s evasion may lie in changing conceptions of
same-sex love. In the late nineteenth century, as Michel Foucault has
famously contended, homosexuality came to be regarded as a sexual
identity, rather than a disparate set of acts and practices. When the
Marquis of Queensberry vilified Wilde as a ‘posing Somdomite’ [sic],
he was attacking his being, rather than his doings (which did not,
as it happened, tend to sodomy).48 Jean-Michel Rabaté suggests that
Queensberry’s notorious misspelling marks a Freudian slip, revealing the
Marquis’s anxieties about his son’s proclivities (son-domite).49 Similar slips,
according to Joseph Valente, undermine Stephen’s disavowal of the possi-
bility of sexual relations between sons and fathers, who

are sundered by a bodily shame so steadfast that the criminal annals of

the world, stained with all other incests and bestialities, hardly record its
breach. Sons with mothers, sires with daughters, lesbic sisters, loves that
dare not speak their name, nephews with grandmothers, jailbirds with
keyholes, queens with prize bulls. (U 9.850–5)

Here Stephen relegates incest between father and son to the outer limit of
sexual perversion, more aberrant than any of the couplings of mythology.
Whether or not we accept Valente’s view that Stephen’s language ‘undoes
the repressions of his conscious argument’, with its unwitting puns on
‘an[n]als’ and ‘breach’, it is clear that Stephen protests too much, his
disavowal so intense as to suggest its opposite.50 Although Stephen follows
Aquinas in describing incest as ‘avarice’, Aquinas is reasonably charitable
towards sodomy, placing it midway between bestiality and masturbation.51
Sodomy between fathers and sons, however, strikes Stephen as not merely
immoral but impossible. This is surprising, since sodomitical relations
between Holy Fathers and young boys have been rampant in the Irish
Catholic Church, and by no means absent from secular families. In any
case, Stephen’s homosexual panic may explain why he walks out on Bloom
in ‘Ithaca’, fearing the advances of his surrogate father.
34 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett


In speculating on Shakespeare’s love-life in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, Stephen

plays fast and loose with Shakespeare’s language by misquoting and
quoting out of context (‘quashed quotatoes’). But Shakespeare’s ghost
seems to take vengeance by transforming Joyce’s narrative into drama, in
defiance of generic boundaries. Spasmodically in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’,
and continuously in ‘Circe’, the conventions of the theatre overpower
those of fiction, substituting stage directions for description, actors for
narrated characters. As the dream-chapter of Ulysses, ‘Circe’ emulates
the theatre of the unconscious, where repressed desires reappear as
phantoms to the dreaming mind. In dreams, according to Freud, wishes
are performed rather than thought: words become deeds, fears become
monsters. Similarly, Hegel argues that drama consists of picture-thoughts
that take the place of verbal narrative. In the theatre as in dreams, ‘the
language ceases to be narrative because it enters into the content’, and
the ‘hero is himself the speaker’, rather than the referential object of the
Accordingly, Shakespeare, the object of Stephen’s speech in ‘Scylla and
Charybdis’, becomes a speaker in propria persona in ‘nighttown’, the setting
of the ‘Circe’ episode, where Bloom and Stephen meet in Bella Cohen’s
brothel (U 15.1). Near the opening of the chapter, Stephen’s friend Lynch
quotes, ‘The mirror up to nature’, echoing Hamlet’s advice to the Player
King, and the phrase serves as an abracadabra to conjure up the master
spirit of the theatre.

LYNCH (points) The mirror up to nature. (he laughs) Hu hu hu hu

hu! (Stephen and Bloom gaze in the mirror. The face of William Shakespeare,
beardless, appears there, rigid in facial paralysis, crowned by the reflection of the
reindeer antlered hatrack in the hall.)

SHAKESPEARE (in dignified ventriloquy) ’Tis the loud laugh bespeaks the
vacant mind. (to Bloom) Thou thoughtest as how thou wastest invisible.
Gaze. (he crows with a black capon’s laugh) Iagogo! How my Oldfellow
chokit his Thursdaymornun. Iagogogo! [. . .] (with paralytic rage) Weda
seca whokilla farst.
(The face of Martin Cunningham, bearded, refeatures Shakespeare’s beardless
face. The marquee umbrella sways drunkenly, the children run aside. Under the
umbrella appears Mrs Cunningham in merry widow hat and kimono gown. She
glides sidling and bowing, twirling japanesily.) (U 15.3819–58)
James Joyce 35

This Shakespeare is the beardless boy ravished by Ann Hathaway, the

boldfaced Stratford wench who gave her husband cuckold’s horns, here
represented by the antlered hat-rack in the brothel. The theme of
cuckoldry inevitably summons Othello to the surface. ‘How my Oldfellow
chokit his Thursdaymornun’ is ‘how my Othello choked his Desdemona’.
But Othello also figures as a punitive father – ‘my Oldfellow’ (the term
that Mulligan uses of Bloom in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’) – who chokes his
‘Thursdaymornun’, which could refer to either Joyce or Stephen, both of
whom were born on Thursday mornings. ‘Thursday’s child has far to go’,
warns the old nursery-rhyme, hinting that Joyce and Stephen, as Thursday’s
children, are both destined for exile. It is also possible that Joyce himself
is the murderous oldfellow or hangman god who chokes all the creatures
that he brought into existence on Thursday morning, 16 June 1904 – the
morning of Ulysses.
Shakespeare’s cameo performance in ‘Circe’ ends with a garbled
quotation from Hamlet, ‘Weda seca whokilla farst’. These syllables echo
the play-within-the-play in Hamlet, where the Player Queen protests too
much at the prospect of a second marriage: ‘In second husband let
me be accurs’d! / None wed the second but who kill’d the first’ (3.
2. 179–80). Ann Hathaway’s secondbest bed may also be encrypted in
Shakespeare’s paralytic stammer, ‘Weda seca’. After this brief appearance,
Shakespeare’s image is eclipsed by that of Martin Cunningham, whose
face had reminded Bloom of Shakespeare’s in the ‘Hades’ episode: ‘(The
face of Martin Cunningham, bearded, refeatures Shakespeare’s beardless face).’
Martin’s apparition is accompanied by that of Mrs Cunningham in a ‘merry
widow hat,’ ‘twirling japanesily’ – presumably to captivate potential second

Finnegans Wake

Shakespeare’s minor part in ‘Circe’ anticipates his major role in Finnegans

Wake, where his face is constantly ‘refeatured’ by those of other characters,
especially the father-figure HCE. Before embarking on the ‘chaosmos’ of
Finnegans Wake, however, a caveat lector is in order (FW 118.21). As John
Bishop has observed, ‘Arguably, it is impossible to read Finnegans Wake’
– although Bishop goes on to offer ingenious interpretations of Joyce’s
‘nightynovel’ (FW 54.21).53 The problem is that such interpretations are
unfalsifiable; the Wake invites the reader to play with words, rather than
to arbitrate their meanings. Proof is impossible in the ‘bellzey babble’ of
36 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Finnegans Wake, where every pun means at least ‘two thinks at a time’ (FW
64.11, 583.7). As Joyce puts it, ‘In the buginning is the woid, in the muddle
is the sounddance and thereinofter you’re in the unbewised again.’ (FW
During the 17-year composition of the Wake, Joyce referred to his writing
as Work-in-Progress, making a melodramatic secret of its title. Yet even with
its name on the cover, the Wake remains a work-in-progress in the sense
that its meanings can never be pinned down. Defending Work-in-Progress
against charges of obscurantism and frivolity, Joyce wrote to his patron
Harriet Weaver: ‘Children may just as well play as not. The ogre will come
in any case.’ (L 3:144) The Wake invites its readers to be children – ‘babes
awondering in a wold made fresh’ – and to play with sounds and letters
rather than capitulating to the ogre of correct pronunciation and orthog-
raphy (FW 336.16–17).
Joyce remarked that ‘the Roman Holy Apostolic Church was founded on
a pun. It ought to be good enough for me’ (JJ 546). The pun in question
is Jesus’s play on Peter’s name: ‘And I say also unto thee, That thou art
Peter [Greek, Petros], and upon this rock [Greek, petra] I will build my
church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ (Matthew 16:18)
In the Wake, Joyce improves on Jesus’s pun by packing Petrarch into the
neologism ‘petrock’ (FW 203.31). When a critic objected that it was trivial
to write a book in puns, Joyce replied, ‘Some of the puns are trivial,
but some of them are quadrivial.’54 ‘Petrock’, for example, qualifies as a
quadrivial pun, since St. Petrock is the patron saint of Cornwall. As Samuel
Johnson said of Shakespeare, the pun for Joyce is ‘the fatal Cleopatra for
which he lost the world, and was content to lose it’.55
In Joyce’s case, the pun persuades him to lose the daytime world in order
to immerse himself in ‘nighttown’, the red light district of the dreaming
mind. Having written a book about a day in Ulysses, Joyce set out to write
a ‘book about the night’ in Finnegans Wake (JJ 695). This is a ‘dreamland’
(FW 615.28) where persons, times and places overlap and interpenetrate,
where embryonic shapes are ‘formelly confounded with amother’ (FW
125.11–12) and distinctions recede into the ‘dinmurk’ (FW 143.7): ‘every
person, place and thing in the chaosmos [. . .] was moving and changing
every part of the time’ (FW 118.21–3). Joyce explained that the Wake has ‘in
a way no characters. It’s like a dream. [. . .] If one had to name a character,
it would be just an old man.’ (JJ 696) This old man goes by many names and
merges with many elders, including Shakespeare, but he also represents a
portrait of the aging Joyce. As Christine Froula has pointed out, the Wake
could have been entitled ‘self-Portrait as an Old Man Dreaming’.56
James Joyce 37

Freud argues that dreams originate nothing, but merely reconfigure

fragments of memory, making use of the ‘day’s residues’, the remnants
of the day before the dream is dreamt, to disguise the return of the
repressed.57 Joyce had experimented with a similar technique in the ‘Circe’
episode of Ulysses, where the day’s residues of 16 June 1904 are restaged
in the dreamscape of Bella Cohen’s brothel. In Finnegans Wake, Joyce takes
this oneiric process further by recycling his previous works, as well as those
of Shakespeare and other predecessors, in a ‘collideorscape’ where these
mnemonic traces fracture and regroup into new patterns (FW 143.28).
According to Freud, dream-thoughts have no definite endings but ‘branch
out in every direction into the intricate network of our world of thought. It
is where this meshwork is particularly dense that the dream wish grows up,
like a mushroom out of its mycelium’ (SE 5:525). In the same way, Joyce’s
puns have no definite endings, but branch out into the intricate network of
the world of ‘litteringture’ (FW 570.18). The Wake is the ‘commodius vicus
of recirculation’ that creates new ‘litters’ (FW 17.28 etc.) – in the sense of
offspring – out of the littered letters of the past, the flotsam and jetsam of
the already-written.
The associative richness of Joyce’s puns means that the reader is
constantly distracted by alternatives. For this reason it is difficult to sustain
a linear argument about the Wake, since every quotation mustered to
support a point beckons in several unforeseen directions. Yet Joyce insisted
that ‘with me the thought is always simple’ (JJ 476); one might add that the
thought is always ‘me’. Although written in ‘darktongues’, Finnegans Wake
always leads back to Joyce himself, especially to the psychosexual hang-ups
projected on to Shakespeare in Ulysses (FW 223.28).58 Shakespeare, as
reimagined by Stephen, inspires many themes of Finnegans Wake – sexual,
familial, thespian – as well as urging Joyce’s prose towards the condition of
The following discussion shows how Joyce makes use of drama to
perpetuate his rivalry with Shakespeare, creating an internal theatre where
the Wake’s family re-enacts the master’s works, usually in the form of parody
or megaflop. As Freud suggests in his famous phrase ‘the primal scene’,
the family itself presents a kind of drama or soap opera to the infant, who
is placed in the mute immobilized position of the audience, watching the
players rehearsing a mysterious ongoing serial. Every night the dreamer
is reduced to the same state of helpless infancy, unable to move or talk
back to the phantoms that flit across the theatre of the mind. Similarly,
the Wake places its reader in the position of the infant or the dreamer,
bewildered by the sights and sounds of this Walpurgisnacht. Among these
38 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

sounds, Shakespeare’s words re-echo throughout the Wake, most of them

purloined from Hamlet, but also from Julius Caesar and Macbeth. All three
tragedies share the themes of parricide and sibling rivalry, together with
the figure of the vengeful ghost; all deal with the overthrow of a paternal
figure and the ensuing squabbles of the rival heirs. To these themes Joyce
adds an incestuous motif, whereby father and sons compete for possession
of the riverine figure of the mother/daughter/sister – ‘same thing watered
down,’ as Bloom thinks of his wife and daughter in Ulysses (U 6.87).
Among Shakespeare’s comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream resurfaces
most frequently in Finnegans Wake, inspiring the magical shape-changes
and gender reversals of Joyce’s characters. Like Shakespeare’s original,
Joyce’s ‘Miss Somer’s nice dream’ blurs the boundaries between male and
female, human and animal, stage and world, waking and sleeping, reality
and dream. Joyce detected an analogy between the vaudeville song about
Tim Finnegan, the hod-carrier killed by falling off a ladder, who comes
back to life with a shot of whiskey at his wake, and Shakespeare’s Bottom
the weaver, who is transformed into an ass in fairyland but wakes up from
the spell agog at the visions he has seen. In homage to Bottom, Joyce
drops many hints that the Wake is a dream dreamt by an ass – or possibly a
‘chorus of asses’, as Dowden described the Irish. This ass, plural or singular,
brays in a postnational and possibly posthuman idiolect, an improvised
‘sinscript’ encompassing not only Sanskrit but all the languages of Babel.
With this sinscript, Joyce finally overcomes Stephen’s colonial dilemma,
torn between the dying language of his native land and the flourishing
language of the conqueror, by writing in language rather than a language.

Family Matters

Adaline Glasheen has proposed that ‘Shakespeare (man, works) is the

matrix of Finnegans Wake’, and it is evident that Shakespeare’s works,
along with his putative biography, inform both the detail and the larger
structure of Joyce’s experiment.59 As previously mentioned, Shakespeare
the shopkeeper finds his counterpart in HCE the publican, whose alias
‘Porter’ alludes to one of the libations he dispenses in his pub, as well as to
the drunken porter in Macbeth. HCE’s mysterious initials resurface in triads
such as ‘Here Comes Everybody’, indicating that he stands for everyman,
containing multitudes (FW 32.18–19). Yet if HCE is everyman, he is also no
man: ‘First you were Nomad, next you were Namar [Hebrew for ‘tiger’],
now you’re Numah [as in pneuma, meaning spirit] and it’s soon you’ll be
James Joyce 39

Nomon [a no-man, a baffling gnomon].’ (FW 374.22–3)60 HCE’s anonymity

links him to Odysseus (who told the Cyclops that his name was Noman), but
also to Shakespeare, whose historical existence is attested only by a handful
of documents and unsubstantiated rumours. So meagre is this evidence that
Shakespeare’s identity is constantly in doubt, his authorship impugned by
rival claimants such as ‘Rutlandbaconsouthamptonshakespeare or another
poet of the same name’, in Stephen’s words (U 9.866).
The identity of HCE is equally ambiguous; at one moment he is ‘Howth
Castle and Environs’, which associates him with the dry land of Dublin,
whereas his wife ALP is associated with the babbling River Liffey: ‘leaning
with the sloothering slide of her, giddgaddy, grannyma, gossipaceous Anna
Livia’ (FW 195.3–4). Anna’s first name identifies her with Ann Hathaway,
the temptress who seduced the youthful Shakespeare: ‘the first woman,
they said, souped him [. . .] by suggesting him they go in a field’ (FW 58.29–
30). As ‘the first woman’, ALP/Ann Hathaway also corresponds to Eve, the
siren who led Adam astray, beckoning him ‘thithaways [. . .] hithaways’ (FW
114.16–17). The willing victim of this coquetry, HCE sometimes manifests
himself as Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, his nearest approximation
to ‘one stable somebody’ (FW 107.30), but at other times his acronym
disperses into ‘Heinz cans everywhere’ (FW 581.5). Like Shakespeare,
Earwicker resurfaces only in the form of traces, ‘wakes’, or residues; his
initials insinuate themselves into the text as Shakespeare’s words have
engrained themselves into the English language, so that ‘english spookers’
scarcely know when they are quoting from his canon (FW 178.6). Take the
phrase ‘it’s Greek to me’ – which is how many English spookers under-
standably react to Finnegans Wake. Few, however, would remember that the
phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1.2.284).
The Wake makes multiple allusions to Julius Caesar, whose themes and
patterns often coalesce with those of Hamlet, by far the most frequently cited
of the plays. As previously mentioned, both tragedies deal with parricide
and regicide, and both feature quasi-fraternal rivalries: between the Prince
and Laertes in Hamlet, and between Brutus, Cassius and Antony in Julius
Caesar. In Finnegans Wake, the warring brothers ‘brutals and cautiouses’
(366.24–5) morph into Shem the Penman and Shaun the Postman, rivals
who clearly depend on one another, the first to do the writing and the
second to disseminate the penmanship. Shem the Penman’s name alludes
to Jim the Penman (James Townsend Saward, b. 1799), a notorious British
forger of the nineteenth century, as well as to a popular play based on his
criminal career, Jim the Penman by Charles L. Young (1886). Furthermore
‘Shem is [. . .] short for Shemus’ (FW 169.1), and Seamus is the Irish form
40 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

of James, which aligns this penman with Joyce the ‘Punman’ (FW 93.13).
Shem also merges with Hamlet Prince of ‘Penmark’ (FW 301.F5), another
penman whose reaction to the Ghost’s harrowing revelations is to call for
his tablets rather than his sword: ‘meet it is I set it down’ (Hamlet 1.5.107).
The time is out of joint, and Hamlet/Joyce would rather set it down than
set it right: ‘His jymes is out of job, would sit and write.’ (FW 181.29–30)
In the Wake, Shem forges ‘penmarks used out in sinscript’ (FW 421.18),
an act of ‘Scandinavery’ that enrages his critics (FW 47.21). Loudest among
these critics is his brother, Shaun the Postman, who exclaims: ‘Who can
say how many pseudostylic shamiana, how few or how many of the most
venerated public impostures, how very many piously forged palimpsests
slipped in the first place by this morbid process from his pelagiarist
pen?’ (FW 181.36–182.3) Shem, ‘the excommunicated Drumcondriac,
nate Hamis’ (FW 181.35–6), excommunicated from the Catholic Church
(like the Irish heretic Pelagius), and exiled from Dublin’s Drumcondra
(‘where they speak the best English’, according to Stephen Dedalus),
forges palimpsests out of Shakespeare’s works, scrawling his own ‘sinscript’
over the master’s originals. ‘Nate Hamis’, or ‘born false’ (hamis means
false in Hungarian),61 Shem plagiarises ‘shaggspick’, particularly Hamlet,
making a scrambled ‘homelette’ of the original (FW 59.31). Yet if Shem is
a forger, he is also a verbal blacksmith who ‘forges’ new works out of old,
hammering Shakespeare’s words into his own neologisms.
Joyce, who claimed to have no imagination, was accused (and accuses
himself in Finnegans Wake) of plagiarizing other works – ‘nothing but old
fags and cabbage-stumps of quotations [. . .] masquerading as the all-new!’ as
D. H. Lawrence expostulated.62 As a plagiarist, however, Joyce enjoys distin-
guished company. The ‘Great Shapesphere’ (FW 295.4) was also accused of
forgery, having stolen his plots while flaunting his drama as ‘the onely shake-
scene in a countrey’, as his contemporary Robert Greene famously alleged.63
Greene’s pun looks forward to the riotous play on Shakespeare’s name in
Finnegans Wake : shaggspick, Shapesphere, Shikespower, Scheekspair, shape-
keeper, Shopkeeper, sheepskeer, shakeahand, shakealose, Chickspeer,
Bragspear, shakeagain, Shakefork, Shakhisbeard and many more.64 During
the centuries after his death, Shakespeare’s authorship was frequently
disputed on behalf of rival ‘claimants’, such as Francis Bacon, whose name
also inspires abundant wordplay in the Wake. ‘Shakespill and eggs’, for
instance, substitutes Shakespeare for his rival Bacon, while insinuating that
Shakespill’s works amount to pigswill.
Although the Wake draws constantly on Shakespeare’s life and writings,
it is the dramatic form itself, in addition to specific plays, which Joyce sets
James Joyce 41

out to emulate. Theatrical conventions frequently obtrude into the Wake,

as they do in Ulysses, transforming narrative into live performance. Yet the
very distinction between these genres recedes in the ‘dinmurk’ of the Wake.
Whereas the typography of ‘Circe’ announces its dramatic form, visibly
distinguishing this episode from the surrounding narrative, Finnegans Wake
strives for a hybrid genre – a ‘drema’ (FW 69.14) – in which narrative and
drama interpenetrate with dream. Vincent John Cheng, in his invaluable
study of the role of Shakespeare in the Wake, draws attention to Joyce’s
frequent puns on dream and drama, which imply a close affinity between
these nightly spectacles.65 In drama, as in dream, the audience succumbs to
silence, passivity and darkness, in order to be dazzled by phantasmagoria.
‘History [. . .] is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’, says
Stephen in the ‘Nestor’ episode of Ulysses (U 2.377). But there is no
escape from nightmare in Finnegans Wake. Instead – ‘Me drames [. . .]
has come through!’ (FW 49.32–3) In other words, my dreams have come
true – in the form of drames, which is French for ‘dramas’. In the Wake, the
nightmare of history comes true in the form of a four-act drama, based
on Vico’s cyclical theory of history, in which a theocratic age is followed
by an aristocratic age, then by a democratic age, and finally by a ‘ricorso’,
announced by a thunderclap, in which the whole cycle rolls back again
to primeval theocracy. In the Wake, every fall is followed by a restoration
or ricorso, often celebrated by Shakespearean breakfasts. ‘Will Breakfast’
joins forces with Lucifer as the ‘lightbreakfastbringer’ (FW 473.23–4)
who heralds a new dawn. Sometimes the menu offers a choice between
ham and bacon, alias Shem and Shaun, or Hamlet and Francis Bacon. At
other times, these rivals reunite into a single entity, as in ‘backonham’ (FW
318.21), which sandwiches bacon and ham into the Duke of Buckingham
(who is beheaded in Richard III).66 Both ham and bacon call for eggs,
which symbolize ricorso because they bring new life and are eaten at dawn:
‘there’ll be iggs for the brekkers come to mournhim, sunny side up with
care’ (FW 12.14–15). The mourners of HCE/Humpty Dumpty will eat his
‘iggs’ for ‘brekkers’ at his wake, in the same way that Christ’s mourners
reincorporate his body and blood, thus putting the saviour back together
again – a feat that ‘all the King’s Hoarsers with all the Queen’s Mum’ failed
to accomplish for Humpty Dumpty (FW 219.15–16).
In transforming his fictional world into a stage, Joyce alludes to
Shakespeare’s metadramatic metaphors, such as Jaques’s melancholy words
in As You Like It: ‘All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women
merely players’ (2.7.139–40). In the Wake, these words re-echo in phrases
like ‘our worldstage’s practical jokepiece’ (FW 33.2–3), where ‘jokepiece’
42 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

combines the cadences of Jaques and Shakespeare. The metaphor of the

world as stage recurs in Macbeth’s great soliloquy of despair, which begins
‘To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow’, and concludes that ‘Life’s but
a walking shadow, a poor player, / That struts and frets his hour upon the
stage, / And then is heard no more.’ (5.5.19–26) In the Wake, this speech is
transformed into ‘Toborrow and toburrow and tobarrow! That’s our crass,
hairy and evergrim life, till one finel howdiedow [. . .] ’ (FW 455.12–14).
Life is nothing but a struggle to borrow and burrow for survival, a struggle
that ends under a burial mound (‘tobarrow’).
In Macbeth, the dramatic metaphor expresses the futility and brevity of
life – ‘Out, out, brief candle!’ (5.5.23) – but in the Wake, the same metaphor
also promises revival. ‘Dreariodreama’ though life seems (FW 79.28) – a
dreary dreamy drama of Drury Lane – it heralds an eternal ‘Afterpiece’ or
afterplay, where the ‘evergrim’ becomes an evergreen world:

Ah, sure [. . .] what a humpty daum earth looks our miseryme heretoday
as compared beside the Hereweareagain Gaieties of the Afterpiece when
the Royal Revolver of these real globoes lets regally fire of his mio colpo
for the chrisman’s pandemon to give over and the Harlequinade to
begin properly SPQueaRking Mark Time’s Finist Joke. Putting Allspace
in a Notshall. (FW 455.23–9)

What a dump seems the fallen world, broken like Humpty Dumpty, with its
misery and transience (‘heretoday’ and gone tomorrow), as compared to
the afterlife or Second Coming. Humpty’s fall inaugurates the ‘Gaieties of
the Afterpiece’, the Gaiety Theatre of the afterlife, when the ‘worldwright’
(FW 14.19) of the globe or Globe premieres his Christmas pantomime.
This is a harlequinade in which the devil (Harlequin) takes a starring role,
as he does in Milton’s pandemonium (‘pandemon’).
The ‘royal Revolver’ refers to God and Shakespeare, as well as to Prospero,
the magician who speaks of the ‘great globe’, punning on the theatre and
the world. Joyce is also thinking of Mark Sheridan, the English music hall
comedian, who shot himself with a Browning revolver in a Glasgow park in
1918. Sheridan was the author of Gay Paree, a burlesque spin-off of W. G.
Wills’s West End hit A Royal Divorce, a play based on the life of Napoleon,
which pops up frequently in Finnegans Wake. The ‘pandemon’ of Hell
corresponds to the pandemonium of Rome (SPQR: Senatus Populusque
Romanus) when Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March: ‘thit thides
or marse makes a good dayle to be shattat. Fall stuff.’ (FW 366:29–30) At
this time, according to Horatio, ‘The graves stood [tenantless] and the
James Joyce 43

sheeted dead / Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets.’ (Hamlet
1.1.115–16) In the Wake, this necrotic squeak invades the acronym for
Rome: ‘SPQueaRking’. Also packed up in this portmanteau are the guilty
queen of Hamlet (‘Que’), the dead ‘king’ poisoned through the ‘eaR’ and
Julius Caesar, the uncrowned ‘king’ of Rome. ‘Mark Time’s finist joke’
combines Mark Antony with Mark Twain, the creator of Huckleberry Finn,
condensing both into Time’s finest final joke – perhaps the joke is that
time is never finished, but recommences with ‘the seim anew’. The passage
concludes with an allusion to Hamlet’s words: ‘I could be bounded in a
nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have
bad dreams.’ (2.2.254–6) ‘Putting Allspace in a Notshall’ alludes to the Last
Day, when humanity is to be judged by the author of the ‘shalt nots’ of the
Ten Commandments. The phrase also alludes to the power of the ‘Great
Shapesphere’ to encompass the universe (‘allspace’) within the nutshell of
the Globe.67
Squeezed into this short passage are references to at least four of
Shakespeare’s plays – Macbeth, Hamlet, Julius Caesar and The Tempest – as
well as to the popular theatre of Joyce’s day, such as the Broadway hit A
Royal Divorce and the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, a music hall stage-managed
by Michael Gunn. In the guise of ‘Mr Makeall Gone’, Gunn becomes the
Prospero of Finnegans Wake, the theatrical magician who can ‘make all
gone’, so that the sets and actors ‘melt away . . . into thin air’. As Prospero

Our revels now are ended. These our actors

(As I foretold you) were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. (4. 1. 148–56)

At the beginning of Book 2 of Finnegans Wake, a playbill announces that

Michael Gunn and his family will be appearing in The Mime of Mick, Nick
and the Maggies.

Every evening at lighting up o’clock sharp and until further notice in

Feenichts Playhouse. (Bar and conveniences always open, Diddlem
44 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Club douncestears). [...] Newly billed for each wickeday perfumance.

Somndoze massinees. By arraignment, childream’s hours, expercatered.
[. . .] With nightly redistribution of parts and players by the puppetry
producer and daily dubbing of ghosters. (FW 219.1–8)

The Feenichts Playhouse, whose name refers to Phoenix Park, as well as

to the phoenix’s miraculous capacity to rise out of its ashes, provides an
appropriate venue for tragic drama. Like the phoenix, the tragic hero dies
‘every evening’ of ‘each wickeday’, as well as during somnolent Sunday
matinees (‘Somndoze massinees’), yet rises again with the next curtain
call. Expurgated versions, suitable for children, are catered for by prior
‘arraignment’: a dig at Joyce’s censors who arraigned Ulysses for unexpur-
gated obscenity. The ‘daily dubbing of ghosters’ alludes to Shakespeare’s
ghosts, including those of Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III and Julius Caesar, but
also to the ghostly nature of the stage itself, peopled by doppelgängers.
The playbill announcing The Mime of Mick, Nick, and the Maggies in Book
II boasts the following cast list:

GLUGG (Mr Seumas McQuillad. . . . )

IZOD (Miss Butys Pott. ... )
CHUFF (Mr Sean O’Malley. . . . )
ANN (Miss Corrie Corriendo. . . . )
HUMP (Mr Makeall Gone. . . . )
KATE. . . .

Here, in disguised form, emerges the primal family of the Wake, consisting
of the father ‘HUMP’ (HCE the man-mountain), who is played by the
stage-manager Michael Gunn/Makeall Gone; the daughter Issy/Isolde
(‘IZOD’, played by Miss Butys Pot, the beauty spot of the performance),
who also multiplies into ‘the Floras’; Glugg and Chuff, played by the
brothers Shem the Penman (‘Seumas’) and Shaun the Postman (‘Sean’);
and the river-mother ALP (‘ANN’). Further members of the cast include
the customers at HCE’s pub, together with the family servants Saunderson
and Kate. Saunderson (also known as Sickerson, Seckerson, Sackerson,
etc.) harks back to Sackerson, the famous Elizabethan bear mentioned in
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1.1.295), who was subjected to the bloodcur-
dling ‘sport’ of bear-baiting in the Paris Garden near the Globe. Kate’s
James Joyce 45

name evokes Cathleen ní Houlihan, the name of a 1902 play by Yeats and
Lady Gregory, in which the legendary title character personifies colonial
Ireland as a ‘poor old woman’ calling for her sons’ blood sacrifice.
Cheng proposes that this family – a ‘howthold of nummer seven’ (FW
242.5) – works together as an acting troupe that stages an infinite variety of
family imbroglios, going back as far as the ‘house of Atreox’ (FW 55.3).68
In a troupe of only seven actors, each must be prepared to play different
roles on call, depending on the nightly show. Thus all players participate
in a ‘nightly redistribution of parts’: Mick and Nick, for instance, double
for Glugg and Chuff, alias Shaun and Shem, as well as for Michael the
archangel and Nick the devil. Meanwhile the Maggies, also described as the
Floras, the rainbow or flower girls (possibly alluding to Proust’s jeunes filles
en fleur), represent the plural form of Issy.
The notion that the Chapelizod family doubles as an acting troupe goes
some way to accounting for the bewildering name-changes of Finnegans
Wake. HCE, for instance, appears in a dizzying variety of roles, ranging
from Humpty Dumpty to ‘Ebblinn’s chilled hamlet’ (FW 41.18). In this
epithet, HCE’s initials are reversed in a Shakespearean version of Dublin as
Eblanna/Ireland’s chilled village (hamlet). ‘Chilled’ also refers to death –
the big chill – and to the chilly night when Hamlet encounters his father’s
Ghost: ‘It is [a] nipping and an eager air’ (1.4.2). A further symptom of
Hamlet’s chilliness is his paralysis, his fatal inability to act, which corre-
sponds to Joyce’s indictment of Dublin as a ‘centre of paralysis’.69 Dublin’s
HCE suffers from Hamlet-like paralysis or ‘hathatansy’ (FW 26.35): this
pun suggests that Ann ‘hath a way’ with Joyce’s words, her name having
barged into the syllables of ‘hesitancy’. As Stephen argues in ‘Scylla and
Charybdis’, Ann Hathaway’s boldfaced advances reduced Shakespeare to
hesitancy in ‘the game of laugh and lie down’, destroying the young poet’s
sexual self-confidence. Thus HCE’s hesitancy associates him with both
Shakespeare and Hamlet, as well as with a notorious case of forgery in
which Richard Piggott, the father of one of Joyce’s Clongowes schoolmates,
forged a letter supposedly penned by Charles Stuart Parnell. This letter
indicated Parnell’s approval of the Phoenix Park murders, in which two
leading British officials were killed by the Invincibles on 6 May 1882. What
gave the forgery away was Piggott’s misspelling of the word ‘hesitency’
In Finnegans Wake, HCE’s hesitancy takes the form of a guilty stammer
or ‘Hasitatense’ (FW 296.F4), the telltale symptom of his fall. Such ‘fall
stuff’ – reminiscent of Fallstaff’s fall from grace – recurs throughout
the Wake: ‘Phall if but you will, rise you must; and none so soon either
46 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

shall the pharce for the nunce come to a setdown secular phoenish’ (FW
4.15–17). One such ‘phall’ or ‘setdown’ transpires in Book 1, Chapter 2, a
‘happygogusty Ides-of-April morning’ (FW 35.3) when the hero is walking
in Phoenix (‘phoenish’/finish) Park and runs into a Cad with a pipe. The
Ides of April, of course, evokes the Ides of March, when Caesar ‘fell stiff’
(379.18), and the Cad asks HCE the same question that Caesar puts to
Brutus: ‘What is’t a’clock?’ (2.2.114) Whatever the time, this is a moment
when ‘Hesitency was clearly to be evitated’ (FW 35.20). But HCE, feeling
compromised by ‘having behaved with ongentilmensky immodus opposite
a pair of dainty maidservants in the swoolth of the rushy hollow whither’
(FW 34.18–20), either by exposing himself or watching these young women
urinate, stammers a guilty self-justification to the Cad:

for the honours of our mewmew mutual daughters, credit me, I am

woowoo willing to take my stand, sir [. . .] any hygienic day to this hour
and to make my hoath to my sinnfinners, even if I get life for it, upon
the Open Bible [. . .] that there is not one tittle of truth, allow me to tell
you, in that purest of fibfib fabrications. (FW 36.22–34)

This elaborate self-defence merely incriminates the hero further, much as

Bloom incriminates himself in the trial scene of ‘Circe’ by protesting too
The truth of HCE’s alleged peccadillo or ‘wee follyo’ (FW 197.18: the
original folio of his folly) is never confirmed. All that remains are traces of
his ‘fool step’, bringing forth a ‘wake’ or trail of gossip and speculation (FW
370.13). Among these traces are the numbers two and three, which dissem-
inate themselves throughout the text like the rogue initials HCE and ALP.
These numbers seem to refer to the two young girls in the Park and to the
two or three young men who bore witness against HCE. Constantly retold,
embroidered and exaggerated, HCE’s ‘collupsus’ (FW 5.27), like the
collapse of the ‘colossus’ Caesar, is brought about by filial figures. Foremost
among these prodigal sons is the Cad, who is described as ‘a sensible ham’
(FW 37.4), an epithet that aligns him with ‘camelot prince of dinmurk’
(FW 143.7), as well as with Satan, prince of darkness (‘dinmurk’). In Ulysses,
Stephen Dedalus spreads rumours about Shakespeare, one of his acknowl-
edged father-figures; in the Wake, the Cad – a ‘ham’ actor who also plays the
parts of Shem and Joyce – spreads malicious gossip about the father HCE.
Book I Chapter 2 concludes with ‘The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly’, composed
by Hosty, a double of the Cad, who poisons the ears of the populace with
scandal about Earwicker’s indiscretions. Perce-oreille is French for ‘earwig’, a
James Joyce 47

creature that penetrates the porches of the ear, reminiscent of the ‘leprous
distillment’ poured into the father’s ear in Hamlet (1.5.64).
‘Very glad you are going to Penmark. Write to the corner.’ (FW 301.F5) So
frequent are Joyce’s references to Hamlet that ‘Penmark’ comes to represent
the textual universe of the Wake itself. Within this world of penmarks, the
family troupe constantly replays the roles of Hamlet. Anna Livia Plurabelle
acts the parts of both the unfaithful wife Gertrude and the innocent
maiden Ophelia. In her role as river, ALP also personifies Ophelia’s watery
grave: ‘my golden violents wetting’ (461.17–18). Earwicker’s surname
identifies him with the ghost of Hamlet senior, who was murdered through
the ear – ‘Ear! Ear! Weakear!’ (FW 568.26). This cheer – hear, hear! – for
Earwicker’s weak ear mocks the Ghost’s command to ‘List, list, O, list!’71
Shem is cast as Hamlet junior: ‘a different and younger him of the same
ham’ (FW 82.11). Finally, sententious Shaun plays the roles of Laertes and
Polonius (‘roly polony’ [FW 621.13]), the menfolk who deliver cautionary
lectures to Ophelia in the ‘drame of Drainophilias’ (FW 110.11), the dream
or drama of Danish Ophelia. (Joyce was accused of drainophilia by H. G.
Wells, who detected a ‘cloacal obsession’ in the Portrait; another reviewer
described this novel as ‘an extraordinarily dirty study’ whose author would
be better suited to writing ‘a treatise on drains’.)72 Lesser characters from
Shakespeare’s Hamlet reappear in Joyce’s ‘purchypatch of hamlock’ (FW
31.23–4), including ‘rosengorge’ and ‘greenafang’ (FW 563.31), along with
Hamlet’s champion ‘hip hip horatia!’ (FW 329.4) Completing the roster is
Yorick’s skull – ‘the grusomehed’s yoeureeke’ (FW 229.30–230.01), which
is apostrophized by Hamlet in the gravediggers’ scene, a purple patch
mocked by Joyce as yesterday’s dinner: a ‘grand stylish gravedigging with
secondbest buns’ (FW 121.32).
Joyce’s version of ‘Hamlaugh’ (FW 84.32–3) laughs at Ernest Jones’s
Freudian interpretation of the play. Yet although Joyce makes fun of
psychoanalysts – ‘we grisly old Sykos who have done our unsmiling bit on
’alices, when they were yung and easily freudened’ (FW 115.21–3) – he
cannibalizes Freud and Jones in Finnegans Wake, demonstrating his own
‘eatupus complex’ (FW 128.36). ‘Professor’ Jones himself makes several
appearances as a character in Finnegans Wake, where he pontificates on
Shakespeare. Joyce conflates Jones with the comically overbearing Shaun,
who is given to moralizing, like Laertes and Polonius in Hamlet. In his
study Hamlet and Oedipus, Jones seeks to unravel ‘the central mystery’ in
Shakespeare’s play, ‘namely, the meaning of Hamlet’s hesitancy in seeking
to obtain revenge for his father’s murder’.73 The reason for this ‘hesitancy’
(a key word in Finnegans Wake, as we have seen) is that Hamlet’s ‘moral
48 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

fate is bound up with his uncle’s for good or ill ’. Because Claudius has acted
out Hamlet’s repressed desires to kill his father and marry his mother,
the usurper ‘incorporates the deepest and most buried part’ of Hamlet’s
own personality, and Hamlet therefore cannot kill his uncle ‘without also
killing himself’.74 Jones goes on to explain that Hamlet’s hysterical paralysis
reflects Shakespeare’s ambivalent feelings towards his late father, who
died in 1601, shortly before the supposed date of Hamlet’s composition.
According to Freud (who published The Interpretation of Dreams shortly after
the death of his own father), a father’s death is usually the turning point in
the mental life of a man, since it reawakens infantile fantasies of parricide.
‘To this source,’ Jones argues, ‘many social revolutionaries – perhaps all
– owe the original impetus of their rebelliousness against authority.’ In
Shakespeare, ‘the family tragedy is placed in the foreground. The origin of
all revolutions is the revolution in the family.’75
In Finnegans Wake, Joyce transforms Shakespeare’s rebels into dairy
products. Shaun becomes Burrus, a buttery Brutus (beurre, ‘butter’
[French]); Shem becomes Caseous, a cheesy Cassius (caseus, ‘cheese’
[Latin]). Meanwhile Issy becomes ersatz butter, Margareen, which is
also associated with Cleopatra. Given that Johnson described the pun or
‘quibble’ as Shakespeare’s ‘fatal Cleopatra’, it is possible that Margareen
embodies the principle of punning, or that all three greasy siblings
represent the necessary lubricant for words to ‘marge’, barge and merge
into each other’s margins (FW 165.14 etc.).76 In any case, Margareen
complicates the strife between brothers by bringing a third rival into the
fray: ‘a cleopatrician in her own right she at once complicates the position
while Burrus and Caseous are contending for her misstery by implicating
herself with an elusive Antonius, a wop [. . .] ’ (FW 166.34–167.1). Where
Hamlet portrays two rival sons fighting for the sister-figure Ophelia,
Julius Caesar adds a third contender in the form of Anthony, creating an
‘Antonius-Burrus-Caseous grouptriad’ (FW 167.4). Burrus and Caseous
fight for their sister’s ‘misstery’, for mastery of her mysterious miss-ness
or virginity, much as Hamlet and Laertes fight over Ophelia. But Issy/
Cleopatra cannot choose between her brothers: ‘Margareena she’s very
fond of Burrus but, alick and alack! She velly fond of chee.’ (FW 166.30–1)
Unable to resolve this ambivalence, she implicates herself with the ‘elusive’
Shakespeare’s Caesar, alarmed by Cassius’s ‘lean and hungry look’,
exclaims, ‘Let me have men about me who are fat’ (1.2.192–4). Answering
his prayers, Joyce transforms both Brutus and Cassius into fats. ‘Burrus,
let us like to imagine, is a genuine prime, the real choice, full of natural
James Joyce 49

greace, the mildest of milkstoffs yet unbeaten as a risicide and, of course,

obsoletely unadulterous.’ (FW 161.15–17) If Burrus is genuine, unadul-
terated natural grease (and grace), Caseous is ‘obversely the revise of him’
(FW 161.18); in other words, his mirror-image. Here Joyce is alluding to
the scene in Julius Caesar when Cassius offers himself as a mirror in which
Brutus may perceive his unknown self: ‘since you know you cannot see
yourself / So well as by reflection, I, your glass, / Will modestly discover
to yourself / That of yourself which you yet know not of.’ (1.2.67­–70)
The mirror-image implies that these conspirators are ‘seemaultaneouly
sysentangled’ (FW 161.12–13), like butter and cheese. They are ‘too males
pooles, the one the pictor of the other’, two Narcissuses reflected in the
pools of one another’s eyes (FW 164.4–5).
Caesar (‘Cheesugh’), unlike his greasy sons, is too old to be butterable:
‘The older sisars (Tyrants, regicide is too good for you!) become unbeur-
rable from age [. . .] ’ (FW 163.10, 162.1–2). Older Caesars (or castrating
scissors) become unbearable fromage, ‘caseated’ by necrosis; ‘caseation’ is a
symptom of tuberculosis, in which diseased tissues form a cheese-like mass.
The only solution is tyrannicide – a lesser crime than regicide in Roman
law: ‘Tyrants, regicide is too good for you.’ ‘Hard cheese’, Caesar cannot
melt like butter, but has to be carved up and chewed: ‘sort-of-nineknived
and chewly removed’ (FW 162.5). Once Caesar is duly removed, the stage
is left to ‘the twinfreer types [. . .] billed to make their reupprearance as
the knew kneck and knife knickknots on the deserted champ de bouteilles’
(FW 162.9–11). The twins, having nineknived the father-figure, rear up
on the deserted battlefield, littered with booze bottles, to perform their
drunken slapstick knockabout routine, killing us with laughter – for Burrus
is ‘unbeaten as a risicide’: a risible assassin, or perhaps a murderer of
laughter. ‘Risicide’ also refers to the regicide for which Brutus and Cassius
were cast into hell and, in Dante’s Inferno, condemned to be chewed in
Cocytus’s mouth: another reason for their transformation into foodstuffs
in Finnegans Wake.77
What Joyce is presenting here is a Shakespeare burlesque, many of
which were performed in Michael Gunn’s Gaiety Theatre, including Hamlet
Travestie, performed in July 1876, The Rival Othellos in October 1880, Little
Hamlet in March 1885 and Ariel, F. C. Burnand’s burlesque of The Tempest,
in July 1885.78 At some point in his life, Joyce may have seen the anonymous
Julius Caesar Travestie ... by an Amateur (c. 1861).79 Macbeth inspired several
burlesques in the nineteenth century, including Francis Talfourd’s Macbeth
Somewhat Removed from the Text of Shakespeare (1847), which sports such puns
as ‘Birnam Wood! Would anyone would burn ’em!’80 Joyce’s improvement
50 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

on this pun, discussed in more detail below, is ‘a burning would is come to

dance inane’.
Macbeth corresponds to Julius Caesar insofar as the murder of the father-
figure, King Duncan, gives rise to the opposition between Macbeth and
Macduff, whose names fuse with the first four letters of the alphabet
in Finnegans Wake: ‘ach beth cac duff’ (FW 250.34). The Mime of Mick,
Nick and the Maggies recasts Macbeth and Macduff as Glugg and Chuff
(doubles of Nick and Mick respectively) who are fighting for the favours
of their sister Issy. In the first part of the chapter, Glugg/Macbeth seems
to be winning the contest, but in the second part Chuff/Macduff returns
disguised as Birnam Wood to wreak vengeance on his brother. ‘Yet’s the
time for being now, now, now. For a burning would is come to dance inane.
Glamours hath moidered’s lieb and herefore Coldours must leap no more.
Lack breath must leap no more.’ (FW 250.14–18) The first words of this
passage substitute the ‘pressant’ tense (FW 221.17) – ‘now, now, now’ – for
Macbeth’s relentless procession of tomorrows. Macduff’s Birnam Wood
becomes Chuff’s ‘burning would’, his passionate desire to ‘dance inane’
over his defeated rival. The following sentences allude to the voice that
Macbeth hears after the murder of Duncan: ‘Methought I heard a voice
cry ‘Sleep no more! / Macbeth does murther sleep’ [. . .] Glamis hath
murther’d sleep, and therefore Cawdor / Shall sleep no more – Macbeth
shall sleep no more.’ (2. 2. 32–40)81 In Macbeth, to ‘leap’ (‘o’erleap’) is to
usurp, but in Joyce’s version Glugg/Macbeth, like Hamlet, is too ‘fat, and
scant of breath’ (‘Lack breath’) to leap over his more athletic brother
(Macbeth 1.4.49; Hamlet 5.2.288).
Verbal echoes of Macbeth also play a key role in the story of HCE and
the Cad. In one version of this story, the tipsy Cad is trying to enter HCE’s
pub after closing time, where ‘a stone-hinged gate [. . .] was triplepatlockt
on him on purpose by his faithful poorters’ (FW 69.15–26). These porters
allude to the porter in Macbeth, as well as to Porter the publican, whose
pub is identified with Castle Knock Gate, the entrance to the western end
of Phoenix Park. Thus the story of ‘the bottle at the gate’ (FW 65.35) – the
fatal bottle battle between HCE and the Cad – is interwoven with allusions
to Macbeth, where the Porter is too hung over to respond to the relentless
knocking at the castle gate, reminiscent of the gates of hell. ‘Knock,
knock, knock,’ the Porter cries repeatedly. ‘Who’s there, i’th’ name of
Belzebub?’ (2.3.3–4) In Finnegans Wake, Joyce transforms this scene into a
knock-knock joke: ‘Knock knock. War’s where! Which war? The Twwinns.
Knock knock. Woos without! Without what? An apple. Knock knock.’ (FW
330. 30–2) This passage alludes to courtship (‘woos’), to the fall of Adam
James Joyce 51

(‘apple’) and to the war between the ‘Twwinns’ Shem and Shaun. Joyce
told James Johnson Sweeney that the struggle between Cain and Abel
was the origin of war. He also explained that the second ‘w’ in ‘Twwinns’
was for Eve and meant ‘without an apple’, since she was born without an
Adam’s apple.82 What the double ‘n’ stands for, Joyce did not explain,
but the twin letters seem to correspond to the twin sons, as well as to the
doubles in the witches’ chant, ‘Double, double, toil and trouble’ (Macbeth
4.1.10). As Joyce puts it: ‘his troubles may be over but his doubles have still
to come.’ (FW 138.2–3)
Among these doubles is ‘Miss Somer’s nice dream’, Joyce’s burlesque of
Shakespeare’s nocturnal comedy (FW 502.29). In Ulysses, Joyce had already
woven A Midsummer Night’s Dream into Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, which
includes 21 references to bottoms, as well as 47 uses of the word ‘because’,
in homage to Bottom’s declaration: ‘It shall be call’d ‘Bottom’s Dream’,
because it hath no bottom’ (4.1.215–16).83 Similarly, Finnegans Wake
presents a bottomless dream that blurs the boundaries between waking
and sleeping, world and stage. Both Joyce and Shakespeare enfold dreams
within dreams, plays within plays, ‘tales within wheels’ (FW 247.3): the
mechanicals’ hilarious performance of Piramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer
Night’s Dream looks forward to The Mime of Mick, Nick and the Maggies in the
Wake, possibly an amateur theatrical staged in Porter’s pub.
When Bottom wakes up from Oberon’s spell, he marvels:

I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of any man
to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass, if he go about [t’] expound
this dream. Methought I was – there is no man can tell what. Methought
I was, and methought I had – but man is but [a patch’d] fool, if he will
offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the
ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. (4.1.205–14)84

Joyce’s ass mangles these words with an Irish accent: ‘Methought I was
dropping asleep somepart in nonland. [. . .] And as I was jogging along
in a dream as dozing I was dawdling, arrah, methought [. . .] ’ (FW
403.18–404.3–4). These words reflect the experience of Joyce’s readers,
dozing, dawdling and dropping asleep in the ‘nonland’ of this ‘allnights
newseryreel’ (FW 489.35), this endlessly revolving newsreel, bedtime story
or nursery rhyme, which ‘moves in vicous circles yet remews the same’ (FW
134.16–17). Although Joyce hoped for an ‘ideal reader suffering from an
ideal insomnia’ to tackle the complexities of his ‘nightynovel’, he admits
52 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

that the ‘temptive lissomer’ is likely to nod off (FW 120.13–14; 477.18). For
the Wake strives to recreate the experience of sleep, when mind and body
are sealed off from the outside world, leaving only ‘the steady monologuy
of the interiors; the pardonable confusion’ (FW 119.32–3).
This is a world where the noises of the body merge with those of
language, where words disintegrate into the burble of the bloodstream:
‘blots and blurs and bars and balls and hops and wriggles and juxtaposed
jottings linked by spurts of speed’ (FW 118.29–30). To read such a work,
it is necessary to ‘think in your stomach’, as well as to ‘chuck english’ as
we know it (FW 579.20–22). In Finnegans Wake, Joyce ceases to fret in the
shadow of the English language; instead he flies by the nets of nationality
to create a multilingual idiolect of the dreaming body. Joyce explained:
‘I’d like a language which is above all languages, a language to which
all will do service. I cannot express myself in English without enclosing
myself in a tradition.’85 To avoid such enclosure, Joyce strives to appro-
priate all traditions into the paranomasia of Finnegans Wake, engorging
all the world’s ‘verbage’ (FW 183.13) – verbiage, garbage and Burbage
(1568–1619), the famous Shakespearean actor. In this way ‘he would wipe
alley english spooker, multiphoniaksically spuking, off the face of the erse’
(FW 178.6–7). He would wipe any English speaker, any of the spooks of
the English literary tradition, even the playwright who played the spook
in Hamlet, off the face of the earth, or the Irish arse, with a multiphonic,
multivoiced spuke – speech, spunk and puke – a spuke all of his own.

Bellzey Babble

‘I have discovered that I can do anything I want with language.’ Joyce made
this remark to Eugene Jolas, the editor of the Parisian avant-garde journal
transition, which published extracts from Work-in-Progress during its long
gestation. Jolas recalls that Joyce’s ‘linguistic memory was extraordinary
and he seemed to be constantly on the look-out, listening rather than

‘Really, it is not I who am writing this crazy book,’ he said in a whimsical

way. ‘It is you and you and you and that girl over there and that man in
the corner.’ 86

In Finnegans Wake, Joyce uses his extraordinary memory to gobble up

more than 77 languages in a ‘polyglutteral’ grande bouffe (FW 117.13).
James Joyce 53

The feast culminates in Shakespeare, whose works are chewed and spewed
throughout the Wake, digested and expressed, pressed out again (to vary
Stephen Dedalus’s formula [P 224]). According to his envious brother
Shaun, Shem the Penman devours and excretes ‘messes of mottage’,
guzzling other people’s words (FW 183.22–3). His workshop of filthy
creation has ‘soundconducting walls’ so that he can eavesdrop on other
people’s speech, plagiarising everyone from Shakespeare to ‘that girl
over there and that man in the corner’ (FW 183.9). Like Jones’s Hamlet,
Shem has an ‘eatupus complex’, bulimically bolting and ‘spuking’ other
people’s words. While devouring these voices, he disgorges ‘from his
unheavenly body a no uncertain quantity of obscene matter not protected
by copriright’ – an allusion to Joyce’s tribulations with the censors and
pirates of his previous works (FW 185.29–30). Nothing is protected by
‘copriright’ in the ‘bellzy babble’ of Finnegans Wake (64.11), this infernal
Beelzebub of a belly babbling in babelian dialects.87
As we have seen, Shakespeare is what Shem eats for breakfast. After
pigging out on shakespill and eggs, Shem shits this shakefest out again
throughout the long night of Finnegans Wake, when he writes with his own
excrement on ‘the only foolscap available, his own body’:

till by its corrosive sublimation one continuous present tense integ-

ument slowly unfolded all marryvoising moodmoulded cyclewheeling
history (thereby, he said, reflecting from his own individual person life
unlivable, transaccidentated through the slow fires of consciousness
into a dividual chaos, perilous, potent, common to allflesh, human only,
mortal) but with each word that would not pass away the squidself which
he had squirtscreened from the crystalline world waned chagreenold
and doriangrayer in its dudhud. (FW 185.35–186.8)

In the parenthesis above, Shem claims that his art transforms his personal
experience into universal truth, ‘common to allflesh’. But not without
personal cost – Shem’s life is sacrificed to art, his skin to writing. With
every word that will not pass away, his ‘squidself’ fades behind the
‘squirtscreen’ of his ink. Like Balzac’s hero in La Peau de Chagrin, who
grows ‘chagreenold’ under the power of the magic ass’s skin, withering
away with every wish this talisman fulfills; or Wilde’s Dorian Gray, whose
youth and beauty are absorbed into his picture, Shem grows ‘doriangrayer’
with every word he writes.
Thus Shem suffers the same fate as Shakespeare, whose life has virtually
disappeared behind the ‘squirtscreen’ of his writing. So little is known
54 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

about his historical existence that Shakespeare has become ‘the happy
huntingground of all minds that have lost their balance’, as the Englishman
Haines remarks in the ‘Wandering Rocks’ episode of Ulysses (U 10.1061–2).
Shakespeare’s obscurity has given rise to endless gossip, speculation, and
suspicion, whetted by ‘biografiends’ like Stephen, or the aptly named
Shakespeare enthusiasts Looney and Battey (FW 55.6).88 In a similar way,
HCE’s obscure misdemeanour in Phoenix Park has brought forth so many
prurient rumours that ‘There extand by now one thousand and one stories,
all told, of the same.’ (FW 5.28–9) Much as Shakespeare’s authorship has
been repeatedly impugned by rival claimants, so HCE the ‘foenix culprit’
loses his identity amidst ‘the twattering of bards in the twitterlitter’,
dispersed among aliases and impostors (FW 23.16; 37.17).
In the ‘twitterlitter’ of the Wake, this twittering twilight of literary nightin-
gales, the Bard’s ‘seraphic music’ is constantly bombarded by alien voices,
all talking at once, like interference on a 1930s radio. To read the Wake,
the reader must become a ‘Gracehoper’, channel-hopping in the search
for a stable frequency amidst the strays and atmospherics (FW 414.21 etc.).
During the years that Joyce was writing Work-in-Progress, as James Connor
has pointed out, ‘radio air was full of noises, wandering signals, high
altitude skips, and super-heterodyne screeches, and [those] who listened to
it had to gradually attune themselves to a cacophony of voices all speaking
at once’.89 These disembodied voices reveal the ‘schizophonia’ character-
istic of the modern soundscape, the split between voice and speaker, sound
and source, produced by such technologies as radio and telephone.90
Spiritualism, whose heyday coincided with the rise of these technol-
ogies, exploits the spooky side of schizophonia. In the spiritualist séance,
the message is disembodied from the medium, whose utterances are
supposedly ventriloquized by otherworldly spirits. It is therefore telling that
séances, along with radios, figure prominently in the schizophonic ‘sound-
dance’ of Finnegans Wake; the whole of Book 3, for instance, has been
interpreted as a parodic séance.91 Yeats, among other devotees of spiritu-
alism, discovered that the lines of communication to the spirit world, like
those of the radio or telephone, were often fraught with interference, bad
reception or ‘frustration’. In the resulting confusion, as Yeats remembers
in A Vision, ‘Frustrators’ could often be mistaken for genuine oracles.92
The same confusion reigns in ‘dinmurk’ – the murky din of Finnegans
Wake – where frustrators can scarcely be distinguished from narrators, or
ventriloquists from dummies. This is a work ‘sentenced to be nuzzled over
a full trillion times for ever and a night till his noddle sink or swim by that
ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia’ (FW 120.12–14).
James Joyce 55

Ventriloquism goes back to the beginning of Joyce’s writing: it features,

for example, in the technique that Hugh Kenner has designated as ‘the
Uncle Charles principle’, or free indirect discourse, in which the narrative
voice is invaded by the voices of the characters.93 The most spectacular
display of ventriloquism takes place in ‘Circe’, an episode that also
bears a strong resemblance to a séance: here, voices ricochet from every
surface of Bella Cohen’s brothel, as well as from Shakespeare, parental
ghosts, abstractions and hypotheticals such as ‘The End of the World’.
When Shakespeare’s face appears in the mirror, stammering ‘in dignified
ventriloquy’, it is unclear whether the Bard is acting as ventriloquist or
dummy, as the source or the mouthpiece of his lines. Such distinctions,
already precarious in ‘Circe’, collapse in the Shakespearean karaoke of the
Wake, where the ‘spooker’ dissolves in ‘messes of mottage’.
This phrase recalls the ‘mess of pottage’ for which the biblical Esau sold
his birthright. Joyce, as opposed to Esau, pays tribute to his birthright in
Finnegans Wake by spicing his messes with Irish mottage. But he never allows
Irish nationalism to spoil his appetite for Shakespeare. As we have seen,
this appetite grows by what it feeds on, culminating in the Shakespearean
breakfasts of the Wake. While munching on Shakespeare’s ‘eatwords’ (FW
569.28), however, Joyce is also devoured by his own precursor. Throughout
the Wake, Joyce tries to get the better of Shakespeare by quashing his
quotatoes, yet the paradoxical effect is to expose the belatedness of Joyce.
The very title of the Wake implies belatedness, since a ‘wake’ refers to a
funeral or ‘funforall’ (FW 458.22), as well as to the slipstream or backwash
of a departing ship, the after-effect of its lost presence. Belatedness also
influences the menu in Finnegans Wake, where meals consist largely of
leftovers, like the ‘funeral bak’d meats’ in Hamlet that ‘coldly furnish forth
the marriage tables’ (1.2.180–1). With similar thrift, the Wake transforms
Shakespearean breakfasts into Joycean last suppers – ‘turning breakfarts
into lost soupirs’ – thus turning Shakespeare’s groundbreaking farts
into Joyce’s belated sighs [‘soupirs’], the last gasps of ‘Mr Brakeforth’s’
windy inspiration (FW 453.11–12; 575.11). The implication is that Joyce is
swallowed up in Shakespeare’s wake, engorged into the poet’s posthumous
If Joyce consumes Shakespeare, then Shakespeare also consumes Joyce,
incorporating the latecomer into ‘Echoland’ (FW 13.5). This mutual
cannibalism recalls Augustine’s conception of the Communion feast, in
which the eater is consumed by what he feeds on. As a ‘voice from on high’
explains to Augustine: ‘I am the food of the fully grown; grow and you
will feed on me. And you shall not change me into you like the food your
56 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

flesh eats, but you will be changed into me.’94 Similarly, Joyce is eaten by
the words he eats, changed into the literary corpus he assimilates. How can
we tell the diner from the dish? Joyce and Shakespeare endlessly devour
one another in the Wake, a world of word-eat-word where breakfast goes on
Chapter 2

T. S. Eliot
Anne Stillman

In the beginning, it was Hamlet. Or rather, not Hamlet. Or not Prince

Hamlet. As T. S. Eliot’s first poem in his first book of poems begins to end,
it speaks of starting up:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous –
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.1

Which was once, in an early draft:

No! I am not Hamlet, nor am meant to be

Am an attendant lord – 2

Looking back to a future that will not be, the revision plants the past
expression more firmly in the hypothetical past. The revised lines are
sprightlier, not just because the play on ‘am’ across the lines and through
Hamlet’s name is more deft by being less glaring, but through the addition
of ‘Prince’, as if now the speaker talks not just about a character from a
play, but speaks from inside the memory of having been within this world,
as ‘Prince’ is the epithet in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, that
58 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

can sound feelingly tender (‘Good night, sweet prince’ (5. 2. 359)) or, in
the mouth of an attendant lord, strangely empty, ‘I did bespeak: /‘Lord
Hamlet is a prince out of thy star; / This must not be’; [. . .]’ (2.2.140–2)).3
In Eliot’s poem, ‘Prince Hamlet’ shows us that the speaker refers to a
personage in a play and not to the play, and while it would be odd to hear
the earlier version as ‘I am not Hamlet’ (certainly on the page it does not
say this), a poem might draw on the possible richness of such an uncer-
tainty. The possible referents blur as the play is summoned, as they do in
Jules Laforgue’s re-telling of Hamlet in Moralités légendaires, where Hamlet’s
well-known phrases (‘Stabilité! ton nom est Femme!’) return to a nostalgic,
parodic world.4 In ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ the speaker also
deflects his identity away from Hamlet while summoning some of that
character’s best-known words; he is not Prince Hamlet, but, like Hamlet,
creates a world of overwhelming questions. Other echoes seem to exist
between Eliot’s verse and lines of Shakespeare. Prufrock is ‘at times, the
Fool’; he grows old: in Twelfth Night, Olivia says, ‘Now you see, sir, how your
fooling grows old, and people dislike it’ (1.5.110); Falstaff is ‘fat and grows
old’ (1 Henry IV 2.4.131), Hamlet says; ‘And you, my sinows, grow not
instant old’ (1.5.94).
We can register such apparent echoes, through our own memories and
ears or through the seemingly efficient tool of a concordance or search
engine, but the material we gather can only acknowledge how the finer
instrument of a poet’s auditory imagination works mysteriously (as Eliot
was often at pains to describe).5 The imagination of the young man who
wrote this poem is skilled in creating atmospheres of voice and noise, and
in listening to the acoustic worlds of other writers. Hamlet’s name prompts
the unfolding of these other possible echoes, but would we hear these
Shakespearean voices if his name were not there? There is a family resem-
blance between the study of a voice shown in the act of speaking in Eliot’s
poem, and the dying voice of the Shakespearean creation who matters
most for the self-conscious stops and starts of the nineteenth-century
dramatic monologue: ‘I am no prophet – and here’s no great matter’ (CPP
15); ‘Thou wouldst not think how ill all’s here about my heart – but it is no
matter.’ (Hamlet 5.2.212–13) The fleeting likeness shows you differences.
Prufrock’s Prince Hamlet conjures Shakespeare’s words, but Eliot’s poem
also makes their original drama disappear, as Hamlet reappears through
Laforgue, seeming to have walked out on his play.

T. S. Eliot 59

This essay situates Eliot in the company of Shakespeare, and, in this volume,
under the title ‘Great Shakespeareans’. Perhaps we can imagine the author
of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, in the guise of an attendant lord,
receiving this epithet wryly, with a question: ‘And should I have the right
to smile?’ (CPP, 21) Such a lofty title as ‘A Great Shakespearean’ can risk
making a writer’s early works appear, as Samuel Beckett’s stage direction
puts it, ‘prematurely old’ – a condition which ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock’ might be thought to embody with a special liveliness.6 An artist’s
own perception of his or her oeuvre will also always trouble the aptness
of this title, as to be ‘great’ is one of the last things someone is likely to
know of him or herself, while being one of the first things anyone is to
know of Shakespeare, as Eliot writes, ‘for in greatness are involved moral
and social relations, relations which can only be perceived from a remoter
perspective, and which may only be said even to be granted by the process
of history’; or, elsewhere, ‘greatness is a matter, so far as we are concerned,
of chance, of what happens afterwards when we are dead; and that depends
on a great many things outside of ourselves’.7
‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ plays the senses of the word ‘great’
against each other:

I am no prophet – and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, [. . .] (CPP, 15)

This conjures up largeness while emphasizing the diminutive, showing us a

speaker prompted by an act of deflection (‘no great matter’) into remem-
bering a kind of self-inflation: ‘the moment of my greatness’, caught in the
act of becoming spent, as Eliot would come to hear, inside the ‘last great
speech of Othello’, the flickering ‘exposure of human weakness’.8 Eliot’s
criticism, like his poems, is written with complex words, and ‘greatness’
is one of them: ‘there is no reason why one should not try to write great
poetry, except that great poetry is not written that way: I mean that if one
cares enough about poetry, ‘greatness’ is not the aim or the criterion’.9
For Eliot, the word sometimes confers praise: it can register awe, or, as
in ‘Prufrock’, it will tease reputations and worry formulations by being
somewhere between the mocking and piteous. Greatness, for Eliot, is an
historical attribute that can be unwieldy for a young poet. This concerns
Eliot’s relations with Shakespeare especially: ‘a poet of the supreme
greatness of Shakespeare can hardly influence, he can only be imitated’;
and, ‘influence can fecundate, whereas imitation – especially unconscious
imitation – can only sterilize’.10
60 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

The creative intimacy young Eliot describes as feeling for ‘another,

probably dead author’ counsels against forced admiration for the great:

We are never at ease with people who, to us, are merely great. We are
not ourselves great enough for that: probably not one man in each
generation is great enough to be intimate with Shakespeare. Admiration
for the great is only a sort of discipline to keep us in order, a necessary
snobbism to make us mind our places.11

Under one aspect ‘who, to us, are merely great’ is the perfectly arch young
man’s jibe, and yet this isn’t just coolly registering the word ‘great’ as
wearily passé for the aspiring poet. The novice wants material to work with:
‘we may not be great lovers; but if we have had a genuine affair with a real
poet of any degree we have acquired a monitor to avert us when we are not
in love’.12 The ‘great’ keep us in order; others greatly infatuate us. And yet,
‘a great poet can give a younger poet everything that he has to give him,
in a very few lines’.13
The epithet ‘great’ precludes the small while also consisting of it:
Shakespeare, in Eliot’s estimation, is greater than Marlowe because he
‘had a superiority in smaller things’.14 But greatness is capaciousness, and
‘Shakespearean’ also accommodates much, as the Oxford English Dictionary
tells us; besides potentially conferring the characteristics of Shakespeare,
there’s plenty of scope between being, as the dictionary says, either ‘an
authority on or student of the writings of Shakespeare’, an ‘imitator’, or,
plainly, ‘an admirer’.
By saying a young poet might be given ‘everything’ from ‘a very few
lines’, then, Eliot shouldn’t be mistaken for being cavalier. The remark
persuasively conveys how creative assimilation is mysterious, and not likely
to be quantified on a scale of estimation, what counts as ‘merely great’.
There is also the sense of an impacted force in Eliot’s remark as ‘greatness’
and ‘everything’ find their realization in ‘a very few lines’. By putting
Shakespeare and Eliot together, the subject of this essay is such a collision
of forces: Eliot’s preoccupation with the force of a line from Shakespeare’s
work, as well as the kind of force in Eliot’s Shakespearean allusions, as they
conjure up greater worlds of voice with a few strokes.
Work on Eliot and Shakespeare has supplied a survey of the allusions
to Shakespeare’s plays in Eliot’s verse, and in Shakespeare and the Modern
Poet, Neil Corcoran gives two chapters on Eliot and Shakespeare: one
on the criticism, and one on the poetry. Corcoran discusses the ‘relative
paucity’ of Eliot’s ‘Shakespeare output’: ‘Eliot is a remarkable critic
T. S. Eliot 61

of Shakespeare, but his Shakespeare criticism is sporadic.’15 But Eliot

is a remarkable critic of Shakespeare because of his own fascination
with matters that happen sporadically and intensely, whether that is the
sudden force of a line that leaps out from a play, or ‘the attitude of self-
dramatization assumed by some of Shakespeare’s heroes at moments of
tragic intensity’ (SE, 129).
Eliot must also be seen as a remarkable critic of Shakespeare because
he invites us to think of Shakespeare in equiparlance with Ben Jonson.
In the revised review of Jonson’s plays from 1919 that becomes ‘Ben
Jonson’ in The Sacred Wood, Eliot makes the suggestion that Jonson is as
good as Shakespeare, only different: ‘The ‘world’ of Jonson is sufficiently
large; it is a world of poetic imagination; it is sombre. He did not get
the third dimension, but he was not trying to get it.’ (SE, 159)16 When
Eliot makes comparisons between two things, he frequently invokes a
third term, for instance: ‘The moment the intermediate term verse is
suppressed, I do not believe that any distinction between prose and
poetry is meaningful’.17 In Eliot’s thought, the invocation of a third term
extends the binary into a trinity: the triangle intensifying the collision
and eluding it. A consideration of Eliot and Shakespeare will discover
that they don’t perform alone as a pair. They become a double-act only
with a third term.
The story of Shakespeare in Eliot’s writing veers between well-known
pronouncements (on Hamlet, ‘the play is most certainly an artistic failure’
(SE, 143)) and lesser known self-modifications (‘the critic who sets out to
prove that Hamlet is a bad play is unlikely to persuade us’).18 It includes
cross-talk between critical essays and poetic works, where an instance
from Shakespeare will be quoted in the prose and alluded to in a poem.
One way of discussing the presence of Shakespeare in Eliot’s oeuvre
would be to divide critical discussions and creative allusions into separate
sections, as Corcoran does. We might treat Eliot’s engagement with
Shakespeare by way of separate plays that matter for him: Antony and
Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Othello, The Tempest, especially. And then Pericles and
Cymbeline, and, yes, Hamlet. But Eliot’s creative fascination with rhythm and
poetic pattern moves across plays more than it attends to the actions of
individual characters and individual plays. To divide Eliot’s engagement
with Shakespeare into narratives that adhere to individual plays would tidy
up the ways his imagination works.
We might instead move between Eliot’s critical prose and poetry, in
an attempt to imagine that his work can be inhabited like a double plot,
in William Empson’s sense, where ‘queer connections can be insinuated
62 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

powerfully but unobtrusively’ across prose and verse.19 Close relations

are intimated between, say, the presence of Othello’s words discussed in
‘Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca’ and quoted in ‘Journey of the
Magi’ of the same year, although ‘quoted’ is a mild word for how Eliot’s
verse refracts Shakespeare’s lines into an exquisitely shattered stutter,
shards of Othello’s words lying here in this poem of nativity, turning from
death to birth, from birth to death:

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? (CPP, 104)

And yet ‘set down’ may not be an allusion to Othello, or not only allude to
Othello, as B. C. Southam notes, the phrase occurs in Lancelot Andrews’s
sermon on the nativity.20 These whispered, potential liaisons between
critical statements and verse practices might cause us to find something
squint-eyed about Eliot’s views on Shakespeare. There could seem to be
a yawning gap between the critical judgement that finds Coriolanus to be
‘Shakespeare’s most assured artistic success’ and the creative connections
in Eliot’s verse between this play and brokenness, violence, mischief and
lack of artistic assurance, as in ‘Ode’, with its epigraph from Coriolanus:


To you particularly, and to all the Volscians

Great hurt and mischief.

Subterrene laughter synchronous
With silence from the sacred wood21

A poem never collected after Ara Vos Prec, and ‘Coriolan’, found under
‘Unfinished Poems’.22 Shakespeare, you sense, is ‘getting entangled with
a more private pattern of interest and need’.23 But that pattern is also
concerned to be more than merely private: ‘Shakespeare too was occupied
with the struggle – which alone constitutes life for a poet – to transmute his
personal and private agonies into something rich and strange, something
universal and impersonal.’ (SE, 137)
T. S. Eliot 63

‘What we want is to disturb and alarm the public: to upset its reliance on
Shakespeare, Nelson, Wellington, and Sir Isaac Newton.’24 Eliot’s early
reviews, particularly some of those he chose not to collect, wish to shake up
a received idea of the greatness of Shakespeare; they take on an irreverent
swagger: ‘Shakespeare is the avenue to Knighthood.’ Shakespeare, Eliot
writes, has been made palatable as ‘years of patient labour have so purified,
transmogrified, and debased Shakespeare that several of his plays can be
produced before audiences of the most civilized householders and share-
holders of the world’. 25 When Eliot saw a production of King Lear by the
Phoenix Society in 1924, he praised the company for performing a work
‘of such immense power that it offends and scandalises ordinary citizens
of both sexes’:

The play of King Lear can never be popular in a civilisation so corrupted

with literary culture that it resents what it cannot diminish. For there is
a form of literary culture which shrinks from direct contact with a great
work of art. In reading a play you can avoid this great contact: you may
talk about the play, or you may write about it, or you may read what has
been written about it; but if you sit through a performance in a theatre,
you cannot attend to anything but the play itself.26

You can, of course, attend to many other possible things but the play itself
when sitting through a performance, or many other possible things and
the play itself, but Eliot is revising one standard nineteenth-century view
of King Lear exemplified by Charles Lamb (‘The Lear of Shakespeare
cannot be acted’) and Tennyson (‘King Lear cannot possibly be acted, it is
too titanic’), implying performance would diminish the play, or render its
force ridiculous.27
Reverence and its caricature can look similar; after all, the ‘supreme
greatness’ of Shakespeare may be creatively sterilizing. Eliot’s critical prose
is full of second thoughts and self-revisions, on Milton, Yeats, Goethe; he
half-wishes he might efface some of his early critical antagonisms, and
frequently he voices scepticism about the value of his critical contributions
on Shakespeare; or, in the extreme, he doubts whether he has anything to
say about Shakespeare at all:

I hope that I do not take my own criticism too seriously, but I am content
that I have drawn attention to some of the old dramatists. That is the
64 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

only value of my criticism, that it should lead people to read works that
they have never read, or to re-read them with fresh eyes. As I have said,
I don’t think that anything I have written about Shakespeare is worth
preserving, and my criticism of the others has its only value in its enthu-
siasm and the introduction of the writers to a new public.28

The self-effacing scrupulosity over not being precious, together with the
disclaimer which suggests, retrospectively, that the existing work doesn’t
even merit preservation, may be hard to know how to read, except to say,
as Christopher Ricks does, emphatically, in return: ‘To understand Eliot
you must read the whole of Eliot. And nothing that he wrote is without
To decide when something is or is not ‘about’ Shakespeare in Eliot’s
critical oeuvre is not always as clear-cut as his own late remark would imply.
Many of Eliot’s essays are in dialogue with Shakespeare, although he may
not be the explicit subject: ‘The whole of Shakespeare’s work is one poem’,
he writes – in an essay devoted to John Ford (SE, 203). This sidelong
glance is characteristic of Eliot’s critical remarks on Shakespeare. When
Shakespeare is his explicit subject, then Eliot will perform a hesitation
over how to begin, or doubt whether there is anything to say. Only two
of the essays Eliot reprinted in Selected Essays take Shakespeare head-on
(‘Hamlet’ and ‘Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Shakespeare’), and in
both the preface to Elizabethan Essays and To Criticize the Critic he speaks
of being dissatisfied with these pieces, ‘embarrassed’ by ‘their callowness’,
preferring his work ‘on the contemporaries of Shakespeare’ and ‘not
Shakespeare himself’.30
The possibility of poetic drama is Eliot’s great critical subject. This is
something about which he continues to have something to say from The
Sacred Wood (1920) to ‘Poetry and Drama’ (1951), and beyond. The labour
Eliot devotes to poetic drama must include Shakespeare, but it does so
through revisions, renewals, modifications and also via other drama-
tists: Middleton, Webster, Tourneur, Kyd: ‘playmates’, as Eliot once said,
nearer his own size.31 Of his own formative experience, Eliot writes of the
Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists:

It was from these minor dramatists that I, in my own poetic formation,

had learned my lessons; it was by them, and not by Shakespeare, that my
imagination had been stimulated, my sense of rhythm trained, and my
emotions fed. I had read them at the age at which they were best suited
to my temperament and stage of development [. . .] 32
T. S. Eliot 65

To say, retrospectively, ‘not by Shakespeare’ insists on a separation which

the practice of his verse and criticism does not formulate so neatly; it shows
us rather a compound influence, ‘these minor dramatists’, together with
Shakespeare. For Eliot, critically and imaginatively, Shakespeare appears
on the fringes of the action, together with Dante; alongside Ben Jonson;
other times as a more elusive, palpable absence, the creator of a pattern,
the appreciation of which is ‘a lifetime’s task’.33
Eliot also gives acute critical reasons for not treating Shakespeare in
isolation: ‘the danger of studying him alone is the danger of working into
the essence of Shakespeare what is just convention and the dodges of an
overworked and underpaid writer; the danger of studying him together
with his contemporaries is the danger of reducing a unique vision to a
mode’.34 For Eliot, the presence of other dramatists as ‘playmates’ together
with Shakespeare, permitted a sense of play with Shakespeare, as Prufrock
performs a double-act as an attendant lord and as the lead. But this wider
sense of curiosity about the greater surrounding of Shakespeare’s works
also enriches Eliot’s own critical accounts of Shakespeare’s singularity:
‘to have, given into one’s hands, a crude form, capable of indefinite
refinement, and to be the person to see the possibilities – Shakespeare was
very fortunate’.35
There may be in Eliot’s critical work a small amount of Shakespearean
material. But seen under another aspect, where smallness isn’t neces-
sarily synonymous with being ‘scant’ or ‘thin’, there is a kind of richness
in encountering a remark of Eliot’s on Shakespeare that springs up
unexpectedly, collecting some of its force by being diminutive, and
attuned, itself, to the force of detail that might be overlooked:

Shakespeare, and smaller men also, are in the end more difficult,
but they offer something at the start to encourage the student or to
satisfy those who want nothing more; they are suggestive, evocative,
a phrase, a voice; they offer poetry in detail as well as in design. (SE,

For while Eliot comes to emphasize the design of Shakespeare’s individual

plays and patterns across plays, one way we might feel Eliot to be unequivo-
cally a Great Shakespearean is in his ear for great lines, and the possibilities
they hold for equivocation.
One example, written about by Ricks, is from Eliot’s 1931 radio talk
‘Dryden the Dramatist’. Eliot compares two dying falls:
66 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

But to make my point a little clearer I will take parallel passages from
Antony and Cleopatra and from All for Love. In the former play, when the
soldiers burst in after Cleopatra’s death Charmian is made to say
It is well done, and fitting for a princess,
Descended of so many royal kings.
Ah, soldier!
Dryden’s Charmion says
Yes, ’tis well done, and like a Queen, the last
Of her great race. I follow her.
(Sinks down and dies.)
Now, if you take these two passages by themselves, you cannot say that
the two lines of Dryden are either less poetic than Shakespeare’s, or less
dramatic; a great actress could make just as much, I believe, of those
of Dryden as of those of Shakespeare. But consider Shakespeare’s
remarkable addition to the original text of North, the two plain words,
ah, soldier. You cannot say that there is anything peculiarly poetic about
these two words, and if you isolate the dramatic from the poetic you
cannot say that there is anything peculiarly dramatic either, because
there is nothing in them for the actress to express in action; she can
at best enunciate them clearly. I could not myself put into words the
difference I feel between the passage if these two words ah, soldier, were
omitted and with them. But I know there is a difference, and that only
Shakespeare could have made it.36

Eliot lights upon ‘a phrase, a voice’ and so illuminates the pattern of a

work as a whole. For Ricks, ‘it is an act of genius in the critic to see that the
act of genius in the artist is the cry ‘Ah Soldier’’.37 ‘Ah Soldier’ (the Folio
has no exclamation mark), is addressed to a peripheral figure, ‘rustling
in’, breaking up Charmian’s words with a timely clumsiness. Antony and
Cleopatra is formed, on several levels, by a pattern of broken cadences and
interruptions. Charmian is interrupted, which remembers how Cleopatra
dies mid-phrase, and how Iras’s death interrupted Cleopatra’s farewells.
Interruptions in the play breathe life into the story, turning the written past
into a dramatic shape, returning to that past both a lived contingency and
the composure of a pattern.
Dying falls in plays held a particular fascination for Eliot, whether the
‘posture of dying’ in Seneca’s tragedies, or the dying words of Bussy in
Chapman’s Bussy D’Ambois, where Eliot notices how the Senecan phrase
returns to Chapman’s speaker at the point of death, and ‘combusts
T. S. Eliot 67

spontaneously into originality’.38 He hears in these lines from Antony and

Cleopatra (1. 2):

Ant. Fulvia is dead.

Eno. Sir.
Ant. Fulvia is dead.
Eno. Fulvia?
Ant. Dead.
Eno. Why sir, give the Gods a thankful Sacrifice
a model of such compactness, with behind it the beat of the hidden
music once which in this play, as in several later plays, becomes at a
moment[s] audible [handwritten] the music of the orchestra.39

This audible beat is distinct but elusive, and recommends we listen in

for the rhythm which Eliot found ‘so utterly absent from modern drama,
either verse or prose, and which interpreters of Shakespeare do their best
to suppress, which makes Massine and Charlie Chaplin the great actors
they are, and which makes the juggling of Rastelli more cathartic than a
performance of A Doll’s House’.40 A rhythm, at once comic and grotesque,
that shapes ‘Sweeney Agonistes’:

SWEENEY: I knew man once did a girl in

Any man might do a girl in
Any man has to, needs to, wants to
Once in a lifetime, do a girl in (CPP, 124)

Eliot was drawn to ‘Ah Soldier’ just because the line addresses a peripheral
figure. His work attends to figures with indistinct personal identities:
attendants, housemaids, unnamed figures on the edges of scenes, persons that
stand on the fringes of attention, but have the capacity to incite curiosity about
attention. ‘Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar’, for instance, takes
us to a company of soldiers in Antony and Cleopatra 4. 3 (Folio text):

Defunctive music under sea

Passed seaward with the passing bell
Slowly: the God Hercules
Had left him, that had loved him well. (CPP, 40)

Musicke of the Hoboyes is under the Stage.

2. Peace, what noise?
68 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

1. List, list.
2. Hearke.
1. Musicke i’th’ Ayre.
3. Under the earth.
4. It signes well, do’s it not?
3. No.
1. Peace I say: What should this mean?
2. ’Tis the God Hercules, whom Anthony loved,
Now leaves him.
1. Walke, let’s see if other Watchmen
Do heare what we do?

Eliot’s allusions to Shakespeare become themselves a capacious resource for

reading Shakespeare as they guide us to moments like this. In this scene, in
its evocation of making apparent what fails to appear, in the strange waiting
game on stage, in the timing of ‘do’s it not? / No’, Shakespeare’s writing
sounds like Samuel Beckett’s.
Eliot’s comparison between Dryden and Shakespeare is also alive
to Shakespeare’s transmutation of his source with ‘two plain words’.
Charmian’s lines show a shift of register between the historic voice that
resurrects the past, and the present-tense, frail human voice. The critical
strength of Eliot’s account is his admission in this radio talk of critical of
limitation (‘I could not myself put into words’), as it highlights the different
realities of page and stage, prompting curiosity about private imaginings of
public spectacles. This also speaks of the difficulty of describing dramatic
plainness, or ‘transparency’, as Eliot puts it elsewhere.41 Take this exchange
from 2 Henry IV, 3. 2 (Folio text), for instance:

Shal[low]. [. . .] Oh the mad dayes that I have spent! and to see how many
of mine olde Acquaintance are dead?
Sil[ence]. Wee shall all follow (Cousin.)
Shal[low]. Certaine : ’tis certaine : very sure, very sure : Death is certaine
to all, all shall dye. How a good Yoke of Bullocks at Stamford Fayre?
Sil[ence]. Truly Cousin, I was not there.
Shal[low]. Death is certaine. Is old Double of your Towne living yet?
Sil[ence]. Dead, Sir.
Shal[low]. Dead? See, see : he drew a good Bow: and dead?

Death appears on stage in the speakers’ living voices, casting long shadows
of past stories which the play can’t fully know, while, as storytellers, Shallow
T. S. Eliot 69

and Silence anticipate their own retrospection. Reading this dialogue

between personages with these names makes the silence and shallow deep
on the other side strangely apparent, but it does so easily, plainly, as Eliot
writes: ‘we are lifted to another plane of reality, or a hidden and mysterious
pattern of reality appears as from a palimpsest’.42 That hesitation ‘or’ shows
how these levels take place in the company of two people just talking,
but as Empson says: ‘Talkers are casual and often silly, but they are up to
Shakespeare’s verse is dramatic, as Eric Griffiths writes, in ‘its mercurial
sensitivity to changes in pressure of the interpersonal atmosphere’.44 Eliot
keeps Charmian’s phrase situated at the point of this atmospheric possi-
bility, while also emptying the line of the kinds of theatrical realities that it
might take on: the possibility of a performance, which would take action
among such possibilities, is summoned but also made to disappear. Eliot
says there is nothing ‘for the actress to express in action’. But there are many
actions that might accompany these words. No explicit action taken, but
that she should speak clearly is itself a strong action on stage; it would draw
attention to its own delivery, as a movement could, or a decidedly trium-
phant ‘Ah’. As Ricks says, here Shakespeare is not indicating the ‘posture
proper to the cry, the expression on the face of the word’.45 It could be said
exultantly, with all the sparkiness that Charmian has displayed throughout
the play; after all, the women have outwitted the Roman soldiers. Or it
could be a cry of pain combined with a sigh of pleasure in keeping with
the sexiness of death as it has just been described: ‘The stroke of death is
as a lover’s pinch, / Which hurts, and is desir’d.’ (5.2.295–6) A performer
might bring to the line something from all these possibilities, or make
a choice, since part of the continuing life of any playscript is both the
promise of variety and the invitation to singular decision. As Eliot writes,
‘only the poet who can say the common things, as common men would say
them, can say the greatest things’. Tennyson is moved to speak of ‘repartees
in Shakespeare which always bring tears to my eyes from their simplicity’.46
There are lines of Shakespeare, Eliot writes, ‘in which we hear a more
impersonal voice still than that of either the character or the author’; and,
elsewhere, of ‘the impersonality of something which simply utters itself’.47
Eliot is describing the words, from King Lear, ‘Ripeness is all’ (5.2.11); in
such instances, as he says elsewhere, we are ‘lifted for a moment beyond
character’.48 Yet we often hear ‘a more impersonal voice’ than author or
character; it is part of the nature of dramatic form. ‘Ah Soldier’ is imper-
sonal not just because it is resoundingly empty of a personal pronoun, but
because of the variety of possible vocalizations that it suggests, showing it
70 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

to be full of personal potentialities, and therefore impersonal, because the

possibilities it evokes are not tethered to a particular personal point of view.
It is unmistakably Charmian’s cry to a peripheral figure; and it’s as if the
play cries, for all its figures.
Shakespeare’s immediate presence in Eliot’s work comes to us through
‘a very few lines’. Shakespearean lines are put into circulation through
the striking combination of the quotations in his essays together with his
own lines of verse, as they mingle with Shakespeare’s. Hearing Ariel’s song
in The Tempest (1.2.399) now – ‘Those are pearls that were his eyes’ – we
hear Eliot and Shakespeare together. In Eliot’s critical work, Ariel’s song is
attached to compositional mystery; the familiarity of the lines can, under
one aspect, heighten their powers of captivation, and under another, blunt
their delicacy. The ditty is not just a place where Shakespeare and Eliot
have something in common, but commonplace. Enobarbus’s description
of Cleopatra (2.2.191ff.), ‘The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne’
now sounds fringed with the lines from The Waste Land that allude to this
moment in Shakespeare’s play. From one point of view, the two instances
enrich each other, as Shakespeare copiously enriched his source in North,
turning a well-known story into a living voice. From another, Eliot’s and
Shakespeare’s lines might both be hard to hear as they seem to magnify
each other’s celebrity; the two versions conjuring up the depiction of this
celebrated personage are themselves so well-known that they can seem
to obscure each other. In a theatre, the feeling of collective expectation
before hearing Enobarbus deliver this speech can be thrilling, as he will
soar into verse; or, it can be potentially embarrassing, as the audience
politely waits for that much-anthologized and expected good bit. Eliot’s
lines are now part of that atmosphere.
Eliot’s criticism of Shakespeare may be ‘sporadic’, but in this there is
another kind of consistency. Consider:

she looks like sleep,

As she would catch another Antony
In her strong toil of grace. (Antony and Cleopatra, 5.2.346–8)

Eliot quotes these lines several times across his critical writing:49 he is trans-
fixed by these words that do themselves evoke the powers of captivation.
Caesar’s words both flash out from the context in which they occur, and,
at the same time, belong to his voice. The point at which Eliot chooses to
quote cuts off the peculiar autopsy Caesar makes a few lines earlier, where
he puzzles over the dead bodies, to ask why there is no ‘external swelling’.
T. S. Eliot 71

This is the play’s last flourish on the word ‘swell’, ending on a grim twist
for this work that delights in the joy of love’s swelling and melting: now
dead, now ending, gone. Such strange erotic twilights between states of life
and death intrigue Eliot’s imagination, and he finds in Shakespeare here
a peculiar incarnation of such an interim. We imagine words spoken over
the dead body of a performer feigning death – yes, this briefly looks like
sleep, and, gracefully or awkwardly he or she will rise up, in a few lines,
to the sound of applause, to the promise of catching another Antony, as
this play and the games of love it depicts will repeatedly play across time.
Reading the play, you may imagine this presence of life that feigns death
and looks like sleep differently; without the presence of a body pretending
to be dead, you might be prompted to notice other things. Eliot finds
here in the diminutive something great and instructive. He admires the
‘complicated metaphor’ that ‘adds to the strength of the language; it
makes available some of that physical source of energy upon which the
life of language depends’; elsewhere he hears ‘the whole of Cleopatra’s
disastrous power over men and empires and navies’ evoked in these lines,
a power he associates with Shakespeare, as the word ‘toil’ returns to him in
another place: ‘anyone who tries to write poetic drama, even today, should
know that half of his energy must be exhausted in the effort to escape the
constricting toils of Shakespeare’.50
Eliot says ‘we think of Shakespeare perhaps as the dramatist who concen-
trates everything into a sentence, ‘Pray you undo this button’’; or:

Dickens’s figures belong to poetry, like figures of Dante or Shakespeare,

in that a single phrase, either by them or about them, may be enough
to set them wholly before us. Collins has no phrases. Dickens can with
a phrase make a character as real as flesh and blood – ‘What a life young
Bailey’s was!’ – like Farinata
Chi fur gli maggior tui?
or like Cleopatra,
I saw her once
Hop forty paces through the public street. (SE, 462)

This belongs to Eliot’s poetry too; not just in the virtuoso flashing between
examples, like a performer of a monopolylogue doing the police in
different voices and setting these parts before us, but in the wide capacity
issuing from the slight, as a figure seems to appear as flesh and blood from
a few words. To feel a whole life in one line is here comic and pathetic in
one stroke.51
72 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Eliot writes of an ‘alliance of levity and seriousness (by which the

seriousness is intensified)’ (SE, 296). Frequently he shows how the
co-presence of levity and seriousness can leap up, in sudden flashes, in
Shakespeare: ‘The one great line that leaps out so surprisingly towards the
end of Love’s Labours Lost: ‘To move wild laughter in the face of death’’. To
which we might compare Winnie, in Beckett’s Happy Days:

. . . what is that wonderful line . . . laughing wild . . . something something
laughing wild amid severest woe. [Pause.] And now? [Long Pause.] Was I
lovable once, Willie?52

Winnie has Thomas Gray’s ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College’ in

her ears, ‘And Moody Madness laughing wild / Amid Severest Woe’, and
Gray may have Shakespeare’s line in his, but in showing us a performer
in a play who has committed to memory a line concerned with trying to
remember a line, Beckett shows us much more, though never less, than
what this personage may or may not be remembering. We are presented
with a truth about the nature of memory, as the vista of a distant past can
suddenly appear through the broken remains of a line. A point of union
through this detail between Eliot, Beckett and Shakespeare, as we can hear
the whispers of wild laughter running differently through all their works.
The aspect of ‘greatness’, then, that is suggestive of capaciousness makes
itself heard through little things, as wide vistas can issue from the smallest
of details. Under this aspect, one poet might be constitutive for another
not through design but in detail, but it is also through detail that Eliot
comes to read a design across Shakespeare’s works. The textures of Eliot’s
verse seem to leave traces of the kind of sudden encounter present also in
his prose, as his allusive lines give to our ears for a moment the prospect
of another artistic world, ‘set wholly before us’ and ‘as real as flesh and
To cast Eliot in the role of a Great Shakesperean, we should attend to
how he makes us register such large matters as awe, bewilderment, pity and
horror in ‘a phrase, a voice’. Shakespeare’s work asks us to listen in on the
uneven textures of ‘greatness’, its double acoustic, which can magnify in
scale but specializes in what Griffiths calls ‘melting behaviour’: ‘his figures
stand on their dignity, talking big, head held high, then they unbend or
slip or clamber down to the level of a predicament without lustre, which
they hate to admit but which they actually share’.53 This is connected,
specifically, with words spoken at the point of death. Eliot is a great reader
of Shakespeare as he attends to moments when greatness flickers, whether
T. S. Eliot 73

in the sudden shimmer of creaturely frailty at the point of death, or in

such instances when human smallness is shown in our capacity to believe
ourselves great, as he hears of Othello’s words: ‘nothing dies harder than
the desire to think well of oneself’; ‘I do not believe that any writer has ever
exposed this bovarysme, the human will to see things as they are not, more
clearly than Shakespeare.’ (SE, 131)

‘He has always been a student, and read extensively in English Literature,
especially Shakespeare. He has read practically all of Shakespeare, whom
he admires, and retains much in memory.’54 So wrote Eliot’s mother
recommending him to Milton Academy in 1905 when he was 16 years old.
Compare the voice of her son, addressing a girls’ school in the 1930s, ‘I
will admit that Shakespeare did not mean very much to me until I was over
thirty.’55 Is Charlotte Eliot’s account of her son’s reading really evidence of
Eliot’s early saturation in Shakespeare’s plays? Corcoran’s chapter on Eliot’s
Shakespeare criticism opens with the gesture of quoting this remark, as
‘the testimony of Eliot’s parents’: ‘Eliot’s poetry and literary criticism [. . .]
amply justify their claim.’56 This is not so much Eliot’s parents’ testimony, as
he puts it, but his mother’s. Charlotte Eliot’s account and Eliot’s admission
in 1930 need not be seen as contradictory, exactly; ‘admiration’, ‘did not
mean very much’ and ‘retains much in memory’ may all be standing in for
varieties of formative experience.
The first volume of Eliot’s letters includes a reproduction of an oil painting
by his sister of the poet as a young boy, sitting in a straight-backed chair, in
profile, reading ‘a volume of his red Shakespeare set’.57 The child’s face is lit
up – it is a picture of absorption, theatrically lit, to evoke at once the mysteries
of reading while also suggesting, as paintings can, that pictures of reading are
nothing like reading (‘and there I’d sit and read all day’, Keats wrote, ‘like the
picture of somebody reading’).58 Eliot’s ‘Animula’ makes a different picture:

The heavy burden of the growing soul

Perplexes and offends more, day by day;
Week by week, offends and perplexes more
With the imperatives of ‘is and seems’
And may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
Curl up the small soul in the window seat
Behind the Encyclopaedia Britannica. (CPP, 107)
74 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Imagine: ‘Curl up the small soul in the window seat / Behind the Complete
Works of Shakespeare’; better for the soul, perhaps, but not for the poem,
as the lines might be thought to tread close to a kind of Christmas card
kitsch, while evading it partly by the deadpan glumness the ‘Encyclopaedia
Britannica’ brings to the lines.
Imagining a young boy saturated in Shakespeare would seem to be
compellingly connected to Eliot’s delicate descriptions of the power of
poetic memory to transmute its own materials. The Tempest, especially,
becomes, in Eliot’s writing, connected to compositional transmutation:
‘What is needed of art is a simplification of current life into something rich
and strange’; ‘it sank to the depths of Coleridge’s feeling, was saturated,
transformed there – ‘those are pearls that were his eyes’ – and brought up
into daylight’ ; ‘again and again the right imagery, saturated while it lay in
the depths of Shakespeare’s memory, will rise like Anadyomene from the
But if we consider Charlotte Eliot’s remarks, not in the light of her
daughter’s painting, nor in the later context of Eliot’s own discussions of
the powers of creative memory and retention, but within the immediate
surrounding of the letter to Milton Academy, then the picture starts to
look less like days of reading and more like hours of work: ‘I enclose a
list of studies here which my son has prepared [...] He has but two years
of German [. . .] He took the Latin prize last year at Smith Academy. His
teacher informs him that in the Harvard preliminaries he received credit
in English and French.’ The list in Eliot’s hand includes:

English: Hill’s Principles of Rhetoric. Pancoast’s Introduction to English

Literature. Reading: Othello, Golden Treasury, Macbeth, Burke’s Speech on
Conciliation [with America, 1775]. Milton’s Minor Poems, Macaulay’s
‘Milton’ and ‘Addison’. Themes. Elocution.60

There’s something faintly comic about the way Othello and Macbeth peep
out of this list on either side of the Golden Treasury, whole works in a list
of parts; major works in minor parts. The list reflects the strong emphasis
on rhetoric in late nineteenth-century American education, for which
Shakespeare, or more properly, parts of Shakespeare were used. In
nineteenth-century rhetorical readers, Shakespeare’s works are presented
as consisting of a series of extractable parts, or shreds. Eliot disparaged
anthologies of poetic drama, and the Temple Shakespeare referred to in
his letters is unabridged. At Harvard, Eliot took courses led by G. B. Baker,
whose book The Development of Shakespeare as a Dramatist emphasizes the
T. S. Eliot 75

plays as wholes, and the narrative shape of Shakespeare’s whole work. But
Eliot would have also frequently encountered the practice of extracting
speeches: Hill’s Rhetoric, for instance, to which Eliot refers here, includes
Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar as an example of persuasion; Pancoast’s
Introduction to English instructs his pupils to study Shakespeare’s ‘famous
description of Cleopatra in her barge’; advises students to ‘detach every-
thing’ spoken throughout a play by a particular character and ‘consider it
Imagining that his schoolbooks could tell us much about Eliot as a
future critic of Shakespeare would be to ‘riddle the inevitable’, as ‘Dry
Salvages’ puts it (CPP, 189). But there is a double strand in Eliot’s criticism
of Shakespeare which emphasizes, on one hand, the power of certain
scenes and isolated speeches (in ‘Rhetoric and Poetic Drama’: ‘the really
fine rhetoric of Shakespeare occurs in situations where a character in
the play sees himself in a dramatic light’), and, on the other, the pattern of
whole works, or the pattern across works. There’s also something about
Charlotte Eliot’s phrasing – ‘especially Shakespeare. He has read practically
all of Shakespeare, whom he admires, and retains much in memory’ – that
invites curiosity. Shakespeare is invoked in such a way that doesn’t quite
ring true, as might be true for any parent recommending her child to a
school, but there’s a whisper of an American mode in the way ‘practically
all’ of Shakespeare is called upon as evidence for the studiousness of this
‘modest but self-reliant’ child. Shakespeare in nineteenth-century America
is sometimes presented as a Royalist enemy, but, his works, especially their
power to instruct in oratory and rhetoric, would also be invoked as an index
of gentility, and it’s this aspect that is audible in Charlotte Eliot’s phrasing,
as the representative poet is introduced as one whom her son ‘admires’.
The American Shakespeare in the Eliot household would have been
coloured by Emerson, who described the ‘speculative genius’ of the
nineteenth century as ‘a sort of living Hamlet’; another reason, perhaps,
why this is the personage the speaker in ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock’ is not meant to be.62 What other versions of Shakespeare might
this small boy, growing up in St Louis, Missouri, in a Unitarian family,
have met? A boy whose grandfather counseled the young men of St
Louis never to neglect work and duty ‘for the beauties of Shakespeare’,
and warned them that ‘when we make a business of pleasure it becomes
hurtful’; a boy whose parents banned him from reading Huckleberry
Finn. Had young Eliot been permitted to read Twain’s book set on
the banks of the Mississippi where he was growing up, he would have
76 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Wonderful attraction! [. . .]
(by special request)
Done by him 300 consecutive nights in Paris!
For one night only
On account of imperative European engagements!63

Huck learns ‘Hamlet’s soliloquy’, ‘easy enough’: ‘to be, or not to be; that
is the bare bodkin / That makes calamity of so long life’. Twain playfully
brings out the kind of makeshift scene-making which took place along
the Mississippi frontier. Speeches from Shakespeare were anthologized in
rhetoric books as part of an education in eloquence, and they were turned
into entertainments; as in Victorian Britain, the patrician and the popular
are intersecting energies in and around Shakespeare. Shakespeare could
represent gentility, bookish education, the poetic, impersonal soul, and
he could be played with swashbuckling irreverence. Shakespeare is the
speculative genius of the nineteenth century, ‘a sort of Hamlet’, but also
‘Mr Hamlet of Broadway’, which the variety comedian Eddie Foy took on
tour in 1908, including such tunes as ‘the Hornpipe Rag’ and ‘Nimble
And these two attitudes can meet in one person:

In the middle of a rowdy seventeenth century playhouse the thought

of Shakespeare, the feeling and the shuddering personal experience
of Shakespeare moved solitary and unsoiled; solitary and free as the
thought of Spinoza in his study or Montaigne in his tower.65

O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag –

It’s so elegant
So intelligent (CPP, 65)

Is ‘O O O O’ an allusion to Shakespeare? It makes thin air appear. Hamlet

(in the Folio) dies on four of these elusive circles, at once emphatic and
empty, but Eliot also blurs this familiar dramatic sign, crossing it with an
allusion to a popular tune, ‘That Shakespearian Rag’ from 1912. Eliot’s
T. S. Eliot 77

allusions to Shakespeare raise questions about how much of a work is being

summoned. Consider how the end of ‘Portrait of a Lady’ alludes to the
beginning of Twelfth Night:

This music is successful with a ‘dying fall’

Now that we talk of dying –
And should I have the right to smile? (CPP, 21)

Duke. If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again, it had a dying fall;
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor. (1.1.1–7)

Eliot’s ending has Twelfth Night’s opening in its ears. Again. For ‘Portrait of
a Lady’ follows ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in Prufrock and Other

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room. (CPP, 14)

Taken together, the two poems allude to each other when they allude to
Shakespeare, and so, by being double, toy with the longings for repetition
that play upon Orsino, and with which he is shown to play. Orsino’s words
fondle the possibility of recurrence, ‘that strain’ coming back sweetly,
to end, again, in detumescence. Music, love, appetite, and repetition all
suggest communion with Eliot’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’, as the poem takes as
its subject talk of repetition and repetitive talk: the voice ‘returns like the
insistent out-of-tune / Of a broken violin’, the self ‘returning as before’,
and a ‘street-piano, mechanical and tired’ that ‘Reiterates some worn-out
common song’ (CPP, 19–20).
Of wit, Eliot writes: ‘It involves, probably, a recognition, implicit in the
expression of every experience, of other kinds of experience which are
possible.’ (SE, 303) By suggesting the present reiteration of something
played again, heard ‘Beneath the music from a farther room’, the allusions
to Orsino’s speech are themselves playing with the nature of allusiveness
as a variety of wit. Hearing a snatch of a tune, played again, can suggest to
a present consciousness a set of remembrances that may both steal from
78 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

and give to that present, as an allusion may suggest other possibilities by

showing how another context can fail to appear. As part of Shakespeare’s
play is invited into another whole, its original surrounding is both called
into being and rendered palpably absent:

She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,

And puts a record on the gramophone.

‘This music crept by me upon the waters’

And along the Strand up Queen Victoria Street (CPP, 69)

Imagine the record she chose to play as something like Ariel’s song in The
Tempest, the consolation of a tune that’s rich and strange. The following
line seems to have overheard the tune, as the sound seems to drifts up a
London street while also showing how this Shakespearean music strangely
bewilders agency, as it does for Ferdinand, ‘thence I have followed it, / (Or
it hath drawn me rather)’ (1.2.394–5).
Allusions can have dying falls, in the various senses that this phrase might
imply, ranging between the mournful sigh and the comic prat-fall. An
allusion signals how another surrounding is only partly there. Frequently
in Eliot’s verse the act of hearing something again can seem cognisant
of its own repetitiousness, and so conscious of its own passing even as it
happens again. The first ‘dying with a dying fall’ in Prufrock sketches in
caricature the wistfulness of catching a cadence in the act of passing away;
whereas the ‘‘dying fall’’ that ends ‘Portrait of a Lady’, could show a comic
self-consciousness about repeated utterances as if the speaker recognizes
how the end of his poem quotes from the start of Twelfth Night. Allusion can
also have a dying fall by frequent reiteration, sounding the comic but also
piteous sense which shows how the repetition of any cadence can become,
as ‘Portrait of a Lady’ imagines, ‘mechanical and tired’. Orsino’s words
recognize how the desire to play it again, to repeat, may fuel desire, but
repetition can also change any tune into a ‘worn-out common song’ (CPP,
In ‘Philip Massinger’ Eliot writes, ‘immature poets imitate; mature
poets steal’; poetic composition, then, is like Orsino’s sweet sound: it
steals and gives: ‘the good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling
which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn’ (SE,
206). Massinger is judged a meagre poet because of his inability to weld
his borrowings from Shakespeare into a unique whole, but the variety of
actions implicit in the two metaphors of tearing and of welding shows
T. S. Eliot 79

how any act of borrowing or of theft will prompt uncertainty about the
nature of the relations between materials. Allusion is an aspect of Eliot’s
work that is both a strength and a puzzle. As he says of Joyce’s style, his
allusions appear ‘suddenly and with great speed, part of the effect being
the extent of the vista opened to the imagination by the very lightest
Towards the end of ‘Portrait of a Lady’, the allusion to a theatrically
self-conscious speech that mentions ‘dying’ keeps company with other
allusions to plays and to dying in the poem: the epigraph from The Jew of
Malta, ‘An atmosphere of Juliet’s tomb’. Heard with ‘An English countess
goes upon the stage. / A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance’; together
they sketch the possibility of imagining plotted connections, but they do
so, paradoxically, by suggesting the absence of whole plots as Eliot wrote of
Jonson: ‘it is not so much skill in plot as skill in doing without plot’.67 (CPP,
18–20) The allusions to Shakespeare in ‘Portrait of a Lady’ are like the
apertures in Henry James’s house of fiction, sketched in his preface to The
Portrait of a Lady, with its theatrical sounding design, where many possible
windows are pierced through by the pressure of individual vision, and small
openings widen into prospects, minutiae ever-expanding into the potential
to see with another’s eyes.68
By showing how an original context is paradoxically returned by not
being there, allusiveness can convey how judgement is bound up by
context, or what Wittgenstein describes as ‘Umgebung’ (‘surrounding’):

A coronation is a picture of pomp and dignity. Cut one minute of this

proceeding out of its surroundings: the crown is being placed on the
head of the king in his coronation robes. – But in different surroundings
gold is the cheapest of metals, its gleam is thought vulgar. There the
fabric of the robe is cheap to produce. A crown is the parody of a
respectable hat. And so on.69

By imagining how the pomp of a public ceremony could appear different

in another surrounding, Wittgenstein describes a dramatic aspect shift,
something allusions also persuasively convey. Allusion, as a variety of wit,
can sometimes perform such cuts suddenly, and, as Eliot said of Joyce,
with a light touch, a vista opens, capable of taking in the same event as
both ‘proceeding’ and ‘parody’. Eliot’s ‘Coriolan’ plays with this shift
between pomp and parody, imagining two versions of events, as Eliot writes
elsewhere: ‘The modern ‘dictator’, a Hitler or Mussolini, must be thought
of [. . .] as a highly paid leading actor, whose business is to divert people
80 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

individually, from the spectacle of their own littleness as well as from more
useful business.’70

But how many eagles! and how many trumpets!

(And Easter Day, we didn’t get to the country,
So we took young Cyril to church. And they rang a bell
And he said right out loud, crumpets.) (CPP, 128)

Seriousness might be intensified by levity if, as Wittgenstein’s example also

suggests, they are held in contrast, and it is this alliance and proximity
between what Eliot variously describes as solemnity and gaiety, horror and
laughter, that captivates him intensely in Shakespeare:

For those who have experienced the full horror of life, tragedy is still
inadequate. Sophocles felt more of it than he could express, when
he wrote Oedipus the King; Shakespeare, when he wrote Hamlet; and
Shakespeare had the advantage of being able to employ the grave-
diggers. In the end horror and laughter may be one – only when horror
and laughter have become as horrible and as laughable as they may be;
and – whatever the conscious intention of the authors – you may laugh
or shudder over Oedipus or Hamlet or King Lear – or both at once: then
only do you perceive that the aim of the comic and the tragic dramatist
is the same: they are equally serious.71

Falling in love with poetic drama, for Eliot, has to do with falling out of
love with the academic study of philosophy. ‘I had a gnawing doubt,’ Eliot
recalled, ‘which I could not altogether conceal from myself, about my
choice of a profession – that of a university teacher of philosophy.’72 Around
that time he wrote to Norbert Wiener:

almost every philosophy seems to begin as a revolt of common sense

against some other theory, and ends – as it becomes more developed
and approaches completeness – by itself becoming equally prepos-
terous – to everyone but its author. The theories are certainly, all
of them, implicit in the inexact experience of every day, but once
extracted they make the world appear as strange as Bottom in his ass’s
T. S. Eliot 81

Describing how complete philosophical theories risk turning into private

worlds makes Eliot think of Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who
does, for a while, enter into a different world. The phrasing could suggest
‘they make the world appear as strange as (it does to) Bottom in his ass’s
head’, or: ‘they make the world appear as strange as Bottom in his ass’s
head’ (appears to the world, i.e. us). Bottom has ‘a most rare vision’, but
then he also says: ‘Man is but an ass, if he go about [t’] expound this
dream.’ (4.1.205–7) Titania falls in, then out, of love with Bottom; perhaps
Eliot had this infatuation in mind, with its intoxicated brevity, as something
like what he had felt for the allure of metaphysics.
In 1913, Eliot wrote, ‘as social human beings, our interest is to hold
various criteria of reality in various contexts and not try to be consistent;
diverse interests offset each other and produce an effect of stability. But as
philosophers, our aim is consistency at any price’.74 This is certainly not the
aim of all philosophers, but Eliot is questioning how conflicting and incon-
sistent interpersonal realities can come to intend an apparently identical
‘world’, and he is fraught by a concern for the particular. Eliot charac-
terized himself in 1915 as having a ‘fatal disposition toward scepticism’;
writing his dissertation on Bradley, he had ‘great difficulty, even agony,
with the first draft, owing to my attempt to reach a positive conclusion’.75
The conclusion Eliot eventually wrote to Knowledge and Experience in the
Philosophy of F. H. Bradley attempts to show that any self, whether a builder
of metaphysical systems or otherwise, is dramatically situated by multiple
perspectives. That these perspectives should, from alternate points of view,
appear mutually strange, as Bottom appears strange to his audiences in A
Midsummer Night’s Dream, is the point: the world ‘exists only as it is found in
the experiences of finite centres, experiences so mad and strange they will
be boiled away before you boil them down to one homogeneous mass’.76
In The Sacred Wood, this finds another expression: ‘what is permanent
and good in Romanticism is curiosity’ which ‘recognises that any life, if
accurately and profoundly penetrated, is interesting and always strange’.77
In The Sacred Wood, there are fragments of locutions derived from a
philosophical vocabulary; the pieces that Eliot gathered and revised to
make this volume repeatedly ponder the relations between philosophy
and poetry. One of the ways the material has become connected is by a
consideration of not doing philosophy. The emphasis that ‘a creation of
art’ should ‘replace the philosophy’ is one way that Eliot is articulating a
severance from another possible self that he could have been: the person
the department of philosophy at Harvard hoped to appoint, the person
his parents wished him to be.78 The volume is, in one sense, elegiac, as it
82 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

tries to put an aspect of its author’s own person to rest, while that person
is also still present in its pages, having become something different, an
impersonal ‘point of view’:

Without doubt, the effort of the philosopher proper, the man who is
trying to deal with ideas in themselves, and the effort of the poet, who
may be trying to realise ideas, cannot be carried on at the same time. But
this is not to deny that poetry can in some sense be philosophic.79

That the practice of philosophy and the efforts of a poet should not be
‘carried on at the same time’ is also emphatically rearticulated and refor-
mulated by Eliot: ‘for a poet to be also a philosopher he would have to
be virtually two men’, and the ‘genius for conceptual formulation and
abstraction [...] and the genius for transmuting a philosophy into poetry,
were in my opinion quite distinct: it would be a miracle, and almost a
monstrosity, for the two gifts, to the point of genius, to co-exist within the
same mind’.80 Eliot tells us that the philosopher who is also a poet would
be ‘virtually two men’, the activity should be performed ‘in two skulls’, it
is a ‘thorough schizophrenia’.81 Eliot’s emphatic descriptions of what this
double state might be like imply self-dramatization, and connect to his
fascination with how the staged predicament of being double can suggest
a lyric privilege of some kind : ‘where a character in the play sees himself
in a dramatic light’ (SE, 39). Thus Eliot describes the double state of the
poet-philosopher as unimaginable, as a ‘thorough schizophrenia’, but he
praises writers, especially dramatists, for their evocation of doubleness, of
a double world.
Traces of the concern in Knowledge and Experience with the situational
nature of judgements return in The Sacred Wood, particularly in the discus-
sions of poetic drama:

A speech in a play should never appear to be intended to move us as it

might conceivably move other characters in the play, for it is essential
that we should preserve our position as spectators, and observe always
from the outside though with complete understanding. The scene in
Julius Caesar is right because the object of our attention is not the speech
of Antony (Bedeutung) but the effect of his speech upon the mob, and
Antony’s intention, his preparation and consciousness of the effect.82

Eliot is not resolving conceptual tangles – they are reconfigured by the

stress placed on the interpersonal quality of dramatic writing. The theatre
T. S. Eliot 83

audience attends to the crowd witnessing Antony’s speech, and they witness
Antony’s speech affecting the crowd. An account which focused solely on
the thematic content of Antony’s speech would be listening to the speech
in a forensic way, as if part of the mob. But it is perhaps not that a speech
should ‘never’ seem to ‘be intended to move us’ as it might move the other
characters, or that we should ‘observe always from the outside’, because our
understanding of a scene derives from imagining what it would be like to
observe from the inside; that is, you can hear the compelling power that
Antony’s political rhetoric might have, and perhaps imagine being swayed
by it, while also observing its effect on the crowd and listening to Antony’s
consciousness of this effect. Weighing up these judgements has very little to
do with ‘suspending disbelief’. The speech must be partly intended to move
the theatre audience as it moves the mob; but also, crucially, intended to
move the different members of the audience in different ways; otherwise,
the audience’s attention would be united, and then the audience would
be a mob. Dramatic writing is directed to an impersonal composite of
divided points of view, and the wider divisions of an audience also compose
one person’s understanding of a scene; in Empson’s words, ‘the mind is
complex and ill-connected like an audience, and it is as surprising in the
one case as the other that a sort of unity can be produced by a play’.83
All of Eliot’s essays on Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists, including
Shakespeare, raise questions about uncertain authorship and the absence
of biographical information. His fascination with collaboration, interpo-
lation and audiences suggest that one appeal of Shakespearean plays is that
they are forums in which the author does not appear:

‘We possess a great deal of evidence’, says Mr Lewis, ‘as to what

Shakespeare thought of military glory and martial events.’ Do we? Or
rather, did Shakespeare think anything at all? He was occupied with
turning human actions into poetry.
I would suggest that none of the plays of Shakespeare has a ‘meaning’,
although it would be equally false to say that a play of Shakespeare is
meaningless. All great poetry gives the illusion of a view of life. (SE, 135)

The timing of ‘says Mr Lewis,’ has a quick audaciousness, as the inter-

rupted quotation trips up the original coercion of Lewis’s syntax. In The
Lion and the Fox (1927), Wyndham Lewis suggests Othello’s final speech is
‘one of the most significant things for the comprehension of Shakespeare’s
true thought’, revealing ‘the great spectacular ‘pugnacious’ male ideal’.84
Eliot finds it significant not through its fidelity to ‘true thought’, but in
84 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

its truthful exposure of an attitude, ‘this bovarysme, the human will to

see things as they are not’, whereas Lewis hears the speech as Othello
might wish to hear it – that is, lyrically. Eliot teaches us to listen in for the
discrepancy between what we may wish to hear from Shakespeare, and how
a figure in one of his plays may wish to be heard, as his phrase ‘occupied
with turning’ glances at both the metaphysical and the practical, suggesting
both powers of ‘transmutation’, but also the occupational turning of verse,
elsewhere articulated as ‘the attitude of the craftsman like Shakespeare –
whose business was to write plays and not to think’.85

Wittgenstein recommends a dramatic setting for the understanding of

utterances: ‘The contexts of a sentence are best portrayed in a play.
Therefore the best example for a sentence with a particular meaning is a
quotation from a play.’86 Take this passage from Hamlet (1.2, Folio text):

Queen. Thou know’st ’tis common, all that lives must dye,
Passing through Nature, to Eternity.
Ham[let]. I, Madam, it is common.
Queen. If it be;
Why seemes it so particular with thee.
Ham[let]. Seemes, Madam? Nay, it is: I know not Seemes: [. . .]

Gertrude’s phrase, ‘Thou know’st ’tis common, all that lives must dye’
is roughly equivalent to the proposition all too familiar to philosophers
– ‘all men are mortal’ – but she utters it for purposes different from
those which prompt philosophers. Speaking before the entire court to
her embarrassing son, still obstinately in mourning for her first husband,
Gertrude means something like ‘please stop making such a fuss’. Hamlet’s
response acknowledges the truth of what she says while deflecting its
intent. Wittgenstein’s remark points to the philosophical concern, later
summarized by J. L. Austin in his distinction between locutionary and
illocutionary force.87 By ‘particular’ Gertrude means ‘peculiar to you’,
and yet the exchange reveals how that which is particular to one person
arises between persons. The possibility of imagining personal inwardness
is made across voices: it could be Gertrude’s word, ‘particular’ which
gives the audience or reader a sense of meditations peculiar to Hamlet,
and it is their exchange – the parent’s willful rhyming, the child handing
back the parent’s words but altering their sense – which gives rise to a
T. S. Eliot 85

particular meaning, though not, in Gertrude’s sense, ‘particular’ to either

of them.
Eliot’s work prompts us to wonder what happens to a poem when it
begins to behave like a script:

‘What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?

I never know what you are thinking. Think.’

I think we are in rat’s alley

Where the dead men lost their bones.

‘What is that noise?’

The wind under the door.
‘What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?’
Nothing again nothing.
You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember

I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes. (CPP, 65)

The patterning of the lines gives rise to a shape borrowed from a theatrical
arrangement, as Eliot remarks of Seneca, ‘the sentence of one speaker is
caught up and twisted by the next. This was an effective stage trick, but it
is something more; it is the crossing of one rhythm pattern with another’
(SE, 88). In Eliot’s verse here it is not clear whether the words outside
speech marks are silent or spoken. The words within speech marks seem
to have overheard what they contain (‘What is the wind doing’), although
it may be that both voices have heard the wind, or that two distinct voices
are not present at all. The uncertainty creates the two aspects of what Eliot
thought necessary for a ‘large poem’, both an ‘impersonal point of view’,
and a ‘splitting’ up ‘into various personalities’ (SE, 321). Barbara Everett
hears how ‘the spiky fragile demands of the woman are menaced’ by the
‘engulfing silence of a relation always emptying itself under her ravenous
approaches’.88 This has listened to one performance of the lines, but the
adjectival ascription of personal tone should nevertheless be more hesitant,
greatly though the lines suggest a variety of possible adjectives. Everett
characterizes the voices as spoken and silent, but the lines show an indeter-
minate relation, holding the capacity to be neither silent nor spoken, and
86 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

so to be hauntingly both. The double world in ‘A Game of Chess’ is on

one hand highly dramatic, and although the stylized voices suggest self-
conscious theatricality, the moment could not be played.
In Hamlet (1919), Eliot writes:

So far from being Shakespeare’s masterpiece, the play is most certainly

an artistic failure. In several ways the play is puzzling, and disquieting
as is none of the others. Of all the plays it is the longest and is possibly
the one on which Shakespeare spent most pains; and yet he has left
in it superfluous and inconsistent scenes which even hasty revision
should have noticed. The versification is variable. Lines like
Look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill,
are of the Shakespeare of Romeo and Juliet. The lines in Act V. Sc.ii,
Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting
That would not let me sleep ...
Up from my cabin,
My sea-gown scarf’d about me, in the dark
Grop’d I to find them out: had my desire;
Finger’d their packet;
are of his quite mature. Both workmanship and thought are in an
unstable position. (SE, 143–4)

The quotations Eliot selects here for comparison are, characteristically,

well heard. But the subsequent judgement is odd. The fact that Horatio,
in the first act, and Hamlet, at the end of the play, sound different is not
proof of instability. While the workmanship of Hamlet may be variable
(which is not the same as unstable), this is not a criterion for artistic failure;
variable thought and workmanship could be a criterion for artistic success.
What would a play sound like if the workmanship and thought were stable
throughout the whole piece? It wouldn’t sound dramatic. As a general
principle of dramatic verse, comfortable, unembarrassed transitions would
not represent the kinds of transitions that can take place between people.
The degree to which transitions fail to startle is not the right yard-stick for
gauging the effects of Shakespeare’s poetic drama, which is persistently
animated by the ‘sudden and unprepared transitions’ between levels of
style that Coleridge thought a defect of Wordsworth’s verse.89 Yet Eliot’s
early verse is alive to just such ‘sudden and unprepared transitions’
between styles which the essay on Hamlet finds ‘unstable’; at the end of
‘Preludes’, for instance:
T. S. Eliot 87

I am moved by fancies that are curled

Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;

The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots. (CPP, 23)

Eliot explicitly revises the 1919 views on Hamlet in his 1951 lecture, ‘Poetry
and Drama’, where he praises a dramatic movement between registers:

So have I heard and do in part believe it.

But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill.
Break we our watch up.
This is great poetry, and it is dramatic; but besides being poetic and
dramatic, it is something more. There emerges, when we analyse it, a
kind of musical design also which reinforces and is one with the dramatic
movement. It has checked and accelerated the pulse of our emotion
without our knowing it. [...] When we hear the lines
But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill,
we are lifted for a moment beyond character, but with no sense of
unfitness of the words coming, and at this moment, from the lips of
Horatio. The transitions in the scene obey laws of the music of dramatic
poetry. [. . .] It would be interesting to pursue, by a similar analysis, this
problem of the double pattern in great poetic drama – the pattern which
may be examined from the point of view of stagecraft or from that of the
music. But I think that the examination of this one scene is enough to
show us that verse is not merely a formalization, or an added decoration,
but that it intensifies the drama.90

Horatio points to the passing of time, but, by pausing to describe the

dawn, his words also slow down dramatic time. To say these two aspects of
the verse’s musical design have ‘checked and accelerated the pulse of our
emotion without our knowing it’ (my emphasis), is not quite right, because
the effect is not derived, as Eliot says elsewhere of verse, from an ‘unper-
ceived evasion of monotony’ (my emphasis), but depends on being partly
perceived by both the audience and the other characters on the stage; the
88 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

intersection of these fields of attention is aptly described by his phrase a

‘double pattern’ which he says ‘may be examined from the point of view of
stagecraft or from that of music’.91
The rhetorical term for Horatio’s description of time is chronography,
as Frank Kermode points out, writing of these lines: ‘we move without
discomfort from that qualified scepticism to the grander style of chron-
ography, and then equally without embarrassment, the verse returns to
business’.92 But the verse is still ‘in business’ when it is being grand. From
one point of view, these lines are a stage direction: ‘the sun rises’; but if
these lines were, in a modern theatre, replaced by lighting, and Horatio
were to say: ‘So have I heard, and do in part believe it / Break we our watch
up’, several things would be lost. First, our knowledge of how it is that
Horatio notices and chooses to describe the dawn; secondly, the force that
these two registers collect by not being on the same level as each other.
Horatio’s lines have their function as a stage device, but the dramaturgy
also works towards creating the appearance of a listening character. He has
just heard the stories reported by Marcellus, and said he is not quite sure if
he believes them. After all, Horatio has been to university: he is sceptical,
and he can make metaphors. Another way of describing the grander style
of, ‘But look the morn in russet mantle clad / Walks [. . .] ’, would be to
say that Horatio is changing the subject. Marcellus believes in the power of
Christmas, and has just said (in the Folio): ‘And then (they say) no Spirit
can walke abroad’ (my emphasis). Some editors choose to print Marcellus’s
lines as ‘And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad’; yet either way,
the atmosphere of ghosts still lingers in Horatio’s decision to describe
the dawn as an approaching, mantled figure. Horatio may only ‘in part’
believe what he has just heard, but the exchange still hangs on his voice, as
evidence that the characters in the play, real and ghostly, are breathing the
same air. This exchange shows us, I think, what Eliot means when he says: ‘a
verse play is not a play done into verse, but a different kind of play: in a way
more realistic than ‘naturalistic drama’, because instead of clothing nature
in poetry, it should remove the surface of things, expose the underneath,
the inside, of the natural surface appearance’.93

In ‘Reflections on Vers Libre’ (1917), Eliot writes:

We may therefore formulate as follows: the ghost of some simple metre

should lurk behind the arras in even the ‘freest’ verse; to advance
T. S. Eliot 89

menacingly as we doze, and withdraw as we rouse. Or, freedom is only

truly freedom when it appears against the background of an artificial

Hamlet, recognizably, is called up, but the story is confused. Two fathers,
and so two forms of the past, appear at once in this allusion, the ghost
of Hamlet’s father, and Polonius, but Eliot places the one who can’t be
killed where the other dies. Further aspects of the scene are present in
the description, as it imagines both the knowledge that there is someone
behind the arras, and conceives of the uncertainty of their physical or
metaphysical status, as Gertrude knows who is concealed, while at first
Hamlet doesn’t; and as Gertrude can’t see the ghost, while Hamlet can. The
dying falls in the first two poems of Prufrock are both allusions that reflect
on the nature of allusiveness; here, too, Eliot discusses the allusiveness of
versification through allusion.
Questions arise through this allusion about the extent of the vista that
is brought in, as other connections to the Jacobean drama are suggested
by Eliot’s concealed auditor. In Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge, a curtain is
parted to reveal the ghost of Andrugio, and, in Shakespeare’s theatre, the
prompter occupied the concealed space variously described as the curtains
or arras. Eliot’s metrical ghost has a comic quality, seemingly aware of when
to prompt, and when to be silent. This not only describes a metaphysi-
cally uncertain identity, but the description itself holds metaphysical
uncertainties, as it points to questions about what kind of consciousness
rhythmicality might be said to inhabit. The ghost references the practice of
allusion, and so evokes the way in which one context can delimit another
by being returned through not being there. A wide field of possibilities
opens, where an ambiguous number of presences and persons appear as
co-present with, or near, the rhythmic self.
Eliot’s 1917 metrical ghost also holds facets of levity and seriousness.
It conjures up a crime scene: it will ‘advance menacingly as we doze, and
withdraw as we rouse’. Here, no crime ever occurs, but part of the absurd
melodrama imagined is that it is ever on the verge of occurring, and evokes
an entertaining theatricality which leaves you guessing, gesturing towards
the ‘thriller interest’ Eliot found in Oedipus, and recognizing, as he wrote,
how ‘the frontier of drama and melodrama is vague; the difference is largely
a matter of emphasis; perhaps no drama has ever been greatly and perma-
nently successful without a large melodramatic element’ (SE, 81, 467).
The sense of a concealed auditor with an ambiguous metaphysical
status stayed with Eliot. The ghost advances menacingly ‘as we doze’; in
90 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

The Family Reunion, it is ‘At the moment before sleep’ that Harry sees the
Eumenides, ‘their claws distended / Quietly, as if they had never stirred’.
The ghosts are ‘spying’ on Harry: ‘Why do you play with me, why do you
let me go, / Only to surround me?’ Knowing that they’re there, he begs
them to ‘Come out!’. Then, ‘The curtains part, revealing the Eumenides’,
with a timeliness reminiscent of the ghost in his 1917 essay on verse (CPP,
311). A rejected fragment from the drafts of The Waste Land gives another

Where’s a cocktail shaker, Ben, here’s plenty of cracked ice.

Remember me.95

The sudden utterance turns this cocktail party into an ‘undertakers’

ball’.96 Eliot’s ghosts have a comic quality, as the apparitions are eerily and
ridiculously tied to the individual voice. His account of verse entertainingly
locates the self in a dramatic relationship with metrical history; but if it is
dramatic, it is giving us two different kinds of ‘play’. From one point of
view, it is remembering a theatrical locatedness by conjuring a dramatically
charged scene, in which palpable devices of the theatre are being put to
use. It also presents another point of view: a scenario that is distant from
the action of theatrical performance, an exchange of entrances and exits
between voices, where, as Eliot said of Marivaux’s plays, personages ‘turn
up again and again, and they might be the same people, come back to play
at life as an end-game with the chessmen shifted about’.97
In ‘Reflections on Vers Libre’, Eliot discusses the ‘evasion and recog-
nition of regularity’, and considers instances from Webster’s dramatic
verse which show the ‘irregularity of deliberation’.98 His examples show
figures in crisis: Brachiano dying, Cornelia mad in The White Devil: ‘There’s
rosemary for you – and rue for you – ’; ‘here’s a white hand: Can blood so
soon be washed out?’99 Whether we take this as an example of a good poet
‘stealing’, or as evidence of Webster expediently cobbling his lines together
from instances in Shakespeare, or as an instance of popular entertainments
delighting in cross-references or re-hashings, Eliot’s attraction to this scene
points to his fascination with the uncertain contours of what is individual
to one playwright: sometimes in the shape of parody, ‘Shakespeare made
fun of Marston, and Jonson made fun of Kyd’, but also through the trans-
mutation of influences, ‘the Elizabethans distorted and travestied Seneca’
but ‘they also learned from him the essentials of declaimed verse’ (SE, 40,
91). Eliot’s repeated concern to evoke the porous relations between collec-
tivity and the individual puts to practice the statement in ‘Tradition and
T. S. Eliot 91

the Individual Talent’ that ‘No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete
meaning alone’: ‘Without bombast, we should not have had King Lear.’ (SE,
15, 91)

Eliot’s Shakespearean allusions incite acts of recognition. The ‘ghost of

some simple metre’ considers, within its allusion, degrees of allusiveness,
‘withdrawing’ and ‘rousing’, conjuring several potential Jacobean theatrical
contexts, but it does so within the frame of highly recognizable allusions
to Shakespeare. In The Waste Land, ‘A Game of Chess’ begins and ends
with two recognizable allusions to Shakespeare. This invites self-conscious
reflection upon acts of recognition. And yet what is being recognized?
Something that is not there is imagined:

Eno. I will tell you.

The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burnt on the water. The poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them; [...] (Antony and Cleopatra,

The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,

Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it, [...] (CPP, 64)

Although Cleopatra’s own person is not really described – ‘For her own
person, / It beggar’d all description’ (2.2.197–8) – she is made to appear
in such a way that is different from an actual appearance on stage.
Enobarbus’s description holds innuendos and paradoxical depictions of
agency that a visual spectacle could not convey, and the speech gives us
the additional perspective of how Enobarbus has chosen to convey the
theatrical spectacle he describes. Enobarbus depicts an event, a group
costuming, and his own voice too is costumed for the group of Romans he
addresses. He has not yet spoken with such copiousness until this point in
92 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

the play. It could be politically expedient that Cleopatra should be made to

appear, to the Romans, tantalizing to the point of beggaring description,
but, at this point in the play, it’s also something of a political faux pas.
The verse has a practical dramatic function with a wide reach beyond the
merely practical, as it is a costume lavishly cross-dressing the boy who plays
Cleopatra, giving him a magnificent entrance when he is not on stage. The
speech is an instance of a lively turning from North: the historical account
is reanimated by a voice that is engaged in personation, and so the speech
sounds partly scripted and partly improvised through the play of syntax
against the line.
The dramatic and theatrical locatedness of Enobarbus’s speech is absent
as ‘A Game of Chess’ opens. Unlike Enobarbus’s speech in the play, it is
unclear whether this description is being spoken for anyone. The allusion
might be identifying an actual woman with Cleopatra, who is in turn
perhaps connected to other female figures from tragic plays in the section
– the Duchess of Malfi, Ophelia – or it could be referencing Enobarbus’s
description and perception of Cleopatra. The instance that the allusion
opens up to in ‘A Game of Chess’ is itself copious, self-consciously
synthetic, as the ‘glass’ in which the ‘flames’ are ‘doubled’ seems to refer
to how Cleopatra’s theatrical self-dramatization is ‘doubled’ by voices, first
by Enobarbus’s, and then by this speaker’s.
The opening of ‘A Game of Chess’ is a definite point at which the
allusion to act 2, scene 2 of Antony and Cleopatra begins, but it is difficult
to say where that allusion ends. After Enobarbus’s speech, the diction
shifts: high copiousness is heard in contrast to ‘Royal Wench! / She made
great Caesar lay his sword to bed; / He ploughed her, and she cropp’d’
(2.2.227–9). Shakespeare’s sudden transitions in this scene could be heard
to carry over into the structure of ‘A Game of Chess’: the ‘antique mantel’
displaying the ‘change of Philomel’ points to a different sense of ‘antique’,
as we switch to a different speaker, who, like Enobarbus, is rendering an
absent person present through voice: ‘(She’s had five already, and nearly
died of young George.)’ Between the two speakers, and between the
persons they speak of, Empson’s words might be invoked again, as ‘queer
connections can be insinuated powerfully and unobtrusively’:100

You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.

(And her only thirty-one.)
I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
T. S. Eliot 93

The chemist said it would be alright, but I’ve never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don’t want children ?
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot –
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.
(CPP, 66)

Inside the person’s voice who says, ‘When Lil’s husband got demobbed’,
there is this voice’s characterization of its own past voice speaking to Lil (‘I
said’): included within this speaking voice is Albert’s reported voice (‘You
have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set’) together with Lil’s own voice,
which also holds the chemist’s voice (‘The chemist said it would be alright,
but I’ve never been the same’). There is also a voice saying ‘HURRY UP
PLEASE ITS TIME’, and indeterminate voices saying ‘Goonight’, and then
the voice which is partly Ophelia’s, partly Shakespeare’s, partly Laforgue’s,
and partly Eliot’s, ‘Good night, ladies, good night [...]’. My attempt to
characterize these voices into distinct speakers becomes comically gauche,
but they unfold, in the verse, with comic ease.
Writing to his cousin, Eleanor Hinkley, while crossing the Atlantic in
1914, Eliot’s letter suddenly announces:

Collected from various sources:

Well I never should have said you came from St Louis . . . Is Harvard
going to be your college . . . How did you enjoy your visit to America?
. . . Well I thought you were an Englishman . . . when I look at the water,
heven, it ’eaves my stomach ’orrible . . . But my you do have grand
thoughts! . . . why aren’t you dancing . . .Very pleased to meet you . . . My
name’s Calkins, Michigan 1914 . . . Aw wish I’d known what was good for
me and staid in Detroit Michigan, it’s a long swim to the Irish coast . . .101

‘This is not a real letter’, Eliot ends; and yet the letter might be thought
to be both more real than some letters and more unreal at once, as it is
collected from real talk, searching, perhaps, for those phrases that fascinate
94 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Eliot in Dickens in their capacity to make a character as real as flesh and

blood, as unspecified characters appear from all directions.
In ‘A Game of Chess’, there are not only several voices present, one of
which opens up to characterizations of figures through its own voice and
the creation of others’ voices, but several silent, indistinct figures, like the
auditor being spoken to, and another auditor, perhaps, overhearing the
conversation. There are also ‘others’ that are mentioned, the suggestion
of Lil’s past self (‘but I’ve never been the same’), and the children ‘(She’s
had five already, and nearly died of young George.)’, which also have an
indeterminate life as persons. Is young George part of those five or an
additional sixth? Lil is alive although she ‘nearly died of young George’, but
‘young George’ could be dead, and one or more of the five could be dead,
as the line, ‘It’s them pills I took to bring it off’ suggests another, indistinct
dead child.
As there is no ‘PUBLICAN:’ before ‘HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME’, the
line evokes both closing time and something else, and that might seem true
for someone sitting in a pub hearing time called, as it could for someone
reading The Waste Land. The verse patterns these experiences, some of
them ordinary, into something extraordinary. Eliot’s versification here is
another consciousness in the scene, both intimately present and indistinct,
seeming to emanate from the human, spoken voices, but also overhearing
those voices, and moving their speech patterns into verse patterns that do
not belong to a particular person or persons, but creates common places
for those persons, listening to them speak. In ‘A Game of Chess’, three of
the references to poetic dramas allude to moments when a character is
unaware of another presence on stage of which the audience is aware. The
allusions to The Duchess of Malfi gesture to the moment when Ferdinand
enters unseen; Eliot’s note, ‘Cf. the game of chess in Middleton’s Woman
Beware Women’ refers to act 2, scene, 2, where a character’s attention is
held by a game of chess while every move in the game corresponds to the
forceful seduction taking place in a gallery above. ‘I remember / Those
are pearls that were his eyes’ takes us to The Tempest again (Act 1, scene
2). After the stage direction ‘Enter Ferdinand and Ariel, invisible playing &
singing’, Ferdinand wonders (in the Folio text):

Fer[dinand]. Where shold this Musick be? I’th aire, or th’earth?

It sounds no more: and sure it waytes upon
Some God ’oth’Iland, sitting on a banke,
Weeping againe the King my Fathers wracke,
This Musicke crept by me upon the waters,
T. S. Eliot 95

Allaying both their fury, and my passion

With it’s sweet ayre: thence I have follow’d it,
(Or it hath drawne me rather) but ’tis gone.
No, it begins againe.
Ariell Song. Full fadom five thy Father lies
Of his bones are Corrall made:
Those are pearles that were his eies,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a Sea-change
Into something rich, & strange:
Sea Nimphs hourly ring his knell
Burthen: ding dong.
Harke now I heare them, ding-dong bell.
Fer[dinand]. The Ditty do’s remember my drown’d father,
This is no mortall busines, nor no sound
That the earth owes: I hear it now above me.
Pro[spero]. The fringed Curtaines of thine eye advance,
And say what thou see’st yond.
Mira[nda]. What is’t a Spirit?

Here, unseen presences are different from those in the compelling scenes
of intrigue in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and Middleton’s Women Beware
Women. Shakespeare’s Ferdinand is hearing something on the edge of his
attention, not wholly apparent to him, and differently apparent to the
audience, while Prospero, and then Miranda, are also watching him from
the corner of the stage. The whole scene stretches auditory awareness in a
variety of ways. The verse spoken by Ferdinand and Ariel strikes differing
notes, but brings to light reciprocal worlds. There are many reasons why
this scene is connected in Eliot’s mind with the practice of allusion.102
Ariel’s song consoles Ferdinand but also lies to him, yet as it speaks of
transformations, the song seems also to look forward to the ‘high miracle’
of reunion at the end of the play: ‘the pattern movement has a solemnity
of its own (e.g. Shakespeare’s songs) however light and gay the human
emotion concerned; and a gaiety of its own, however serious or tragic the
Dramatic recognition, for Eliot, is connected to the artfully surprising
resurrections of the past that allusion can incite. Powers of transmutation
are suggested not just by what Ariel sings, but by the shape-changing of eyes
to pearls, which has a wider, reciprocal configuration through the shape of
the scene, as we watch Ferdinand changing out of grief, reminded of his
96 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

‘drown’d father’ (who isn’t drowned), but finding ‘strange consolation’ in a

song that comes to his ears (SE, 138). The scene from The Tempest suggests
the presence of metaphysically uncertain objects: Ariel is a performing
object, seeming to be music that ‘crept’; the pearls that have been eyes
seem to respond to Ferdinand’s tears; and Ferdinand appears to Miranda
as an uncertain object, ‘What is’t a Spirit?’. Shakespeare shows the complex
object of mistaken grief changing into consolation: he writes of sorrow
becoming an object of beauty, which also matters to The Waste Land:

By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept ...

Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long. (CPP, 67)

In ‘A Game of Chess’, the allusions to poetic dramas show the varieties of

love’s forms: the sexual power of Cleopatra, clandestine love in the Duchess
of Malfi, Ophelia’s sorrow in love, seduction in Women Beware Women and,
between Ferdinand and Miranda, first love. The scene from The Tempest
shows a point of transition between grief and love, which is another reason
why it matters to Eliot’s practice of allusion, connected as it is in his imagi-
nation to the powers of captivation: ‘when a young writer is seized with
his first passion of this sort he may be changed, metamorphosed almost,
within a few weeks even, from a bundle of second-hand sentiments into
a person’.104
Eliot describes poetic drama as able to show us ‘a fringe of indefinite
extent, of feeling we can only detect, so to speak, out of the corner of the
eye’.105 When Prospero says ‘The fringed Curtaines of thine eye advance’
the impalpable detail of Miranda’s gaze raising, fringed with eyelashes, is
made apparent; but, for a brief moment, this line also seems to not only
address her, but also the audience, and describe the whole scene, which
has stretched perception to various but patterned degrees, and has done
so with the ease and grace of simply raising your eyes to glance, so that
like Ferdinand you are not sure whether you have ‘follow’d’ or been
The Waste Land is not only contrasting a glorious past with a corrupt
present, but practising the notion that ‘in art there should be inter-
penetration and metamorphosis’, and showing how in its world, and in
others, as Eliot wrote of Antony and Cleopatra, ‘the fusion of sordidness and
magnificence is so essential a part of the pattern’.106 Words spoken about
Lil and the echo of Ophelia’s words listen to each other through and across
differences. They are of an equal sorrow and an equal sweetness. The Waste
T. S. Eliot 97

Land is in this sense, for Eliot, and for his readers, a Shakespearean poem:
‘What Shakespeare makes me feel [. . .] is not so much that his characters
are creatures like myself, but that I am a creature like his creatures, taking
part, like them, in no common action, of which I am, for the most part,
quite unaware.’107

Consider again the statement Eliot makes about Shakespeare in 1932 in

his essay on Ford:

The whole of Shakespeare’s work is one poem; and it is the poetry of it in

this sense, not the poetry of isolated lines and passages or the poetry of
the single figures which he created, that matters most. (SE, 203)

This is both emphatic, and oddly elliptical, defining ‘this sense’ by

negatives, perhaps referring back to the beginning of the essay: ‘the
whole pattern formed by the sequence of plays’; ‘we must know all of
Shakespeare’s work in order to know any of it’. What does Eliot mean by
saying ‘the whole of Shakespeare’s work is one poem’? Try: ‘the whole of
Wordsworth’s work is one poem’. Of course Shakespeare (mostly) wrote
plays. But, we might hesitate to say that the whole of Marlowe’s work is
one poem, or the whole of Shakespeare’s work is one play. Many of Eliot’s
essays from 1927 on insist upon the unity of a writer’s oeuvre; this contrasts
with Eliot’s own self-directed descriptions of wholeness, which are always
qualified: ‘that’s one way my mind does seem to have worked throughout
the years poetically – doing things separately and then seeing the possi-
bility of fusing them together, altering them, and making a kind of whole
of them’, where the qualification before the word ‘whole’ emphasizes
Eliot tells us ‘it is not the poetry of isolated lines’ that matters, but, as
we’ve seen, his criticism is most agile at showing us isolated lines. There
is a slight misfit between what Eliot tells us about Shakespeare and what
he shows us about Shakespeare’s works. This might be seen as charming
or beguiling, and can be compared to how, in ‘East Coker’, we hear ‘Not
the intense moment / Isolated, with no before and after’, while his critical
essays frequently draw attention to how moments of intensity urgently
matter for poetry. But these are not contradictions: it is through intense
moments that we can come to learn what Eliot means by ‘one poem’. He
hears (from King John):
98 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Your sword is bright, sir, put it up again

That is surely the line which appears in its full splendour in Othello:
Keep up your bright swords for the dew will rust them.108

This sheds light not just on Eliot’s notion of Shakespeare’s work as a whole,
but also on what he might have thought an oeuvre to be: for Eliot, a life’s
work, one poem, or any one poem, consists of self-revisions and hauntings.
That one great line he shows us as leaping out so surprisingly towards the
end of Love’s Labours Lost – ‘To move wild laughter in the face of death?’
(5.2.855) – will prompt us to listen in to the laughter, whispers and wildness
that runs through his work. In ‘Marina’: ‘Whispers and small laughter
between leaves and hurrying feet / Under sleep, where all the waters meet.’
(CPP, 109) And in ‘East Coker’: ‘Whisper of running streams, and winter
lightning. / The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry’ (CPP, 180).
Or the end of ‘Burnt Norton’:

Sudden in a shaft of sunlight

Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always –
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after. (CPP, 176)

In Four Quartets, it is as if some of Shakespeare’s verse becomes part of a

particular kind of intensity that the poem is made out of and takes as its
subject matter. Here, there are Shakespearean echoes that are not exactly
allusions, as we might find in ‘East Coker’s’ ‘lightning’ a memory of how
Eliot hears this word in Romeo and Juliet as a signal of the ‘sudden and
disastrous power of [. . .] passion’; or more strongly, Hamlet’s ‘Sure He that
made us with such large discourse, / Looking before and after’ (4.4.36–7),
together with, at the end of a poem which turned out to be a beginning,
the end of King Lear, ‘The weight of this sad time we must obey, / Speak
what we feel, not what we ought to say: [. . .]’ (5.3.324–5).
The sparks of creative initiation may be, for Eliot, revisionary, and
his published poems are adept at prompting us to recognize flashbacks
between them, and so, retrospectively, we conjure up the notions of
presentiment and union. There are many instances where a backward
look, half tender, half critical, is the signal for some kind of beginning
for Eliot, as if the first attempt were a premonition of an obligation
T. S. Eliot 99

to return. ‘Burnt Norton’ begins ‘Time present and time past / Are
both perhaps present in time future’, but perhaps it begins earlier: the
poem’s first world is in the scene with the second tempter from Murder
in the Cathedral for which Eliot first wrote those lines and which he
then cut from his drama (CPP, 171). Therefore to say that self-revision
informs both the practice and the substance of Eliot’s works might be
compared to saying that repetition is both the substance and practice
of Samuel Beckett’s works. Repetition persists within Beckett’s works
and across them; repetition is both his material and his subject. As a
compositional practice, self-repetition and revision especially fascinate
Eliot in Shakespeare, as he stresses how poets borrow from themselves,
and so commit, in Beckett’s words, ‘that most necessary, wholesome
and monotonous plagiarism – the plagiarism of oneself’.109 We might
be tempted to say of Eliot that his work is one poem; or, differently, that
he never stopped writing one poem, and that the repeated self-revision
is an activity, like May’s pacing in Beckett’s play Footfalls, in which he is
trapped and to which he is devoted.
Many lines of Eliot’s verse phrase and rephrase the temporal paradoxes
of creative inception and retrospection. It is one of his signature tunes:
‘What we call the beginning is often the end / And to make an end is to
make a beginning. / The end is where we start from.’ (CPP, 197) Such
words are often extracted from ‘Little Gidding’ and polished with fond,
talismanic fascination, reappearing as pithy slogans or epigraphs, rather
as lines of Shakespeare’s – such lines as Eliot himself helped us to hear
as having a particular intensity – ripeness is all – are plucked from their
situated, dramatic context. This is perhaps what Eliot is cautioning us
against in the remark which recommends that we think of Shakespeare as
writing one poem: it’s not the poetry of isolated lines that matters; not the
intense moment, isolated (as Donald Davie heard, when he described the
voices of Four Quartets as ‘delicately off-key’).110 Nor can this explain away
the power of some gnomic utterances to captivate, as they gain their force
from the position they occupy in a work, strangely flashing out from their
places and intimately belonging to them at once. You can listen again and
again, and not come to the end of their mystery.
In Henry James’s 1907 introduction to The Tempest, the twilight of an
artist’s late style is sketched as both a ‘scenario’ and an improvisation: ‘he
sits at the harpsichord, by the open window, in the summer dusk; his hands
wander over the keys. They stray far, for his motive, but at last he finds it
and holds it; then he lets himself go, embroidering and refining’. He writes
that it is ‘a concert of one, both performer and auditor, who plays for his
100 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

own ear, his own hand, his own innermost sense, and for the bliss and
capacity of his instrument’.111 James then cautions that such moments for
the artist are finite. His sensual depictions of a late style can be compared
with the way that one of Eliot’s last great poems, ‘East Coker’ has the rough
magic of Shakespeare’s play in its ears. ‘East Coker’ hears, as James does,
how artifice comes undone, lingering on the frayed end of a scene:

As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing façade are all being rolled away –
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing –
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. (CPP, 180)

The twilight states imagined here differ from the brief, improvised bliss
of James’s musical summer dusk. But Four Quartets also imagines the
lyric privilege of improvizing dulcet sounds while being sceptical of that
privilege: ‘You are the music / While the music lasts’, lines that might
be heard as sung ecstatically (imagine this as a song lyric), or spoken
tentatively (‘you are the music, but only in the flickering moment while
it lasts’). James’s essay on The Tempest can prompt us to listen in for those
notes in ‘East Coker’ that register a kind of shimmering uncertainty (‘As,
in a theatre’, ‘or as’, ‘or when’); these stitchings in the verse are themselves
a kind of assurance of pattern, such as Prospero is shown to have, which
permits taking pleasure in the shivers of contingency because the direction
of a pattern is comprehended: this is the bliss of knowing where you are
going, and the pleasure of appearing not to know.
But that is only part of the presence of The Tempest in ‘East Coker’, as
here Eliot speaks obliquely of the hollow rumble in a theatre of war. The
moment from the play that Eliot alludes to signals a timely glitch in the
fabric of the work, when Prospero is shown to be suddenly forgetful of the
conspiracy upon his life. The graceful entertainments collapse:
T. S. Eliot 101

Enter certain Reapers, properly habited: they

join with the Nymphs in a graceful dance,
towards the end whereof Prospero starts
suddenly, and speaks; after which, to a
strange, hollow, and confused noise, they
heavily vanish. (following 4.1.138)

Eliot is drawn to moments in Shakespeare’s late plays, as ‘Marina’ also

testifies, where grace and heaviness intersect, crossing music and noise.
For ‘the scene to be changed / With a hollow rumble of wings’ conjures
up how the enchantments of illusions fold away. The dramatic moment
in The Tempest flickers across the stage, and is quickly past, as Prospero
soars into his virtuoso speech which might also be imagined as an embroi-
dered change of subject. But Eliot’s lines dwell inside that gesture, ‘starts
suddenly’, drawing out the quick glimpse of a vacuum where all may not
be well, and elaborating the frisson of doubt into extended similes which
sound at once tentative, as they unfold with something like the fragility of a
thought shown in the act dawning, and, at the same time, the verse makes
epic noise, singing of an underworld layering ‘darkness on darkness’, a
world proleptic of emptiness. Here Hamlet returns to fade, ‘I said to my
soul, be still’:

All is not well,

I doubt some foul play. Would the night were come!
Till then sit still, my soul. [Foul] deeds will rise,
Though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes. (1.2.254–7)

This moment shows a character in a play waiting for the scene to be

changed, or, more strongly, wanting the scene to be changed: the soul is
shown in disquiet as it is somehow out of kilter with the dramatic time it
must inhabit. Lingering over this moment, we can imagine how a tragedy
can seem itself to be a foul play, toying with the victims in its story, drawing
out disquiet, tricking its participants into believing they are moving when
they are, in fact, being moved. The two moments from Hamlet and The
Tempest seem to have met in Eliot’s imagination as compacted instances of
premonition, a dawning that all is not well, while the hope that ‘all shall be
well’ that echoes through ‘Little Gidding’ isn’t something that ‘East Coker’
can yet know.
The allusions show Eliot’s imagination hovering over foreboding. One
shape that Eliot’s fascination with Shakespeare takes is through such
102 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

collapses, meltings, disintegrations, destructions: think of the dying fall in

Antony and Cleopatra; the God Hercules leaving Antony; Othello’s words.
The interim between scenes imagined by ‘East Coker’ might be compared
to Walter Benjamin’s description of theatrical action. Benjamin’s scene,
like Eliot’s, concentrates its attention on the fringes of a theatre; it waits,
like ‘East Coker’, for stillness and for light:

Again and again, in Shakespeare, in Calderón, battles fill the last act, and
kings, princes, attendants and followers ‘enter fleeing’. The moment in
which they become visible to spectators brings them to a standstill. The
flight of the dramatis personae is arrested by the stage. Their entry into
the visual field of non-participating and truly impartial persons allows
the harassed to draw breath, bathes them in new air. The appearance
on stage of those who enter ‘fleeing’ takes from this its hidden meaning.
Our reading of this formula is imbued with expectation of a place, a
light, a footlight glare, in which our flight through life may be likewise
sheltered in the presence of onlooking strangers.112

I want to end with lines from ‘Little Gidding II’. Eliot struggled over
creating them:

‘And last, the rending pain of re-enactment

Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others’ harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.’
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn. (CPP, 194)

Here, the lines seems thick with Shakespearean echoes: when redrafting
this passage, Eliot wrote to Hayward, of hearing ‘some reminder’ of
Mark Antony in ‘like a dancer’ and of ‘not wanting to lose the allusion to
Hamlet’s ghost’.113 These voices are palpable and absent at once, like the
T. S. Eliot 103

apparitional speaker conveying them, a compound voice patterned into

an approximation towards terza rima. Dante and Shakespeare, set against
each other in several of Eliot’s critical essays, find this last common place,
where they ‘complement each other’ (SE, 265). ‘And last, the rending pain
of re-enactment’, was once, ‘And last, the doubt of self in retrospection’.
‘Self’ would have formed a rhythmic centre, playing a self-expressive,
personal lead. Eliot changed it to ‘the pain of memory’s re-enactment’; this
is a consolation that lets the self off the hook. At this point, the following
line was, ‘Of all that you have been and done’; a Cockneyism with an air
of being busy: ‘yes, been there, done that, let’s get on with this business
of remorse’. Eliot overheard his own voice, writing to Hayward: ‘Why,
whatever was I thinking of, to have been and done that? Read: Of all that
you have done, and been.’114
Cast in one light, the self-effacing doubt might appear histrionic, but
the sound of these revisions is a learning process: they are records of self-
subduing; instructions not to glamorize yourself in self-doubt. The revised
line gives weight to having committed ‘things ill done and done to others’
harm’. Eliot found: ‘And last, the rending pain of re-enactment’, a line
which becomes a point of intersection for the divisions of identity inside
this section of the poem, and divisions outside of the poem. ‘Rend’ means
‘to cause emotional grief to a person’, and also to ‘split, to divide’, cradling
within it the word ‘end’. Self-division was what Eliot wanted from the word
‘re-enactment’: he wrote to Hayward: ‘Re-enacting’ is weak as a substantive;
but I want to preserve the association of ‘enact’ – to take the part of oneself
on a stage for oneself as the audience.’115
Eliot’s own compositional self-revisions deeply connect with the strong
emphasis on ‘pattern’ in Shakespeare’s work. They also relate to his
fascinations with Shakespearean self-spectating. To revise something you
have said before combines fondness and squeamishness, or, in a stronger
sense, love and laceration, humiliation and humility; or differently, the
pain and the pleasure of seeing yourself in a dramatic light, of hearing
a first-personal voice as if it were third-personal to itself. ‘Doubt of self
in retrospection’, as the draft for ‘Little Gidding’ puts it, may describe
the compositional histories of Eliot’s poems, though in their finished
matter, they do not propagate such a notion as a concept or an idea, but
in varying degrees of intensity, and in varying moments, depict this truth
for us in words. For Eliot, a doubt was an experience: it modified his
sensibility. To experience Shakespeare in Eliot’s work is to live through
such intensity and its modulations: ‘The experience of a poem is the
experience both of a moment and of a lifetime. It is very much like our
104 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

intenser experiences of other human beings.’ (SE, 250) To say, as Eliot did
at the end of his lifetime, ‘I don’t think that anything I have written about
Shakespeare is worth preserving’, risks wishing to set this self-doubt down
in its own dramatic light. The record of this untruth is in our hands to
Chapter 3

W. H. Auden
Jeremy Noel-Tod

‘Shakespeare probably stank’, wrote the 55-year-old W. H. Auden in 1962,

continuing a habit of irreverence towards the great poets begun in his
youth.1 At 29, in ‘Letter to Lord Byron’ (1936), Auden set up his personal
Parnassus within view of the Edwardian nursery, dismissing Dante, Goethe
and Shakespeare in a trio of puns stolen from James Joyce:2

Read character from taste. Who seem to me

The great? I know that one as well as you.
‘Why, Daunty, Gouty, Shopkeeper, the three
Supreme Old Masters.’ You must ask me who
Have written just as I’d have liked to do.
I stop to listen and the names I hear
Are those of Firbank, Potter, Carroll, Lear.3

Later, the Old Masters would be acknowledged more respectfully. In 1941

Auden listed Dante, along with William Langland and Alexander Pope, as
his three ‘greatest influences’, and in 1964 expressed a desire to become a
‘minor Atlantic Goethe’ (Poems, 693).4 But it was with Shakespeare that the
later poet had his most self-defining relationship: as an analyst of national
and social identity; as a poet preoccupied with poetry’s power; and as an
ironist of the paradox – which Auden took as the title for a poem – that
‘‘The Truest Poetry is the Most Feigning’’. As he wrote in 1961, ‘every
sensible young person has an instinctive antipathy to what is Officially-
Approved-Of, and, in Shakespeare’s case, this is reinforced by the fact that,
of all the major English writers, no one is less a writer for the young, for
persons, that is, under the age of thirty [. . .] On the other hand, almost any
one over thirty who cares for poetry or drama, will find [. . .] that the more
he reads Shakespeare, the more he becomes convinced that Shakespeare
really is Top Bard.’ (Prose IV, 307–8)
106 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Speaking more autobiographically elsewhere, Auden connected this

literary rite of passage with the ‘violence and exaggeration’ of the young
poet in search of his own voice:

If an undergraduate announces to his tutor one morning that Gertrude

Stein is the greatest writer who ever lived or that Shakespeare is no good,
he is really only saying something like this: ‘I don’t know what to write
yet or how, but yesterday while reading Gertrude Stein I thought I saw a
clue’ or ‘Reading Shakespeare yesterday, I realized that one of the faults
in what I write is a tendency to rhetorical bombast.’5

As a university lecturer in later life, Auden expressed many of his strongest

opinions in response to Shakespeare. But the undergraduate’s oppor-
tunism remains at the heart of the essays collected in The Dyer’s Hand
(1962), which qualify their contrarian authority with the admission that a
poet’s criticism is not expected ‘to stand up under rigorous analysis’, and
ultimately derives from ‘his own experiences in writing and his private
judgements on his own works’ (DH, 52–3).6 Accounts of Auden as a
Shakespearean in verse have focused on the poetry that he wrote in the
same late period as his major Shakespeare criticism, beginning with The
Sea and the Mirror (1944), his poetic ‘commentary’ on The Tempest.7 But, in
the last ten years, Arthur Kirsch’s reconstruction of his mid-1940s Lectures
on Shakespeare from student notes, along with Edward Mendelson’s editing
of his collected prose up to 1962 and Katherine Bucknell’s publication
of his Juvenilia, has made it possible to enlarge the narrative of Auden’s
engagement with Shakespeare to cover the four decades of his own poetic
career. He surveyed these through a Shakespearean mask in the 1968
poem ‘Forty Years On’, where Autolycus, The Winter’s Tale’s comic ballad-
maker – who now faces death equably – becomes a final mask for the
existential hero Auden sought in the example of Shakespeare himself: the
‘truly strong man’ who accepts the world completely (Poems, 783–5).8
For Auden, Shakespeare’s greatness was attested by his immersion in the
ordinary. Commenting on the heroic character of T. E. Lawrence in 1934,
Auden quoted, from a psychology textbook, the words of a man who had
murdered his wife and family: ‘‘No, I am not the truly strong man. The
truly strong man lounges about in bars and does nothing at all.’’ Two years
later, ‘Letter to Lord Byron’ would cast Shakespeare in this role: imagining
the afterlives of the English poets as a gathering in a pub, Auden has the
playwright ‘lounging grandly at the bar’ (EA, 320, 199; the stanza was cut
from later versions of the poem). ‘The works of Shakespeare are the man,’
W. H. Auden 107

he wrote in 1939: ‘he is the only one of the great European figures of which
this can be said.’ (Prose II, 30) But it was important to Auden, early and late,
that Shakespeare was a member of the human race, however personally
elusive. ‘We do not know what Shakespeare’s personal beliefs were, nor his
opinion on any subject,’ Auden wrote in The Dyer’s Hand, ‘(though most of
us privately think we do).’ (DH, 181) The irony is pointed. Shakespeare,
like the rest of us, must have had personal opinions, just as he must have
had body odour. What Auden admired was his ability to submerge them
almost completely in sympathy with other minds.
T. S. Eliot’s criticism had made the great writer’s ‘escape from person-
ality’ an orthodoxy for Auden’s generation. (Born in 1907, Auden was 19
years younger than Eliot.) In his lifelong response to both ‘Top Bards’,
Auden wittily contradicted its implications. Eliot’s essay on Hamlet, for
instance, famously accuses Goethe and Coleridge of making the Prince a
mirror for their own personalities. 9 Auden recalls this judgement at the
start of his essay on Henry IV, ‘The Prince’s Dog’, which begins with the
caveat that ‘it has been observed that critics who write about Shakespeare
reveal more about themselves than about Shakespeare’. But the essay –
which was originally given as a lecture – then provocatively demonstrates
how this experience of ‘self-revelation’ may, in fact, be ‘the great value of
drama of the Shakespearian kind’. Preparing for his reading of Falstaff as
a Christ-like figure of universal love, Auden invokes ‘his own weight and
experience’ to support the idea that ‘fatness in the male is the physical
expression of a psychological wish to withdraw from sexual competition’
(DH, 182–3, 196). The personal identification of the on-stage critic with
the off-stage character is crucial to validating the reading.
Conversely, Auden’s lecture on Hamlet begins by deprecating those who
identify too readily with the central character, as well as acknowledging
Eliot’s judgement that the play is itself ‘an artistic failure’. But he implicitly
goes on to oppose Eliot’s theory that the play fails due to personal
problems that Shakespeare was unable to ‘drag to light, contemplate, or
manipulate into art’. According to Auden, Shakespeare was ‘bored’ by his
own facility as a creator of dramatic character, and consequently produced
a character who is fundamentally ‘bored’ with being on stage. People who
identify with the part – including actors – are doomed to appear ridiculous:
‘the point about Hamlet is that he is an actor and you can’t act yourself. You
can only be yourself’. Auden’s reading of the artistic intentions of Hamlet
(‘the play is written entirely out of spite against actors’) is typical of his
tendency to figure Shakespeare as an ironist intimate with every human
failing, and Shakespearean drama as a meta-theatrical exposure of our
108 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

vanities.10 In his criticism, Sonnet 111’s artisan image of poetic imperson-

ality – ‘my nature is subdued / To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand’
(6–7) – becomes an emblem of the dramatist as a professional writer first
of all, with artistic rather than personal problems to work out.11 Even in
his essay on the Sonnets, Shakespeare’s most apparently autobiographical
poetry, the homosexual Auden deprecated contemporary efforts to ‘secure
our Top-Bard as a patron saint’ of gay men, insisting that the poet is ‘to all
intents and purposes, anonymous’, his subject a Platonic vision.12
Such insistences can of course themselves be read as a form of self-
revelation, albeit one concerned with the virtue of self-effacement. As
Auden said at the end of his 1946–7 lectures in New York,

I find Shakespeare particularly appealing in his attitude towards his

work. There’s something a little irritating in the determination of the
very greatest artists, like Dante, Joyce, Milton, to create masterpieces
and to think themselves important. To be able to devote one’s life to
art without forgetting that art is frivolous is a tremendous achievement
of personal character. Shakespeare never takes himself too seriously.
(Lectures, 319)

In a valuable recent account, Neil Corcoran observes that Auden’s criticism

of Shakespeare exhibits a conversational ‘serenity’ which suggests that ‘no
anxiety inheres in this encounter’. Corcoran notes in particular how its
tendency to citation of contemporary authors

propos[es] a continuum of endeavour, a permanence of humane inquiry

and accomplishment, in which Shakespeare too must take his place.
As, also, must Auden, since no one would presume to engage in such a
conversation unless he considered himself worthy of admission to it. 13

But Auden’s oblique placing of himself in conversation with Shakespeare

also preserves a certain reticence. Opinions on life and literature in
general are freely given in these lectures, but the ‘dyer’s hand’ – the poet’s
appreciation of the poetry – is generally not shown. Arthur Kirsch’s edition
of the Lectures selects, as Thomas H. Blackburn writes, ‘almost all of the
striking remarks about the verse’, but the final text still leaves judgements
of poetic quality tantalisingly unelaborated.14 Auden’s major Shakespeare
criticism performs the public revelation of a sage, exploring the psychology
of Shakespearean character in the tradition of A. C. Bradley, with an intel-
lectual framework constructed from his reading in psychology, sociology
W. H. Auden 109

and theology.15 When Auden was actually attempting to write poetic

drama himself in the 1930s, however, he asserted that ‘poetry, the learned
commentators on Shakespeare’s characters notwithstanding, has very little
to do with character’, and as ‘a medium [. . .] expresses the collective
and universal feeling’. 16 This essay will read Auden’s later criticism as
the disillusioned conclusion of his search for a collective poetic voice of
Shakespearean authority; a search which he publicly resigned in the meta-
drama of The Sea and the Mirror.
The light verse of ‘Letter to Lord Byron’ was one result of Auden’s
experimentation with a more popular manner for modernist poetry
which emerged from his left-wing politics in the mid-1930s. The poem’s
provocative preference for non-canonical writers was echoed in the advice
he offered the readers of the journal of the Workers Education Association
in the same year: ‘if you find you really prefer Ella Wheeler Wilcox to
Shakespeare, for heaven’s sake admit it’. (Prose I, 165) The definition of
light verse that he proposed two years later as editor of The Oxford Book of
Light Verse (1938) nevertheless made it clear that he still aspired to a social
role for ‘serious’ poetry. In between folk songs and nursery rhymes, Auden
also includes as ‘light’,

Poetry intended to be read, but having for its subject matter the everyday
social life of its period or the experiences of the poet as an ordinary
human being [e.g. the poems of Chaucer, Pope, Byron].

Until the Elizabethans, ‘all poetry was light’, because English society ‘was
united in its religious faith and its view of the universe’, and poets and
readers had the same general experiences in common. In the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, however, social and ideological differences
resulted in the rise of ‘difficult’ and ‘eccentric’ poetry, such as that of
Donne, Milton and ‘some of Shakespeare’ (EA, 364).
Auden’s thesis rewrites Eliot’s essay ‘The Metaphysical Poets’ (1921), in
which seventeenth-century England’s ‘dissociation of sensibility’ is proposed
as a defence of the modern poet’s necessary ‘difficulty’.17 It is characteristic
of Auden’s engagement with Eliot’s criticism that he effectively draws the
opposite conclusion from the same general premise. Modern poetry is
difficult due to the fragmentation of modern society – but it needn’t be
so. If, as Auden’s essay concludes, a democratic society can be achieved
‘which is both integrated and free’, then the conditions for poetry that is
‘simple, clear and gay’ might be recovered (EA, 368). For the later Auden,
Shakespeare’s apparent indifference to his work and reputation was a sign
110 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

that poetry could, in the end, know that it ‘makes nothing happen’, and
arrive at a wise (or at least, ‘worldly’) disenchantment (Poems, 248). But
in the 1920s and 30s, before he moved to America, and from socialism
to Christianity, the Shakespeare Auden admired was an experimental yet
populist playwright whose ‘large-scale poetic form [. . .] by its nature kept
poetry applied to life’ (Prose II, 30), and whose formative vision of England
as ‘a small, young country fighting for its existence as a nation’ might still
hold revolutionary energies (EA, 311).

‘On this Island’: Shakespeare and the English Auden

Auden’s irreverent humour was characteristic of an inter-war generation

who enjoyed treating the shibboleths of Edwardian England with disre-
spect – the generation who mocked England as ‘Top Nation’ in 1066 and
All That (1930) and produced a comic guide to English Literature called
Shakespeare and That Crush (1931).18 But the moustaches they drew on
old masters often expressed an anxiety about cultural permanence which
returned as a reinscribed respect. As Gary Taylor has observed, Robert
Graves, in his war memoir, Goodbye to All That (1929), begins by associating
the Complete Works with the bourgeois gentility of his parents’ house (‘a
cupboard . . . filled to the ceiling with octavo volumes of Shakespeare’), but
when he returns to the Western Front he takes with him a portable version
of the same volumes.19 Such re-evaluations of the canonical follow the
pattern of ‘transcendence and return’ that has been called ‘the dialectic
of modernism’.20 In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925), for instance,
Shakespeare is the romantic delusion that lured Septimus Warren Smith
into volunteering for the war (‘he went to France to save an England which
consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare’s plays and Miss Isabel Pole [his
English teacher]’). Septimus returns a shell-shock victim, convinced that
Shakespeare really ‘loathed humanity’, and eventually kills himself. But
Shakespeare also provides Clarissa Dalloway with the elegiac verse from
Cymbeline – ‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’ (4.2.258) – that enables her
to mourn the young man’s death at the novel’s close.21
As an English student at Oxford in the 1920s, Auden’s literary attitudes
were formed on such high modernism: in particular, The Waste Land
(1922), where sonorous allusions to the canon are simultaneously sent up
for the jazz age as ‘that Shakespeherian rag / [. . .] so elegant / So intel-
ligent’.22 In 1926, introducing the year’s selection of Oxford Poetry with
Charles Plumb, Auden wrote that ‘if it is a natural preference to inhabit a
W. H. Auden 111

room with casements opening upon Fairyland, one at least of them should
open upon the Waste Land’. The metaphor emphasises how much seeing
the world through – or even as – The Waste Land had become a way of life
for its more devoted readers. As Auden later wrote, ‘the England of 1925
when I went up to Oxford was The Waste Land in character’ (Prose II,
46), and his claim to friends that his favourite Oxford walk was ‘past the
gas-works’ on the river evidently echoes Eliot’s re-casting of The Tempest’s
Prince Ferdinand as a melancholic vagrant, fishing the canal ‘behind the
What Auden called the ‘mythopoeic’ quality of The Tempest – meaning a text
which lends itself to being rewritten or continued – seems to have fascinated
him even before he came under Eliot’s influence. His first published poem at
Oxford, ‘Lead’s the Best’, alludes to the play, but was written in March or April
1926, the vacation before he first encountered The Waste Land.24 Instead, this
accomplished piece of juvenilia suggests the influence of pre-modernist poetry
on Auden’s feeling for Shakespeare as a poet of English identity. A blank verse
meditation on the decline of the mining communities of northwest England,
the opening lines of ‘Lead’s the Best’ move from grand evocation of what he
would elsewhere call his ‘ideal scenery’ (Poems, 89) to workers’ conversation in
a nearby inn. The nostalgic recollection of an English locality and community
has, as Katherine Bucknell notes, Georgian models, which Auden transported
to his personal topography.25 The men discuss mining jobs, accidents (‘Just
like a pudding he was when they found him – ’), and the riches to be found
in an unworked ‘vein’ of ore. Then, says the poet,

steps closed the door

And stopped their mouths, the last of generations
Who ‘did their business in the veins of th’earth,’
To place a roof on noble Gothic minsters
For the glory of God, bring wealth to buy
Some damask scarf or silken stomacher
To make a woman’s body beautiful, [. . .] (lines 18–24)

The allusion is to The Tempest Act 1, scene 2, where Prospero accuses

Ariel of resentment at having ‘To do me business in the veins o’ th’earth’
(255) in exchange for his eventual liberty. The effect is to introduce the
power relations of the play into a poem which meditates on Shakespeare’s
allegory of the relationship between art and power.
Auden’s allusion to Ariel is ironic: the miners do not have magical
powers, and can only expect to be released from servitude by death.
112 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

In reality, they are more like Prospero’s other servant, the log-carrying
Caliban: both labour to provide their masters with the raw material that
enables them to concentrate on higher things. In his final year at boarding-
school, Auden had been cast as Caliban, a role that became the occasion,
as a friend recalled, for ‘a witty, personal and deeply felt ‘send-up’’ of
the authoritarian school system.26 ‘Lead’s the Best’ similarly sympathises
with Caliban’s slavery, transferred to the anonymous male labourers of
northwest England. The romance figure of the ‘slender lady like silver
birch’ troubles the poem with thoughts of injustice, just as the beauty of
Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, angers Caliban: the knights who wooed her,
like Ferdinand, never spared a thought for ‘those who built their barren
farms’. Caliban is also haunted by the beauty of Ariel’s music, and the vision
of riches that it brings him, so much so that ‘when I wak’d / I cried to
dream again’ (3.2.142–3). Auden echoes this speech at the end of a verse
paragraph which describes the disappearance of the mining way of life. No
longer, says the poem, will children grow up in envy of their fathers until,
miners themselves, ‘Each wished himself a child again to have / More
hours to sleep in.’
‘Lead’s the Best’ ends in the present day, where the generic rural
labourer ‘Hodge’ has become ‘a sottish bawd’ tainted by second-hand
‘city vices’, much like the corruption of Caliban by the servants of the
royal party. Its final lines, moreover, suggest Prospero’s knowledge that
Caliban represents the limits of his civilizing magic: ‘Harsh afterglow of
an old country’s greatness / Themes for a poet’s pretty sunset thoughts.’
(l. 67–8) In his later responses to the play, Auden would find The Tempest
riven with scepticism about the poet’s art, and Prospero’s concluding
gesture of resignation (‘I’ll drown my book’, 5.1.57) is a sentiment echoed
strongly in some of his later poems (‘abhorred in the Heav’ns are all /
self-proclaimed poets who, to wow an / audience, utter some resonant lie’,
‘Ode to Terminus’ (1968), Poems, 811). Here, though, it is more abrupt
and inchoate, a way of resonantly abandoning a poem which seems not to
know whether it would be better for the miners to have remained in their
exploited condition or not. Caliban’s fate, as A. D. Nuttall notes, is one of
the untold stories of the play. ‘Natural Romantics’, Nuttall writes, will want
Prospero to depart without Caliban, allowing him to return to his natural
state as ‘king’ of the isle. ‘Politically minded people’, however, ‘cynically
incline to the alternative view’: he will remain enslaved, and become a
royal freakshow back in Milan.27 The dominant irony of Auden’s poem
implies sympathy with this latter view, in which the natural man remains
enslaved and the society corrupted. But the concluding emphasis on the
W. H. Auden 113

‘sottish’ corruption of Hodge by modern life – as Caliban is corrupted by

Stephano’s bottle – logically sympathizes with the Romantic alternative:
that there is an unfallen state to which we might return, if history could
only be reversed and redeemed.
For Auden, this contradiction would eventually raise itself to the plane
of Christian theology. As he has Caliban say at the end of his speech in The
Sea and the Mirror: ‘it is just here, among the ruins and the bones, that we
may rejoice in the perfected Work which is not ours’ (Poems, 444). But in
‘Lead’s the Best’, the ruins only remind the poet of an historical loss, an
‘old country’ which was once a great nation. England, by association, itself
becomes the small island of Shakespeare’s last play, where a once-powerful
magic is now only an ‘afterglow’ of the great civilization which built the
Gothic minsters, recalling Prospero’s melting vision of ‘the cloud-capp’d
tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces, / The solemn temples’ (4.1. 152–3). In 1926,
a quotation from England’s greatest poet is only one more ‘pretty sunset
thought’. ‘Lead’s the Best’ allows us to see the young Auden exploring
the conflicted identity of contemporary England through an evocation of
Shakespeare that is free of reactionary nostalgia. The dominant influence
on English Literature at Oxford immediately before Auden’s arrival, Sir
Walter Raleigh, had employed a contemporary reading of The Tempest in
his wartime effort to assert the supremacy of English over German (the
party from the ship is a ‘British expeditionary force’, Caliban a ‘Boche’).28
‘Lead’s the Best’, through its concern for a Calibanized underclass, contra-
dicts such establishment appropriations of the national poet. At the same
time, though, it explores a poetics of Englishness which would inform
Auden’s attempt in the 1930s to renew the evocation of national life.
Writing to Stephen Spender in 1930, Auden asserted that ‘all poetry in
our time is comic’, and divided it into ‘two modes’: the ‘legal disclaimer’
and the ‘drunken prophetic’, which he then also called the ‘Shakespearean
joke’.29 Shortly afterwards, however, he would produce an exercise in poetic
rhetoric which at least half-seriously essayed a Shakespearean prophecy for
its time. ‘Prologue’, the first poem collected in the volume Look, Stranger!
(1936), adopts the aerial perspective of John of Gaunt’s speech on England
in Richard II (‘This fortress built by Nature for herself’, 2.1.43), as he shows
us ‘This fortress perched on the edge of the Atlantic scarp’.30 Seen from
the air, the land lends itself to idealized, unified images.31 But as Auden’s
poem descends closer to its subject, it follows the rhetorical turn of Gaunt’s
speech, where the invocation of an ‘old country’s greatness’ is contrasted
with its ruined and divided present. England, says Gaunt, ‘is now leas’d
114 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Like to a tenement or pelting farm.

England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of wat’ry Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds. (2. 2. 60–4)

Auden, reprising the theme of ‘Lead’s the Best’, sees the earlier collective
‘dream’ of England retreating across its abandoned industrial landscapes,
leaving a land, like Gaunt’s, of ‘bound in’ lives (‘In bar, in netted chicken-
farm, in lighthouse’) and ‘constricted acres’, delimited by ‘the barren
spiritual marriage of stone and water’ (EA, 118–19).
As John Fuller comments, ‘Prologue’, composed in 1932, ‘is perhaps
the most significant of the new kind of fully argued and rhetorical poem
that [Auden] had been writing for about a year.’32 As the first poem of a
major volume, it evokes the grand style of the history plays in order to set
out its own visionary argument, at a time when his left-wing political views
were becoming stronger.33 Unlike Evelyn Waugh’s ironic use of the same
passage in Vile Bodies two years earlier, where it is quoted by Ginger (who
learned it from ‘a blue poetry book’) in an aeroplane overflying ‘straggling
red suburbs; arterial roads dotted with little cars; factories, some of them
working, others empty and decaying; a disused canal’, 34 Auden recalls
Gaunt’s speech as a ‘prophet new inspired’ by apocalyptic crisis, in which
the world-changing power of ‘some possible dream’, ‘Drives through the
night and star-concealing dawn / For the virgin roadsteads of our hearts
an unwavering keel.’ (EA, 119) The syntactical and rhythmical construction
of this conclusion strongly implies that invasion of the ancient English
‘fortress’ is both imminent and inevitable. But its political character is left
ambiguous: its readiness to impose ‘on our talk and kindness / Its military
silence, its surgeon’s idea of pain’ may imply the un-English revolution of
either German Fascism or Russian Communism. As in the next poem of
Look, Stranger!, ‘Out on the lawn I lie in bed’, Auden’s argument seems
to be that whatever disaster ‘the crumpling flood’ of European political
history brings, England must prepare itself to survive the onslaught with
a renewed vision of island life (Poems, 118). This is to be based on the
‘joy’ and ‘love’ invoked by the poem’s opening lines, but also the modern
rationality symbolized by ‘Newton’, whose recognition of the ‘eternal tie’
of gravity between himself and his country displaces the more reactionary
patriotism of those who invoke Shakespeare (EA, 119).35
Auden’s attraction to the island of The Tempest as an allegorical England
returns in the title poem of Look, Stranger!, ‘Look, stranger, at this island
W. H. Auden 115

now’. The first stanza recalls Ariel’s songs to Ferdinand in 1.2, about which
he later wrote acutely in his essay ‘Music in Shakespeare’. The imperative
mood and metre echo the deictic invitation of Ariel’s first song (‘Come
unto these yellow sands’). Auden commented that the strange lightness of
this lyric has the dramatic effect of opening the ‘present to expectation’,
just at the moment that Ferdinand, who thinks his father has drowned,
might have turned inwards with grief. It also recalls the injunction to listen
to the sound of the sea that ends the second song (‘hark, now I hear them’),
which Auden described as a poem designed to transform Ferdinand’s grief
into ‘awe and reverent acceptance’ of the process of ‘sea-change’ (DH,
525). The same transformation is commanded by the first stanza of ‘Look,

Stand stable here

And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.

In The Waste Land, Eliot had recalled Ariel’s ‘sweet air’ only in fragments.
But Auden’s prosodically and grammatically balanced free verse recon-
stitutes the estranged lyric subject of modernism (‘Look, stranger’) as
an island-within-an-island (‘the channels of the ear’), capable of taking
delight from sensuous immersion in the immediate environment (Poems,
Fuller notes that ‘the vague echoes of Shakespeare in the first stanza
reinforce the poem’s sense of rediscovered Englishness’.36 However, as in
‘Prologue’, love of the English landscape is not an unadulterated conso-
lation. The second stanza’s location of the listener ‘Where the chalk wall
falls to the foam’ – above beating tide, scrambling shingle, sucking surf and
lodging gull – more ominously recalls Edgar’s ‘Dover Cliff’ speech in King
Lear, with its dizzying view from ‘the dread summit of this chalky bourn’
of ‘crows and choughs that wing the midway air’ down to the ‘murmuring
surge / That on th’unnumb’red idle pebble chafes’ (4.6.10–57).37 As
Edgar tells the blinded Gloucester to ‘stand still’ at this precarious point,
so the poem asks the reader to ‘stand stable here’ and contemplate the
scene imaginatively. Then, like Edgar, the last stanza widens the panorama
further to include ships reduced by perspective (‘Yon tall wandering bark /
Diminished to her cock’): ‘Far off like floating seeds the ships / Diverge on
urgent voluntary errands’.38 Whatever these errands are, they contrast with
116 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

the world of personal leisure previously evoked, and remind the observer
standing in the ‘small field’ that the ‘full view’ of the scene’s significance
may only come on reflection,

And move in memory as now these clouds do,

That pass the harbour mirror
And all the summer through the water saunter.

The Wordsworthian moral that the scene will prove restorative in memory
is shadowed by the implication that the English coast will not in future
always be, as ‘now’, a place of mirror-like calm and fair weather sauntering.
As in other poems in the volume, the idyllic vision is offered not as an
escape into ‘this England’ nostalgia but – by the recollection of two
purgative Shakespearean sea-shore encounters – as a preparation for the
re-civilization of ‘this island’.

Poetic Drama and Political Art

Auden’s use of Shakespearean allusion in these poems from the 1930s

develops the elegiac irony of ‘Lead’s the Best’ into an active poetic patri-
otism, concerned with what Jed Esty has called the ‘shrinking island’ of late
modernist England. Esty locates the work collected in the 1927–39 volume,
The English Auden, at ‘a late modernist turn geared . . . to the problems of
national tradition’, which interested itself in developing ‘new forms for an
England at the end-cusp of its high modernity, for a decaying industrial and
imperial society ready to redeem its socially fractured institutions through
shared ritual’.39 The form of shared ritual that exercised Auden particularly
at this time was poetic drama. Many of his early lyrics emerged from his
experiments in this mode, and it is an important context for a poem such
as ‘Prologue’, whose title and opening lines (‘O love, the interest itself in
thoughtless heaven’) echo the choric opening of Henry V (‘O for a Muse
of fire that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention’, Prologue,
1–2).40 Just as Shakespeare requests the audience to envisage the ‘vasty
fields’ of European history within the limits of a theatrical representation,
so Auden’s opening poem presents Look, Stranger! as national poetry in lyric
form – a duality caught by the American title of the volume (which Auden
preferred), On This Island.
The title poem of the volume in England also develops a double vision
of the individual within the collective. ‘Look, stranger, at this island now’
W. H. Auden 117

was originally written as a voice-over for a 1935 documentary called Beside

the Seaside, commissioned by the Travel and Industrial Association of Great
Britain. The recorded commentary, however, reduced it to a simple prose
evocation of the local population, ‘on whose daily decisions the swaying
sound of the sea exerts a stable influence’.41 If Auden had hoped to use an
advertisement for the domestic holiday as an occasion for poetic subtlety,
he was thwarted. But the origin of the poem in a work intended for a wide
audience indicates the importance that Auden – like other modernists,
notably Eliot – attached at this time to the reintegration of poetry as a
form of popular entertainment. Auden’s first major work after Oxford was
Paid on Both Sides (1928), a surreal house-party ‘charade’, which appeared
in Eliot’s magazine, The Criterion. It rejected conventional models for verse
drama, including the Shakespearean, and instead drew on Auden’s under-
graduate reading in Anglo-Saxon poetry and medieval plays.42 An obscure
and coterie work in itself, Paid nevertheless laid the ground for the more
socially democratic theory of poetic drama that he would develop over
the 1930s, and which would see him engage with Eliot’s 1920s criticism
of Shakespeare in a way that both accepts its radicalism and rewrites its
In 1934 Auden explained that contemporary models for poetic drama
suffered the same defect: ‘they won’t go’. The three types into which he then
divided them – ‘the romantic sham-Tudor . . . the cosmic-philosophical . . .
the high-brow chamber-music drama’ – identified the problem: such lofty
modes had forgotten that ‘drama is . . . essentially a social art’ (Prose I, 69–70).
Auden’s argument looks back to Eliot’s ‘The Possibility of a Poetic Drama’,
which had explained the moribundity of contemporary verse theatre by
comparison with the Elizabethan age’s energized invention of a ‘great
form’: ‘To have, given into one’s hands, a crude form, capable of infinite
refinement, and to be the person to see the possibilities – Shakespeare was
very fortunate.’ Later imitators, Eliot suggests, were attempting to re-work
the perfected form without the freshness of Shakespeare’s opportunity. The
modernist thrust of the essay is that ‘some such donnée’ might be recovered
if the aspirant poet abandon the temptation to write pastiche Shakespeare
or Euripides, and instead ‘take a form of entertainment’ – such as the
music-hall – and ‘subject it to the process that would leave it art’. In this
way, Shakespeare’s recipe for the popular stage might be recovered: ‘The
Elizabethan drama was aimed at a public which wanted entertainment of a
crude sort, but would stand a good deal of poetry.’43
Auden’s review takes an Eliotic line in advocating a return to contem-
porary dramatic forms, including the variety show, the pantomime and
118 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

the musical comedy. But its closing allusion to Eliot’s phrasing gives
a democratic twist to the elitist notion of how much poetry a popular
audience ‘will stand’. If the modern poetic dramatist is willing, Auden

to be humble and sympathetic, to accept what he finds to his hand and

develop its latent possibilities, he may be agreeably surprised to find
that after all the public will stand, nay even enjoy, a good deal of poetry.
(Prose I, 70)

Auden’s authority for contradicting the elder poet came from the fact
that he was now leading the dramatic innovation that Eliot had called
for a decade earlier. By 1934, he was working on his second play for the
experimental performance co-operative, the Group Theatre, which would
appear the following year as a collaboration with Christopher Isherwood
called The Dog Beneath the Skin. The major poetry of the play is given to the
Chorus, whose first speech continues the aerial perspective on England
employed in ‘Prologue’. Many of the details of Auden’s landscape here
are taken from a prose work, The Changing Face of England by Anthony
Collett (1926), while the ‘hawk’s vision’ was something he later credited
to Thomas Hardy’s poetic drama, The Dynasts, with its ability to ‘see the
individual life related not only to the local social life of its time, but to the
whole of human history’ (Prose II, 46–7).44 The evocative Shakespearean
panorama of Henry V remains a strong rhetorical memory, too, though,
as the audience’s imaginative collaboration in constructing the scene is
requested: ‘We would show you first an English village: You shall choose
its location.’45
With this speech, Auden also added A Midsummer Night’s Dream to
his stock of Shakespearean Englands. In his 1940s lecture series, the
comedy is associated with Virginia Woolf’s eve-of-war novel, Between
the Acts (1941), which, ‘like Shakespeare’, interweaves the action of a
dramatic event and the ‘natural setting’ in which it occurs (Lectures,
61–2). Through the self-conscious presentation of an English idyll,
the lecture suggests, both texts offer their audience a collective self-
revelation about ‘the responsibility for making nature what it should
be’ – a comment which suggests the didactic power Auden saw in
dramatic experience (Lectures, 57). The first Chorus of The Dog Beneath
the Skin recalls Titania’s description of the pastoral ruin caused by her
falling out with Oberon, and its passage from fairyland to farmland and
W. H. Auden 119

the green corn

Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard.
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
[. . . ]
The nine men’s morris is filled up with mud, [. . .] (2. 1. 94–8)

I see barns falling, fences broken,

Pasture not ploughland, weeds not wheat.
The great houses remain but only half are inhabited,
[. . .]
Those who sang in the inns at evening have departed; [. . .] (Dog, Act I)46

The allusion is balanced at the end of Act II, when the Two Chorus Leaders
speak a passage requesting the ‘healing power’ of sleep for the play’s
hero (‘Now through night’s caressing grip’) written in the short trochaic
couplets of Oberon’s closing speech to the fairies on the blessing of the
marital house (‘Now, until the break of day, / Through this house each
fairy stray’, 5.2.401–2). Edward Mendelson has suggested that Auden’s use
of the Chorus in his dramas ‘differs from its historical predecessors . . . in
the enormous gulf that divides its knowledge from the characters’.47 But
this is perhaps to forget Shakespeare’s ironic framing of human affairs
within the fairy, where the choric voices are also directors of the action.
Auden’s anti-naturalistic presentation of contemporary England as a
‘small uncritical island’ is continued through the dramatic device of the
‘dog’, played by an actor who reveals himself to be the self-exiled heir
of the village squire, Sir Francis Crewe.48 The new perspective created
for the other characters by this anticipates Auden’s view of the disguised
Duke’s function in Measure for Measure as ‘not just a character, but [. . .]
a mirror’ who ‘creates an educational process that allows the characters
to undergo and emerge from their sufferings’ (Lectures, 191). Auden’s
use of these Shakespearean devices is a sign of his growing confidence
as a poetic dramatist, now writing some of his most directly public poetry
to date. Much of the material for the Choruses was recycled from an
abandoned ‘condition of England’ verse epic modelled on Dante. Eliot
had commended Dante to the would-be modernist in the final essay of The
Sacred Wood, which contrasted the Italian poet’s ‘ordered presentation of
emotions’ with the character-driven (and implicitly disorderly) analyses of
Shakespeare. The essay ends with the ambitious remark that it may not be
‘so much that the method of Dante is obsolete, as that our vision is perhaps
comparatively restricted’.49 In the fragmentary cantos of ‘In the year of my
120 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

youth . . .’, Auden discovered how difficult it was to impose a Dantean order
on his prodigiously detailed vision of England.50 Instead, in The Dog Beneath
the Skin he reworked it in a theatrical patchwork of high and low forms that
brought the modernist poetics of The Waste Land closer to the possibility
of a popular audience. Other models than Shakespeare existed for this
dramatic alchemy, of course, including the contemporary experiments
of Brecht.51 But Louis MacNeice thought of the native tradition when he
wrote about the possibilities of poetic drama after the Group Theatre,
arguing that the best plays are ‘a mixture a là Shakespeare – comic relief
sticking out in the middle of tragedy, rant, jokes for the groundlings, and
Auden’s admiration for Shakespeare as a tragic-comic master of mixed
form (who developed, for example, ‘an extremely fertile prose style’ for
his tragic characters) is attested by another mid-1930s publication (Prose
I, 10; Lectures, 160 and 315). In 1935, with John Garrett, Auden produced
an anthology for use in schools, The Poet’s Tongue. As the title suggests, the
book presents poetry as the universal art of speech, and its introduction
argues passionately against the modern split between ‘highbrow’ and
‘lowbrow’ tastes (Prose I, 105–9). Accordingly, the contents are arranged
alphabetically and anonymously, so that the passages from Shakespeare
are distributed among minor poets, nursery rhymes and sea shanties, in
an editorial democracy.53 They are followed by an appendix that gives the
whole of King Lear 3.4, where Lear, Kent and the Fool take shelter with
Edgar and Gloucester in the storm, as well as part of 4.2 of The Duchess of
Malfi, where the Duchess meets her death in the presence of her erstwhile
servant, Bosola. Both switch between verse and prose, but the Lear scene
in particular is one of Shakespeare’s wildest essays in mixed style – Auden
would later compare it to ‘a big ensemble’ scene in opera – as Edgar affects
the lunatic prose of Poor Tom, and Lear rids himself of both verse and
clothes (Lectures, 220).
The appendix is presented with the implication that the passages are
exemplary, in the way that Eliot’s criticism (and poetry) had made the
verbal range and energy of Elizabethan dramatic poetry exemplary. But,
again, Auden’s Eliotic gesture is nuanced by his egalitarian aims. The
dramatic centre of both scenes is an exchange between the verse-speaking
hero and a servant figure, who aims at ‘mortification’, as Bosola says,
through pitiless prose speech. The poetry in both scenes emerges from the
formal tension between verse and prose, just as the drama emerges from
the tension between the highest and the lowest perspectives. The scene
from Lear in particular exemplifies the ‘comic shadow to the kingship’
W. H. Auden 121

cast by the jester-figure whom Wyndham Lewis had recently called ‘one
of the great assets’ of Shakespearean tragedy (the editors include Lewis’s
study of Shakespeare on their list of further reading).54 Silently, Auden and
Garrett’s appendix continues the political argument of their introduction,
which quotes verse from Antony and Cleopatra alongside folk song and a
Latin mnemonic, as having ‘all their rightful place’. At the same time, the
appendix gives a higher status to these longer texts by exempting them
from the general rule of selection, in a way that suggests the editors’
resistance to the political simplification of literature. Poetry, they write,

is not concerned with telling people what to do, but with extending our
knowledge of good and evil, perhaps making the necessity for action
more urgent and its nature more clear, but only leading us to the point
where it is possible for us to make a rational and moral choice. (Prose I,
106, 108)

Auden’s analysis of King Lear a decade later would emphasise this point
when discussing the dramatic lesson of the storm scene:

The storm is without passion, and pays no attention to who is just and
who is sinful. The storm goes its way, but Lear remains the same. Lear
taking off his clothes presents a contrast between the human animal and
civilization [. . .] there is a contrast between human passion and a weak
body: we must see that. Lear goes mad and sees amiss: the audience must
see what is really there.

Auden’s lecture hall insistence on what we as the audience ‘must see’ about
Lear’s fallacy exemplifies his tendency to read Shakespeare as a theatrical
ironist, exploiting the disparity between scenario and performance. With
characteristic contrarianism, the lecture endorses the Romantic critical
view that Lear is unperformable, but for anti-Romantic reasons. In earlier
Shakespeare, Auden finds storms to be readily symbolic – either macro-
cosmic omens or agents of fate – so that ‘words will do’ for their dramatic
evocation. But if an audience is fully to appreciate the distance between
Lear’s powerful words and the infinitely greater non-human power they
evoke, ‘a realism is required that the stage cannot give’: it is ‘the one play of
Shakespeare that, in the storm scene, really requires the movies’ (Lectures,
228–9). As in his reading of Hamlet, Auden presents Lear as a play that
defeats itself dramatically through its theatrical contradiction of the tragic
hero’s self-importance.
122 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

The dramatic failure of Auden and Isherwood’s next play might itself
be described in these terms. The Ascent of F6, published in 1936 and
performed in 1937, is billed as ‘a tragedy in two acts’. The subtitle draws
attention to the authors’ attempt at a classically coherent drama, as recently
advocated by Eliot. In an article that found fault with plays containing an
episodic ‘succession of interests’, Eliot proposed instead the ‘one interest
throughout’, such as he had recently employed in his first full play, Murder
in the Cathedral (1935), on the martyrdom of Thomas Becket.55 F6 also
presents a lone hero, Michael Ransom, who dies of suicidal determination
on an imperialistic mountaineering expedition. His blind ambition makes
him a type of the Truly Weak Man, the ‘neurotic hero’ by whom Auden
and Isherwood were haunted in the 1930s.56 In creating the character,
Auden’s dramatic poetry was drawn uneasily close to the imitation of high
Shakespearean tragedy he had previously eschewed in favour of formal
variety. In 1932 he had observed that, due to their common ‘heroic’
medium of blank verse, Shakespeare’s protagonists ‘are all rather like
each other at emotional climaxes’ (Prose I, 10). The Ascent of F6 attempts to
maintain a critical perspective on its hero’s self-pity by parodically blending
him from several. In 2.2, Ransom stands Hamlet-like on a mountain ledge,
addressing a speech on ‘the ranges on the Country of the Dead’ to a skull,
while his speech from the arête to the elements in 2.4 (‘O senseless hurri-
canes, / That waste yourselves upon the unvexed rock’) pastiches Lear in
the storm (‘You cataracts and hurricanes, spout / Till you have drench’d
our steeples’, 2.2.2–3). But in performance the joke went against the actor,
William Devlin, a professional tragedian. One review commented that he
seemed to be playing a ‘bitterly rhetorical’ Hamlet even when delivering a
line such as ‘How many tins of malted milk?’, and ‘bawl[ed] and coo[ed]’
Auden’s ‘perilous Shakespearean stuff like a dying insect precipitating its
last eggs’.57
The character’s tragic ending also presented difficulties. In the phantas-
magoric last scene on the summit, Ransom is visited – like Richard III – by
the ghosts of those who have died during his perilous ascent. Then, at
the moment of death, he is shown an allusion to Coriolanus: a vision of
his mother. In the first published version, this was followed by a public
broadcast mourning Ransom’s death and recuperating him as a quasi-
fascistic national hero, much as T. E. Lawrence (on whom the character
was partly based) had been in 1935. In production and later revisions, this
material was revised and rearranged several times, suggesting that no-one
was ever quite sure about the moral of Ransom’s death.58 Like Eliot’s
abandoned attempt in Coriolan (1931–2) to use Shakespearean tragedy as
W. H. Auden 123

a framework for commenting both on the rise of Fascism and the failings
of democracy, The Ascent of F6 stalls in its contradictory satire of a conceited
leader of men brought down by the demands of an ignoble populace.
Auden’s reading of Hamlet as a play written ‘out of spite against actors’
seems also to have applied to the unfortunate William Devlin’s experience
of trying to perform F6’s self-critical tragic poetry. It was a tragedy with an
unworthy hero, whose death has no clear purgative consequences.
The heroic allegory of Auden’s play can be read, Edward Mendelson
suggests, as a dramatisation of his temptation to accept, ‘at the height of
his fame’, the public role his work had increasingly sought.59 After a further
collaboration with Isherwood, On the Frontier, in 1938, Auden continued
to express the view that drama was the art form of ‘social democracy’
and that ‘dramatic form is very closely bound up with . . . the search for
a free and unified society’. But he did not write another play, and the
following year left for America, in a public renunciation of the conditions
under which he felt a writer would be obliged to work in wartime.60 In the
1930s, Auden had ‘tried to make all England his arena and audience, the
place he could alter with his poems’, a project Mendelson dates to the
prophetic rhetoric of ‘Prologue’ in 1932.61 But such poems did not forget
the Shakespearean irony that the world they create is only a vision. Gaunt’s
England, set apart ‘in the silver sea’ from Scotland, Wales and Ireland,
never existed; Edgar’s Dover Cliff speech does not take place on a Dover
cliff; and in The Tempest, Prospero’s magical island ultimately melts ‘into
thin air’. Auden understood this irony as early as ‘Lead’s the Best’, with its
allusive contrast between Shakespeare’s island and post-industrial England,
and its defeated closing line (‘Theme for a poet’s pretty sunset thoughts’).
For several years he attempted to counter it with a rhetorical insistence on
the need to re-imagine social reality on ‘this island now’. But at the heart
of Look, Stranger! is an ambiguity: at the end of the title poem, the ‘full
view’ of island life will ‘move in memory’ – but is the verb transitive or
intransitive, kinetic or contemplative? As Auden wrote in The Poet’s Tongue,
poetry’s expanded vision might make the need to act ‘more urgent and its
nature more clear’. But it could only lead readers ‘to the point where it is
possible for us to make a rational and moral choice’ (EA, 329). Art was not
propaganda, and the artist not a political leader. As he observed in 1939,
‘if the criterion of art were its power to incite action, Goebbels would be
one of the greatest artists of all time’. One could point to Dante as proof
of the importance of an ideological framework – such as ‘Catholicism or
Marxism’, for a writer – but one could equally point to Shakespeare for its
unimportance (EA, 406, 403).
124 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Auden had already done just this with the introduction he contributed
in 1938 to John Mulgan’s anthology of radical verse for the Left Book
Club, Poems of Freedom. The dual Marxist characterisations of poets as either
‘a social force’ or a group of ‘introverted neurotics’ were both – Auden
stoutly asserted – ‘bosh’. Poets are only ‘rarely’ political agitators; mostly
they are ‘fairly ordinary men and women’, whose achievement is to ‘define
with greater precision thoughts and feelings that are generally present
in their class and age’. The example then given is Timon of Athens’s
speech on the nature of money (‘This yellow slave / Will knit and break
religions’, 4.3.34–5). Auden remarks: ‘Nothing is said here that either we
or Shakespeare’s contemporaries did not already know, but our awareness
of the power of money is extended and intensified.’ (EA, 370–1) The
possibility of staging Timon as a radical text was only just stirring in the
1930s.62 But Auden would have known, in choosing the passage, that he
was countering the Marxist analysis of it as a vision of ‘the degradation
caused by the whole movement of capitalism’, proposed the previous year
by Christopher Caudwell, a contemporary who had died fighting for the
International Brigade in Spain (Caudwell goes on to call ‘the magic world’
of The Tempest ‘a bizarre forecast of communism’).63
Auden’s introduction declines to read Shakespeare as a proto-Marxist.
His imminent break with the attempt to find a socially revolutionary
form of poetic writing is audible. Stephen Spender had once queried the
compatibility of Auden’s English symbolism with the cause of international
socialism. Auden replied that while living in England ‘one’s surroundings
and emotional symbols are of necessity national emblems’, and that he saw
it as politically necessary to counter the cultural unification of fascism with
the ‘right appeal’ to ‘the national psychological factor’. As Samuel Hynes
has written, the invocation of ‘England’ acquired a mythical power for the
young poets of the ‘30s, who wanted to affirm that ‘Shakespeare’s England
still exists, and that it still sustains lyric poets’, while urging the need for
revolution in the contemporary state. Auden’s departure for America, and
his disavowal of Communism for Christianity, marked the end of this myth
for his poetry. Writing to Spender in defence of his exile in March 1941, he
invoked Shakespeare on the poet’s power ‘to give to aery nothing / A local
habitation and a name’ (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 5.1.15–17). Auden
now rebuked his fellow poet for subscribing to the poetics of patriotism:
‘You are too old a hand to believe that History has a local habitation any
more.’64 In the 1940s, and after, he would be preoccupied instead with
Shakespeare’s heroic transcendence of ‘worldly’ ambition.
W. H. Auden 125

Auden in America: The Poet as Prospero

In 1951, Auden published The Enchafèd Flood, his study of the ‘Romantic
Iconography of the Sea’. The book is largely concerned with the literature of
the nineteenth century, from The Prelude to Moby Dick. The Shakespearean
title, however, indicates its background in the exploration of ideas from
Auden’s mid-1940s lectures, as well as The Sea and the Mirror (1944). For
Auden, Shakespeare’s tragic drama anticipates – and analyses – the wilful
heroism that later characterized Romanticism, and which in the ‘30s had
preoccupied him as that of the proto-Fascist Truly Weak Man (his 1940s
college course on Romanticism was subtitled ‘From Rousseau to Hitler’).
The Enchafèd Flood does not gloss its title. The full quotation, however,
given as the epigraph, also suggests Auden’s sympathy with the Romantic
artist. ‘I never did like molestation view / On the enchafèd flood’, says the
Second Gentleman of the storm at Cyprus (Othello 2.1.17). This, Auden
noted, was the one instance of ‘pure fate’ in Othello’s tragedy (Lectures,
196). In The Enchafèd Flood, the Romantic artist, like the tragic hero, is the
victim of a personal catastrophe, ‘which supplies the driving passion to go
ever forward, to the limits of exhaustion’. But he is also a ‘nomad explorer’,
compelled to endure ‘molestation’ on the sea of life after the historical loss
of his place in his community.65 As Auden looked for his own place as a
poet a second time in America, he turned to Shakespeare as a guide to the
limits of artistic endeavour, as well as the relationship between poetry and
society, figured in his criticism as ‘the city’.66
The Enchafèd Flood concludes that ‘we live in a new age [. . .] in which the
heroic image is not the nomad wanderer [. . .] but the less exciting figure
of the builder, who renews the ruined walls of the city’. The post-war signifi-
cance of this is clear. A more personal significance enters when Auden
remarks that, although we may be less tempted by the lonely ‘pride’ of
romantic art,

We are far more likely to become cowards in the face of the tyrant who
would compel us to lie in service of the False City. It is not madness we
need to flee but prostitution. Let us, reading the logs of their fatal but
heroic voyages, remember their courage.

A decade earlier, Auden had experienced the public questioning of his

own courage when he crossed the Atlantic in 1939, rather than suffer his
art to be compromised by official wartime culture. What may have looked
like a voyage of artistic pride, The Enchafèd Flood suggests, was in fact made
126 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

for more honourable motives. The parallel also helps to explain Auden’s
preoccupation with the figure of Prospero in his first decade in America,
the ruler whose solitary pride in his art causes him to be exiled. Like
Hamlet, whom Auden calls ‘the first hero of the romantic type’, Prospero
is made a hero by events, which give him a situation to revenge that he
‘secretly cherishes’ for its heroic potential.67 Auden associated Prospero
with Hamlet in a list he drew up while working on The Sea and the Mirror,
and in 1946 called him ‘Hamlet transformed’ into a ‘puppet master’.68 By
identifying himself with the later figure, who is both romantic hero and
repentant dramaturge, Auden articulated a critique of his earlier work.
In doing so, he remade his relationship to Shakespeare, as a poet who
managed to develop ‘a new rhetoric’ by working – as Auden said of Richard
II, the source of ‘Prologue’ – an earlier lyrical style ‘out of his system’
(Lectures, 68–74).
Auden explicitly disavowed his early style when he retitled ‘Prologue’
‘Perhaps’ in the 1945 edition of his collected poetry, shortly after completing
The Sea and the Mirror. Part I of the poem elaborates Prospero’s farewell to
his ‘art’ in The Tempest with a valedictory monologue to Ariel, where he

Now our partnership is dissolved, I feel so peculiar:

As if I had been on a drunk since I was born
And suddenly now, and for the first time, am cold sober, [. . .] (Poems, 409)

This is spoken after Ariel has performed his last magic, and Prospero has
put the magic of his own high style away. But it is also spoken by W. H.
Auden in America in the 1940s, settling into the colloquial English of his
new country (‘on a drunk’), and essaying a more sober form of verse than
the ‘drunken prophetic’ Shakespearean gestures of his early work.69 In a
later essay on Robert Frost, Auden would argue for the supremacy of the
‘Prospero-dominated’ poet over the ‘Ariel-dominated’ one. For Ariel, as
for Keats’s Grecian Urn, ‘Beauty is Truth’, a ‘timeless world of pure play’. But
for Prospero, a poem should be able to show us ‘what life is really like and
free us from self-enchantment and deception’. To illustrate the two modes,
Auden quotes lyrics by George Peele (Ariel) and Frost (Prospero). He then
goes on to praise Frost for a style that is significantly unShakespearean.
Borrowing a term C. S. Lewis coined for the Tudor poets, Auden charac-
terizes Frost’s conversational American as ‘Good Drab’, a poetic decorum
of ‘auditory chastity’ that never rises to the ‘unabashed roar of despair’ of
Shakespeare’s tragic heroes (DH, 337–42).
W. H. Auden 127

The apparent contradiction is revealing. A Prospero-dominated poet

is not, stylistically, a Shakespeare-dominated poet. Prospero’s epilogue to
the audience of The Tempest famously asks for the audience’s forgiveness,
now that his ‘charms are all o’erthrown’, in simple rhyming couplets that
signify an appropriate step down from blank verse. In his lecture on the
play, Auden acknowledged the view that the text of the epilogue was ‘not
by Shakespeare’, only to assert, regardless, that ‘it is still beautiful’ (Lectures,
307).70 A historical distinction emerges here between a Shakespearean
attitude – which is ‘truly strong’ in its eschewal of poetic heroism – and
Shakespeare’s heroic style, which is no longer appropriate. As Auden said
of the plain style of T. S. Eliot’s plays,

all the modern poets whom I admire seem to share my conviction that in
this age poetry intended to be spoken or read can no longer be written
in a High, even in a golden style, only in a Drab one . . . a quiet tone of
voice which deliberately avoids drawing attention to itself as Poetry with
a capital P.71

In Auden’s parallel narrative of Shakespeare’s development as a proto-

modern poet, the equivalent shift comes when the poet turned from
a lyrical to a dramatic style. In his 1946 lectures, Auden cites the same
‘Ariel-dominated’ poem by Peele, as an example of the ‘lyrical trance’
whereby a writer ‘surrenders to language’ and so remains a ‘minor poet’.
Shakespeare, by contrast, became a ‘major’ poet when financial necessity
forced him to abandon ‘his advances in lyric poetry’ in the poems and
sonnets and develop a ‘new rhetoric’ for the stage which would ‘make
action interesting to him’ (Lectures, 68).
Like Prospero stepping forward to the audience, the major poet confronts
the reality of the world on the other side of his words. But when Auden
arrived in America, he faced the opposite problem to Shakespeare: how to
develop a major lyric style after an apprenticeship to dramatic verse. The
first poem he wrote there, ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’, considered the social
role of the poet by allusion to the play that Auden saw as Shakespeare’s
own mid-career crisis: Hamlet. Part I of Auden’s poem proposes that
‘The words of a dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living’. Neil
Corcoran hears an echo here of Hamlet’s observation that ‘a king may go
a progress through the guts of a beggar’ (4.2.30–1).72 The allusion is apt as
the younger poet meditates on the death of the elder, at a time of personal
and international uncertainty, and the figurative violence it draws from the
play feeds into the unsettled thought process. In the first version of the
128 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

poem, this uncertainty was answered by a second section (later part III)
which argues in Prospero-esque rhyming couplets in favour of ‘everyone’
by whom ‘language’ lives. Here, Auden addresses, as he did in his contem-
porary article ‘The Public Vs. the Late Mr. W.B. Yeats’, the problem of
Yeats’s reactionary views – and, by implication, the political views of any
poet – concluding that the poet’s job is not to release ‘the free man’ from
‘the prison of his days’, but to teach him an attitude: ‘how to praise’ (Poems,
247–9; EA, 389–93).
This is the attitude that Auden’s essay on Frost attributes to Prospero-
dominated poets, via Dr Johnson: ‘The only end of writing is to enable the reader
better to enjoy life or better to endure it.’ (DH, 338) Simply to lament ‘the prison’
of one’s time is the Hamlet-dominated way of part I (‘Denmark’s a prison’,
2.2.243). When Auden reprinted the poem in his next volume, Another
Time (1940), he inserted an explicitly quietist argument in mediation
between these two voices. The poem’s new middle section cast Yeats himself
as the Romantic hero, ‘hurt into . . . poetry’ by a disjointed society (‘mad
Ireland’), which nevertheless remains unchanged by it: ‘for poetry makes
nothing happen’. ‘Nothing’ is a word at the heart of Hamlet’s musings on
what he might make happen: the player’s imagined grief for Hecuba, he
notes, is ‘all for nothing’, and yet he himself ‘can say nothing’ for his own
cause, even though he is more than able – like a lyric poet – to ‘unpack my
heart with words’. Famously, this line of reasoning leads Hamlet to theatre
as a means of effecting change at Elsinore: ‘the play’s the thing’ that he
finally opposes to his introspective ‘nothing’ (2.2.550–605). But it was not
for his plays, nor his politics, that Yeats was so widely mourned, and Auden’s
elegy offers instead an affirmation of lyric poetry’s social force: its lack of
historical efficacy is transformed into a permanent place (‘the valley of its
making’), and the digestive process of the earlier ‘guts’ image is reversed
so that it ‘flows’ outwards again, into the language, as ‘a way of happening,
a mouth’ (Poems, 248).
The new middle section emerged from an experience Auden had
after publishing the first version of the poem, which caused him to reject
the language of political action for good. In March 1939, he spoke at a
dinner in New York in aid of Spanish war refugees, where he rose to a
pitch of rhetoric that he later regretted as ‘fighting demagogic speech’.73
Auden’s uneasiness with his public voice in Another Time is reflected by
the poem’s inclusion under the ambivalent heading ‘Occasional Poems’,
along with the notoriously rhetorical ‘Spain 1937’ and the eve-of-war
meditation, ‘September I, 1939’. The book ends instead with a poem that
silently declares Auden’s admiration for Shakespeare as the one great
W. H. Auden 129

poet who remained a private person. ‘Epithalamion’ was also written in

September 1939 to celebrate the marriage of Giuseppe Antonio Borgese
and Elisabeth Mann, and employs a stanza and an argument that echoes
Shakespeare’s unique minor poem, ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’. In this
allegorical funeral lyric, two lovers are hyperbolically lamented as ‘truth
and beauty’ themselves, who have died without issue:

Leaving no posterity,
’Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity. (ll. 59–61)

Reversing the lament but observing the hyperbole, Auden proposes that
although the outbreak of war may seem the major event of the time,

Happier savants may decide

That this quiet wedding of
A Borgese and a Mann
Planted human unity;
Hostile kingdoms of the truth,
Fighting fragments of content,
Here were reconciled by love,
Modern policy begun
On this day. (EA, 453)

John Fuller hears in the ‘celebratory tetrameters’ of ‘Epithalamion’ an

echo of Oberon’s marriage-blessing at the end of A Midsummer Night’s
Dream (‘To the best bride-bed will we, / Which by us shall blessed be’,
5.1.403–4).74 But Auden’s conceptual emphasis on the accomplishment
of ‘unity’ from division, and the correspondingly wrought syntax of these
short trochaic lines, more closely recall the conceits of ‘The Phoenix and

Two distinct, division none:

Number there in love was slain. (ll. 27–8)
[. . .]
Single nature’s double name
Neither two nor one was called. (ll. 39–40)
[. . .]
Love hath reason, Reason none,
If what parts, can so remain. (ll. 47–8)
130 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

The poem had a reputation in the modernist period as a piece of proto-

Symbolist poésie pure. In 1924, John Middleton Murry had called it ‘pure
poetry in the loftiest and most abstract meaning of the words . . . it gives
us the highest experience which it is possible for poetry to give’.75 Auden’s
allusive use of it in ‘Epithalamion’, therefore, has a tendentious irony: the
poem forces real history – from the war’s ‘explosives’ to the biographies of
great artists – into rarefied lyric form. 76
The invocation of the great European artists in the second half of the
poem makes an argument for the power of art, like marriage, to transform
life into a source of joy. By ‘[d]reaming out his anger’ at political failure,
Dante achieved a vision of love; Leonardo turned from war and corruption
to ‘[watch] a dove’; Mozart turned ‘poverty to song’. Shakespeare himself
only appears among this company by implication, however, where Auden
instructs the lovers in the sixth stanza to

Let your Ariels fly away

To a gay unconsciousness
And a freely-chosen task:
[. . .]
Brilliantly your angels took
Every lover’s role for you,
Wore seduction like a mask
Or were frigid for your sakes;
Set these shadows, now your eyes
On the whole of substance look,
Free to-day. (EA, 455)

Anticipating The Sea and the Mirror, ‘Epithalamion’ translates Prospero’s

release of Ariel to the ethical sphere. Ariel is the ‘angel’ of a courtship,
whose shadowy illusions are an art that must ultimately be relinquished for
the real ‘substance’ of a spouse – as Prospero says to Ariel – ‘familiar as a
stocking’ (Poems, 408).
Shakespeare is an unnamed but exemplary presence in ‘Epithalamion’,
the one artist who devoted himself wholly to the ‘substance’ of art. Auden
elaborated this idea a month later in a review of Mark van Doren’s study,
Shakespeare. Leonardo, Goethe, Tolstoy and Dante, he wrote, were all
diverted from their art by other concerns,

but in Shakespeare poetry and life are one. If we do not like poetry, he
can mean nothing to us whatsoever. In the true sense of the word ‘pure’,
W. H. Auden 131

he is the purest poet who ever lived; that is to say, he explored all life
through a single medium, that of language. (Prose II, 30)

Shakespeare’s purity is called to account by the impure lyricism of

‘Epithalamion’, however, as it would be in Auden’s later criticism of The
Tempest as a ‘manichean’ play, in which the life of the ‘spirit’ – represented
by Ariel – is released from its involvement with the ‘substance’ of the
world. For this reason, Auden found it a ‘disquieting work’, depicting a
hero whose ‘coldness’ to human affairs was unsympathetic (DH, 113). In
the 1940s, he would rewrite the myth of Prospero as a poet who remains
in the world after Ariel has flown, and so continues the Shakespearean
engagement with human affairs he most valued.

Shakespearean Heroism: The Sea and the Mirror

In Auden’s next book, The Double Man (1941), published in England under
the title of its central poem, New Year Letter, Shakespeare is, again, notably
absent from the survey of ‘Great masters who have shown mankind / An
order it has yet to find’ (Poems, 201). But the example of ‘Epithalamion’
suggests there may be reason to hear his myth of the magus who resigns
his powers in the poem’s prosody. The rhyming iambic tetrameters of
‘New Year Letter’ are close in feeling to the rhyming trochaic tetrameters
of Prospero’s epilogue, with its modest appeal for forgiveness (‘Gentle
breath of yours my sails / Must fill, or else my project fails’, 11–12) – a
resemblance brought out at the poem’s own conclusion, where Auden
asks his addressee, Elizabeth Mayer, to ‘bless / Me with a learned peace-
fulness’ (Poems, 242). As John Fuller comments, the octosyllabic couplet is
‘perhaps just too narrow for discursive verse’, enforcing the formal curb on
rhetorical gesture that would characterize Auden’s later poetry. 77
The moral heroism of the undemonstrative becomes the theme of the
sonnet sequence (‘The Quest’) that follows the verse-letter, and it is here
that Shakespeare enters the poem as subject matter too. Sonnet IX (which
originally had the Yeatsian title, ‘The Tower’) describes all intellectuals
and artists who attempt to revenge themselves on the world in splendid
isolation: ‘exiled Will to politics returns / In epic verse that makes its
traitors weep’. The example recalls the exiled Dante of ‘Epithalamion’,
‘[d]reaming out his anger’ through The Divine Comedy (EA, 454). But
the personified abstract noun also echoes Shakespeare’s own play on his
shortened first name in the Sonnets, suggesting an affinity between the
132 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

exiled character of Prospero and his creator. The sonnet ends by charac-
terizing all as ‘great magicians caught in their own spell’, who ‘Long for a
natural climate as they sigh / ‘Beware of Magic’ to the passer-by.’ (Poems,
By contrast, Sonnet XVI (originally ‘The Hero’) figures the truly great
man as the most humble. When the public (‘They’) ask him what the
greatest wonder in the world is, he replies: ‘‘The bare man Nothing in
the Beggar’s Bush’’ – a wisely foolish use of a word harped on repeatedly
by the Fool in King Lear (‘I am a Fool, thou art nothing’, 1.4.193), as well
as an image recalling the exposure to Lear of man as a ‘poor, bare, fork’d
animal’ (3.4.107–8) by the beggar Poor Tom in that play.78 The hero of
the sonnet is the antithesis of the artist in his tower: the man who makes
no show of his fame, and is devoted to the ‘details and routine’ of daily
life. John Fuller has demonstrated that Auden drew in particular on the
biography of Flaubert for some of the details of this poem.79 But the
disgruntlement of the world with the hero’s failure to fit his fame, and
especially the observation that ‘‘He looks too like a grocer for respect’’,
also echoes the dismay expressed in the period – often in connection with
the ‘authorship controversy’ – at Shakespeare’s retirement to Stratford,
apparently to live quietly and deal grain (Poems, 293). In 1932, for example,
John Dover Wilson complained that the memorial statue above the tomb at
Stratford resembled a ‘self-satisfied pork butcher’.80
Two Shakespeares emerge, appropriately, in The Double Man: the
Manichaean artist and the heroic man. Auden’s continuation of The
Tempest in The Sea and the Mirror would address itself to the reconcili-
ation of these figures, and a Christian theory of art which does not end
in Prospero’s renunciation. The poem is a ‘commentary’ on this aspect of
the play in particular, which is why it takes place just at the moment that
the curtain has fallen. Written in the middle of the Second World War, The
Sea and the Mirror turns away from the public art of poetic drama, as well
as the public voice of Auden’s first American poems. But it continues the
kind of poetic thinking about the relationship between art and society for
which both had been a vehicle. Auden’s choric plays were always as much
dramatised analyses of their society as dramatic presentations, which may
be why he encountered difficulties when attempting to focus the ‘interest’
of The Ascent of F6 on a single character. In William Empson’s analysis,
Paid on Both Sides compressed the irrational machinery of ‘tragic form’ to
‘the gamut of all the ways we have of thinking about the matter’ – a mode
that Auden continued in The Orators, his 1932 poem on the neurosis of
heroism, which he called ‘an abstract drama’.81 The lecture on The Tempest
W. H. Auden 133

that Auden gave in 1947 emphasizes the play’s interest in different kinds
of society, and divides the island into two kingdoms under the rule of
Auden’s representative types from the history plays, Falstaff and Prince Hal
(Lectures, 296–307). The very fact that The Sea and the Mirror is ‘set’ in the
small social world of a theatre is significant, as is its formal framing by the
anonymous words of two of the drama’s most mundane servants: ‘the Stage
Manager’ and ‘the Prompter’.
Auden’s essay on ‘Music in Shakespeare’ begins by acknowledging G.
Wilson Knight’s influential identification of a storm-music symbolism in
Shakespeare that develops towards a final vision of ‘the orchestration of
eternity’ (DH, 500).82 But it ends in contradiction of this view. The other
three late romances – Pericles, Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale – are plays
in which ‘in a symbolic sense, harmony and concord finally triumph over
dissonant disorder’, but The Tempest, ‘ends much more sourly’, with a
central character who seems to ‘[long] for a place where silence shall be
all’ (DH, 526–7). Auden’s phrasing echoes ‘Preface’, the opening poem of
The Sea and the Mirror, where ‘the Stage Manager’ addresses ‘the Critics’
with a discourse on the line where art ends and the living ‘secret’ that ‘we
cannot quote’ begins:

the Bard
Was sober when he wrote
That this world of fact we love
Is unsubstantial stuff:
All the rest is silence
On the other side of the wall;
And the silence ripeness,
And the ripeness all. (Poems, 404)

‘Unsubstantial stuff’ echoes Prospero’s speech to Ferdinand at the end of

The Tempest’s wedding masque, as he prepares to give up the powers he
has used in presenting ‘this insubstantial pageant’, and his thoughts turn
to human life itself as ‘such stuff / As dreams are made on’ (4.1.155–7 –
Auden’s change from ‘in-’ to ‘unsubstantial’ adding an absolute emphasis
to the negation of the ‘world of fact’).83 ‘Preface’ attributes the sentiment
directly to Shakespeare, while also rhyming ‘Bard’ with ‘backyard’ – a
pairing that places the retiring playwright back on a level with the reticent
hero of ‘The Quest’, who was ‘always glad to mow the grass’ (Poems, 293).
The following lines develop Shakespeare’s supposed final wisdom through
Hamlet’s dying words (‘the rest is silence’, 5.2.358) and Edgar’s stoic
134 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

moralizing to Gloucester at the end of King Lear (‘Men must endure /

Their going hence, even as their coming hither, / Ripeness is all’, 5.2.9–
11). Read back into their dramatic context, of course, tragedy hangs about
both these quotations, and it seems logical to suggest that Shakespeare
gets ‘his own last word’ here against his co-option into the ‘final Christian
vision’ of ‘a truth beyond this world’ that the poem proposes.84 Auden
was not generally in the habit, however, of attributing to Shakespeare
sentiments expressed by his characters. Like the faux-naif ‘Bard-backyard’
rhyme, that patness of the quotations flags up the artifice of the moral. In
reality the poem leaves us – like the thwarted Pyramus and Thisbe – on our
‘side of the wall’.85 The Stage Manager is the real-world equivalent of Ariel,
contriving the poetic illusion on behalf of the dramaturge. The sonority
of Shakespeare’s dramatized words provides a rhetorical costume for the
mature poetic vision that follows: the ‘silence’ at its heart remains, but the
‘ripeness’ of its artifice will be its substance.86
Auden wrote of The Tempest in 1947, ‘Shakespeare really left it in a
mess’.87 Following Auden’s own schematic tendencies as a critic, it is
tempting to read The Sea and the Mirror as an interpretative tidying up of
the play, especially in light of the elaborately plotted symbolic correspond-
ences from Auden’s working notes. Arthur Kirsch, for instance, writes that
the final echo-poem, ‘Postcript’, spoken by Ariel to Caliban, reflects the fact
that ‘the one cannot exist without the other’.88 But the ‘Echo’ of ‘. . . I’ to
every stanza is spoken by the Prompter, rather than Caliban himself, which
introduces an unravelling irony: Ariel may be speaking, but Caliban is not
responding. The spirit of lyric poetry is left singing in his ethereal loop,
and Prospero’s ‘thing of darkness’ remains – as at the end of play – silent
and unresolved.89
Auden’s Caliban has already commented eloquently on this moment,
at the end of his speech ‘to the audience’, which makes up Part III of the
poem. His insight into the moment when art falls silent – the moment, that
is, after Prospero’s epilogue in a performance of the play – is the realization
that ‘our contrived fissures of mirror and proscenium arch . . . are feebly
figurative signs’ of the ‘Wholly Other Life’ that art temporarily allows us
to imagine (Poems, 444). Shakespeare’s artistic and ethical achievement is
to present the ‘essential emphatic gulf’ between real and imagined life. As
Auden wrote in 1939,

For all his mastery of ‘theater’, no performance of Shakespeare can ever

give us the dramatic illusion that we are watching real people: we are
always acutely aware that we are watching actors clumsily scrambling
W. H. Auden 135

after a life far out of their reach. [. . .] Just as the purest poet is the enemy
of ‘pure poetry’, so the most skilful dramatist is the greatest enemy of
‘the stage’.

These critical paradoxes on the implicit power of the ‘clumsily scrambling’

performance that Shakespearean drama creates (Prose II, 31) are crucial to
the ars poetica Auden intended with The Sea and the Mirror, which he said
aimed at ‘something which is in a way absurd, to show in a work of art, the
limitations of art’.90 In his 1946 lecture, Auden explained the power of The
Tempest as a mythopoeic work by drawing a distinction between the great
tragedies such as Antony and Cleopatra and King Lear, which ‘only exist in
words’, and The Tempest, whose ‘famous passages of poetry’ are ‘accidental’,
apart from Ariel’s songs and the wedding masque (Lectures, 297). This is
not quite to say, as T. S. Eliot suggests in Four Quartets – the meditative voice
of which haunts Auden’s Prospero – that ‘the poetry does not matter’.91 As
it transpired, Four Quartets really was Eliot’s farewell to lyric poetry. But The
Sea and the Mirror is consciously not a final work. Instead, by allegorizing the
limitations of the Ariel-lyrical and the Prospero-moral poet, Auden arrives
in Part III at a new poetic of ‘ripeness’, alive, mortal, unashamedly artificial
and embodied by Caliban.

Caliban and the Mirror: Auden’s Fallen Art

‘Prospero to Ariel’ argues out in verse the relationship that Auden’s essay
on Robert Frost would later propose as a general theory, in which the
highest poetry subordinates Ariel’s ‘beautiful verbal element’ to ‘the truth
of what it says’ (DH, 340). But, as Auden concedes at the conclusion of
this contrary essay, conducting what Frost calls ‘a lover’s quarrel’ with life
is ‘more worthy of Prospero than not caring or looking coldly’ – despite
the fact that his own reading of Prospero as a character in the play finds
him to have just these qualities (DH, 129). From its first words (‘Stay with
me, Ariel, while I pack’), ‘Prospero to Ariel’ explores the essay’s insight
that ‘every poem involves some degree of collaboration’ between the two. It
also establishes the poem’s Shakespearean symbol of art as a mirror held
up to nature, but with Auden’s particular emphasis on the artificiality of its

Now, Ariel, I am that I am, your late and lonely master,

Who knows now what magic is: – the power to enchant
136 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

That comes from disillusion. What the books can teach one
Is that most desires end up in stinking ponds,
But we have only to learn to sit still and give no orders,
To make you offer us your echo and your mirror;
We have only to believe you, then you dare not lie;
To ask for nothing, and at once from your calm eyes,
With their lucid proof of apprehension and disorder,
All we are not stares back at what we are. (Poems, 405)

This passage also provides a gloss on the theme of self-reflection through

lyric form (Ariel’s particular ‘echo and mirror’) that Chapter II, ‘The
Supporting Cast’, expands. There, the other characters who have been
transformed by Prospero’s magic on the island are ‘turned back into men’,
and speak their lyrical reflections ‘dotted about the deck’ of the ship. Just
as Auden would demur at Wilson Knight’s musical reading of The Tempest,
however, the character of Antonio casts doubt on this apparently harmo-
nious ending (‘What a lot a little music can do’) by sounding a note of
discordant commentary. The sea of reality on which they sail (‘calm as
a clock’) temporarily resembles its symbolic opposite, the mirror of art
(Poems, 410–11). Antonio suggests that the statement of self towards which
lyric form works is similarly temporary, and tends to self-delusion – a moral
that Auden tacitly endorses. The romance of Ferdinand and Miranda, for
instance – whose kissing profiles are cinematically ‘silhouetted against the
sails’ – is silently doubted by the placing of their respective poems at either
end of this section, and then openly contradicted by Antonio’s insistence
on a fundamental egotism.92 Ferdinand’s love sonnet echoes the rhetoric
of mutuality of ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’ (‘Either was the other’s mine’),
with its climax of ‘another tenderness / That neither without either could
or would possess’. But Antonio interjects bluntly, ‘My person is my own’
(Poems, 412). Similarly, Miranda’s villanelle turns on a refrain that makes
solitude and company indistinguishable: ‘My Dear One is mine as mirrors
are lonely’. But Antonio is unimpressed by the ‘happy’ magic of her verse
form, which finds an image for its consolatory repetitions in ‘children in
a circle dancing’: his figure is ‘The Only One, Creation’s O’, which he
‘Dances for Death alone’ (Poems, 421–2).
Antonio’s commentary embodies the ethical argument of Auden’s Frost
essay: ‘Ariel’s other name is Narcissus’ (DH, 340). When we look – with
Prospero – into his ‘calm eyes’, we forget that desire usually ends, like
Caliban, in ‘stinking ponds’, and believe in an ideal reflection (‘all we
are not stares back at what we are’). Antonio’s dark stanzas embrace this
W. H. Auden 137

self-knowledge as the eternal problem for the moral exercise of art, as

attempted by his brother: Prospero’s ‘need to love’ and ‘will to charm’
are themselves compromised by it. When he asserts ‘I am I, Antonio / By
choice myself alone’, he is echoing a Shakespearean attitude that fasci-
nated Auden (Poems, 411–12). At the end of 3 Henry VI, Richard, Duke of
Gloucester declares his intention to reject ‘love’ for villainy; he states ‘I am
myself alone’ (5.6.83). Later, as Richard III, facing his crimes, he reiterates:
‘Richard loves Richard, that is I am I’ (Richard III, 5.3.183). The villainous
quality of the phrase recalls Sonnet 121’s semi-blasphemous borrowing
from Exodus 3.14 (‘And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM’). Defying
the corrupt judgements of others, the speaker asserts

No, I am that I am: and they that level

At my abuses, reckon up their own;
I may be straight, though they themselves be bevel; . . . (ll. 9–11)

In ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, Auden quotes these lines wholesale in defiance

of his own critics, adding: ‘So Shakespeare said, but Shakespeare must
have known. / I daren’t say that except when I’m alone.’ (EA, 190) Four
stanzas after referring to him as ‘Shopkeeper’, the young poet defers to
Shakespeare as a great poet justified in his antinomianism, while implying
that all poets are fallible when alone with their emotions (Auden later
expressed the opinion that Shakespeare’s sonnets were written ‘for himself
Two further allusions to the phrase in Auden’s Shakespeare criticism
illuminate the relationship between egotism and poetry that Antonio
represents in The Sea and the Mirror. In his essay on Othello, Auden styles
Iago a ‘practical joker’, whose motivation is a purely negative and parasitical
desire to provoke the emotions of another. When Iago says of his villainy ‘I
am not what I am’, Auden comments that this is right: he is ‘the negation
of the Divine I am that I am’, a destructive rather than a creative force. This
sounds like Antonio’s final description of himself as ‘Creation’s O’. But in
the same essay, we are told that Antonio is to be distinguished from the
‘malcontent’ villains, such as Iago and Richard III, who are born with a
grudge against life. Antonio is merely a ‘criminal character’, who succumbs
to a tempting opportunity – Prospero’s neglect of his authority – that we
all might encounter (DH, 247, 257). Even though Antonio appears not to
want it, then, his desire to be the ‘Only One’, the figure whom all Creation
adores (with a vocative O), is ultimately human and forgivable. He is vain
and selfish, but not a pure negation. Rather, he is the pure expression of
138 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

the egotist in everyone, Ferdinand and Miranda included. To underline

the point, in the speech to Ariel quoted above, Auden has Prospero also
say – almost casually – ‘I am that I am’.
The discussion of Falstaff and Hal in Auden’s essay on Henry IV, ‘The
Prince’s Dog’, develops Auden’s ethical distinction between types of egotism
further. Hal represents the ‘worldly man’, whose ambition has affinities
with both ‘the criminal’ and ‘the wicked man’. The criminal is absolutely
egotistic, and sacrifices others without guilt, because he is ‘the only person
in a world of things’. The villain, or wicked man, is ‘anti-worldly’, in that
he aims consciously at the destruction of other people. The worldly man
resembles both in part, because he is ambitious, and will use, deceive and,
if necessary, destroy other people. Auden quotes Hal’s Machiavellian lines
on throwing off his sociably ‘loose behaviour’ when necessary, alongside
Iago’s ‘I am not what I am’ speech. He then contrasts both with the
lines already quoted from Sonnet 121, approving their defiant honesty
as words that might be spoken by Hal’s ‘Unworldly’ opposite, Falstaff,
who is imagined making two statements: ‘‘I am I. Whatever I do, however
outrageous, is of infinite importance because I do it’ and ‘I am that I am,
a drunken old failure’.’ (DH, 204–6) Falstaff, for Auden, can be forgiven
everything, even his petty criminality, because, unlike Antonio, his egotism
is absolutely without deception, and, unlike Iago, it is only ever exercized
in making people laugh, rather than laughing at them.
Falstaff, Auden suggests, is a mythopoeic character who belongs so
completely to a ‘world of play’ that we find it hard to believe that he will
ever really die (DH, 184). The adoring extension of the character in ‘The
Prince’s Dog’ makes him the embodiment of the accepting morality that
Auden found most sympathetic in Shakespeare. Quoting Falstaff on his
‘love’ for Hal, Auden compares Shakespeare’s sentiments in Sonnet 124.
Then, commenting on Falstaff’s fatness, he invokes ‘his own weight and
experience’ to support the theory that

Fatness in the male is the physical expression of a psychological wish to

withdraw from sexual competition and, by combining mother and child
in his own person, to become emotionally self-sufficient. The Greeks
thought of Narcissus as a slender youth but I think they were wrong. I
see him as a middle-aged man.

Auden and Shakespeare meet here as poets whose egotism is tempered

by self-knowledge as comic and forgiving as that of Falstaff, the essay’s
representative figure for ‘the supernatural order of Charity’, which it sets
W. H. Auden 139

against ‘the temporal order of Justice’ represented by Hal (DH, 191, 196,
Auden’s benevolent presentation of Falstaff in his criticism continues his
decision to award the majority of moral eloquence in The Sea and the Mirror
to the maligned Caliban, whose final vision is of the ‘negative image of
Judgement’ that allows us ‘positively [to] envisage Mercy’ (Poems, 444).94 By
extending Caliban’s character, Auden was following, among others, Robert
Browning. The first line of Browning’s dramatic monologue, ‘Caliban
upon Setebos’ – ‘’Will sprawl, now that the heat of the day is best’ – is
recalled in Auden’s poem by Prospero’s description of the monster as a
‘wreck / That sprawls in the weeds and will not be repaired’ (Poems, 407).95
But Browning’s style for Caliban, which blends pastiche Shakespeare with
Victorian word-painting (‘Yon otter, sleek-wet, black, lithe as a leech’), is
left behind, along with Prospero’s pity, by the final chapter of The Sea and
the Mirror. ‘Caliban to the Audience’ performs instead an eloquent pastiche
of the later prose of Henry James, which begins with an echo of James’s
1907 essay on The Tempest. The essay opens by observing how Shakespeare’s
works, ‘taken in their mass . . . appear to mock our persistent ignorance
of so many of the conditions of their birth, and thereby to place on the
rack again our strained and aching wonder’. The novelist was at this time
‘haunted’ by the doubts about Shakespeare’s authorship raised in the late
nineteenth century. Here, he presents the play as the most haunting of all:
the final ‘production’

of the long series, in which the Questions, as the critical reader of

Shakespeare must ever comprehensively and ruefully call them and
more or less resignedly live with them, hover before us in their most
tormenting form.96

Auden’s Caliban takes his cue from James’s complex opening sentence
with one of his own, spoken at the end of an actual ‘production’:

If now [. . .] you ask, and, of course, [. . .] you instinctively do ask for our so
good, so great, so dead author to stand before the finally lowered curtain
and take his shyly responsible bow for this, his latest, ripest production, it
is I – my reluctance is, I can assure you, co-equal with your dismay – who
will always loom thus wretchedly into your confused picture, for, in default
of the all-wise, all-explaining master you would speak to, who else at least
can, who else at least must respond to your bewildered cry, but its very
echo, the begged question you would speak to him about. (Poems, 422)
140 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Caliban presents himself as the dramatic embodiment of James’s

‘Questions’: who he is and what he means are what we would speak to his
creator about. But he is also the only answer we will get to these questions:
an ‘echo’ returned to us, as the ‘self-revelation’ of all Shakespearean
criticism. Auden’s radically anti-naturalistic decision to write Caliban in the
style of James undermines the hermeneutic irony of Browning’s dramatic
monologues, in which the poetic truth of the speaking voice exists in
tension with the falsity of what is being said (in ‘Caliban upon Setebos’,
the monster’s ‘natural theology’). As readers, we are invited to judge the
distance between the two. Auden, in his criticism of The Tempest, contested
our right to judge such a figure: although Caliban is corrupted, ‘we cannot
help feeling that Prospero is largely responsible for his corruption, and
that, in the debate between them, Caliban has the best of the argument’
(DH, 129). By granting him an eloquent prose style, Auden presents a
Caliban who is formally less deceived than any verse-speaking character,
and critically highly articulate: he ‘speak[s] [our] echo’, implicating us
in who he is as much as Shakespeare, James or Auden. The monster’s
language is ours.
This knowledge informs the paradoxes of the speech’s final section,
where Caliban confronts us with his ‘embarrassment’ at having learnt the
‘language’ of the artist, only to discover that

in representing to you your condition of estrangement from the truth,

[the artist] is doomed to fail the more he succeeds, for the more truth-
fully he paints the condition, the less clearly he can indicate the truth
from which it is estranged.

Caliban here articulates the artistic problem which Auden would later
address in his distinction between the ‘Ariel-’ and ‘Prospero-dominated’
poet. The Ariel-dominated poet succeeds in creating a ‘brighter [. . .]
revelation of the truth’ from which we are estranged. But he does so at
the expense of not showing our ‘actual condition in all its drabness’. This
becomes the task of the Prospero-dominated poet who, with his ‘drab’ style,
attempts to break the narcissistic fascination of seeing ‘[our] defects’ in
the perfect surface of Ariel’s mirror by a ‘misting over’ of the glass (Poems,
442). By having Caliban talk of art and mirrors, of course, Auden evokes
Oscar Wilde’s Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray: ‘The nineteenth-century
dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. /
The nineteenth-century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban
not seeing his own face in a glass.’97 Wilde, arguing that ‘there is no such
W. H. Auden 141

thing as an immoral book’, casts the critical reader as the raging Caliban
and the text as the polished mirror. But Auden’s Jamesian savage compli-
cates this antinomian defence of art, just as he complicates Shakespeare’s
‘manichaean’ play: Caliban is the textual mirror in which we see ourselves,
as well as the face it shows us.
‘Caliban to the Audience’ embodies the conclusion implicit in Auden’s
essay on Frost. If all poems are the result of a ‘collaboration’ between Ariel
and Prospero, then all poets are created by this relationship too. Poets, that
is, are Calibans: ‘dominated’ by, but existing between, the beauty of Ariel’s
music and the truth of Prospero’s language. The mirrors they hold up to
us are necessarily imperfect, misted by their own breath (‘the vanity of
our calling’, as Auden called it in his poem ‘At the Grave of Henry James’,
Poems, 312). For Auden, the imperfection of The Tempest was its moral
vanity: Shakespeare’s Manichaean theology, which blames man’s fallen
state ‘upon Nature and makes the Spirit innocent’. By recreating Caliban,
‘the embodiment of the natural’, as the hero of The Sea and the Mirror,
Auden proposes a correction to both the presumed innocence of the
‘spirit of imagination, Ariel’ and the superior ‘coldness’ of Prospero, who is
‘someone who has come to the conclusion that human nature is not worth
much’ (DH, 129–32). Of the three, only the fallen Caliban, like Falstaff,
represents the full potential of human nature in Christian theology to be
redeemed – and, in Auden’s later theory of poetry, to be fully, reflectively

Conclusion: A Worldly Stage

At the centre of ‘Caliban to the Audience’, Auden placed an autobio-

graphical address to the ‘strange young man’ whose literary career this
essay has described. Having fixed on ‘the conjurer’s profession’, the young
writer finds that Ariel, spirit of the imagination, willingly obeys, feeding
his work with ‘vivid concrete experiences’ until eventually his talent for
‘wonder-working romance’ becomes ‘an economic habit’, and his voracious
perceptiveness second nature. Their collaboration is a success: ‘ever more
major grows the accumulated work, ever more masterly the manner’. But
then comes a crisis, after which the relationship with Ariel becomes more
difficult to sustain. Eventually, he decides, Prospero-like, to release his
familiar. But here the Shakespearean myth is derailed. Despite being told
‘‘You are free. Good-bye’’ (the last word of Prospero’s monologue in Part
I), Ariel does not move. Enraged at being disobeyed, the magician faces
142 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

‘Him’ down, only to meet himself reflected in Ariel’s eyes as ‘a gibbering

fist-clenched creature’ who is ‘the only subject that you have’, and whose
‘all too solid flesh you must acknowledge as your own’: Caliban, the
narrator of the story (Poems, 431–3).
Auden’s cartoon-like scenario of recognition is typical of his resistance,
as a reader of Shakespeare, to heroic gestures and transcendent absolutes.
In the ‘Prologue’ to The Sea and the Mirror, he contradicted Hamlet’s dying
words (‘the rest is silence’) by ending his poem with a sentiment of mature
endurance from King Lear: ‘ripeness [is] all’. Here, Caliban performs the
same trick by merging Hamlet’s early wish for oblivion (‘O, that this too too
sallied [solid] flesh would melt’, 1.2.129) with Prospero’s late admission of
responsibility for Caliban: ‘this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine’
(5.1.275–6). The artistic ripeness of the moment is rich: Auden allegorizes
his own arrival at this point of maturity by borrowing some of the last
words that Shakespeare gave to his own elder artist, and putting them into
the mouth of The Sea and the Mirror’s alternative representative, as voiced
by Henry James. Auden-Caliban’s choice of a refined realist novelist as
his alternative to the poetry of both Prospero and Ariel gave him a style
which accorded with the moral of his anti-Manichaean myth. Coming after
the lyricism of Part II, Caliban’s speech – like Prospero’s Epilogue in The
Tempest – audibly steps down towards the audience, but without disowning
art, which, James said (and Auden approved, in a 1944 review), ‘makes life,
makes interest, makes importance’.98
Art is a fundamental part of human nature in ‘Caliban to the Audience’:
the theatre of the text is also the theatre of the world. Auden makes this
Shakespeare’s moral too when he has Caliban, discussing ‘our unfortunate
dramatist’, play on another famous phrase, this time from a comedy:

Beating about for some large loose image to define the original drama
which aroused his imitative passion, the first performance in which
the players were their own audience, the worldly stage on which their
behaving flesh was really sore and sorry – for the floods of tears were
not caused by onions, the deformities and wounds did not come off
after a good wash [. . .] – the fancy immediately flushed is of the greatest
grandest opera rendered by a very provincial touring company indeed.
(Poems, 443)

Echoing Jaques’s speech on human life in As You Like It (‘All the world’s
a stage’, 2.7.139–66), Auden’s ‘worldly stage’ is both the vision that made
Shakespeare a writer and the refracted origin of his own ars poetica in the
W. H. Auden 143

‘theatre’ of a world war, with its real tears and wounds. The subtle change
in phrasing is significant in bringing the two visions closer together. As
Stan Smith has suggested, Auden’s opposition of Prince Hal the ‘worldly’
leader, cynically able to make rousing speeches when required, to Falstaff
the ‘unworldly’ Christ-figure, is both a theologically and politically radical
idea, which connects his ‘early materialism and the ‘worldly Christianity’
of his later years’. Both acknowledge the origin of art in human weakness
– as Falstaff admits his egotism – but the later vision is more conscious of
its potential complicity in suffering and injustice, as when Prospero meets
himself as Caliban in Ariel’s eyes.99
This acknowledgement is the burden of ‘Under Which Lyre’, Auden’s
post-war ‘tract for the times’ which opposes the worldly and unworldly arts
(or ‘lyres’) of Apollo and Hermes.100 Evidently, Auden favours the ‘sons
of Hermes’ who ‘love to play’ over those of Apollo, who are born admin-
istrators and officials. But the poem’s argument, wittily bound together
by rhyme, is that both will always exist, ‘related by antithesis’: ‘Falstaff the
fool confronts forever / The prig Prince Hal’ (Poems, 336). The Fool is the
Shakespearean figure most often recalled by Auden’s later poetic persona,
who, in Lucy McDiarmid’s words, ‘becomes the theatrical ‘presenter’ of
his own lyric poems’.101 In the obliquely autobiographical ‘Forty Years On’
(1968), he assumes the mask of Autolycus, the ‘singing rogue-fool’ of The
Winter’s Tale, as Nevill Coghill, Auden’s undergraduate tutor and dedicatee
of The Dyer’s Hand, called him in 1959. Coghill’s essay, which appeared when
Auden was in Oxford as Professor of Poetry, notes that Autolycus’s ‘roguery’
is important as a balance to the play’s romance sentiment: ‘one is kept down
to earth’.102 Yet there is also something unworldly about the character: by his
own account, he is a son of Hermes (‘litter’d under Mercury’, 4.3.25), who
gave him his skill as a ‘snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’.103
The poem offers another allegory of Auden’s turn from the persuasive
magic of his own lyric facility in the 1930s to a more down-to-earth manner,
reflecting the forgiving ethics of his incarnational Christianity. Looking back,
from 1968, to the start of his career as a poet in 1928, Auden-Autolycus reflects
that it is a long time ‘since I picked a pocket . . . or sang for pennies’. He admits
that he misses singing, but consoles himself that a modern audience raised
on the protest songs of the 1960s would in any case ‘boo my ballads’. Now, in
‘rich’ maturity, the poet can indulge instead the kind of Shakespearean ‘verbal
dexterity’ – the result of ‘an enormous range of vocabulary’ and ‘a fabulously
good taste for words’ – that his younger self had deprecated. In 1929, Auden
wrote in his journal of the ‘exhibitionistic’ tendency of ‘the picked word’, as
in ‘Antres vast and deserts idle’ (Othello, 1.3.140). ‘But what a temptation’,
144 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

he added’, ‘and how satisfied one is with oneself when one does it.’ (Lectures,
318) The picked word, for the young poet, seemed like showing off to ‘the
Society for Pure English’ (EA, 300). For the later poet, however, it was better
than the deception of a reader by simplification: ‘when some obvious booby
tells me he has liked a poem of mine,’ Auden wrote in The Dyer’s Hand, ‘I
feel as though I had picked his pocket.’ (DH, 15)104 Autolycus, along with the
later Auden, prefers the satisfaction of snapping-up unusual words (‘In the
eloignment, / a-glitter in the whelking sun’) which mark his speech as a form
of unofficial verbal play, in contrast to the worldly eloquence by which, we
are told – in a passage of doggerel couplets, parodically recalling Prospero’s
Epilogue – he still makes a dishonest living (‘For a price I can invent / Any
official document’, Poems, 784–5).
As Auden said in his lecture on The Winter’s Tale, ‘Autolycus even in his
deceptions brings people pleasure, making people happy to be deceived.’
(Lectures, 288) His style reflects the Shakespearean paradox, spoken by
another Fool character, Touchstone, and taken by Auden as the title of a
late ars poetica that ‘‘The Truest Poetry is the Most Feigning’’. Touchstone’s
words from As You Like It (3.3.19–20) play on the homophony between
‘feign’, to deceive, and ‘fain’, to desire – a quibble to which Auden was
characteristically attracted.105 The poem, which notes in passing that ‘good
poets have a weakness for bad puns’, concludes that there is nothing
natural about a ‘natural style’, and that love and truth are only ever
expressed by ‘the luck of verbal playing’ (Poems, 619–21). Desire, though,
is still admitted into Auden’s later poetry, especially when it expresses the
impurity of human nature that he found most moving in Shakespeare and
most sympathetic to his own fascination with the poetry of otherness.
In the final lecture of his 1946–7 series, Auden argued that Shakespeare’s
literary training in the ‘mixed motives’ of real people when writing the
history plays meant that he had ‘no narrow theory of aesthetic propriety
[separating] the tragic from the comic’, allowing him to conceive character
psychology from the ‘Christian assumption’ of man’s ‘infinite dynamic
for good or for evil’, rather than the fixed fate of Greek tragedy (Lectures,
311–12). Neil Corcoran comments: ‘in this context, it becomes clear why
Antony and Cleopatra was Auden’s favourite Shakespeare play’.106 Although
it is not significantly treated in The Dyer’s Hand, in the early lecture series
Auden praised the tragedy highly for its dramatization of a ‘flaw’ that is

general and common to all of us all of the time: worldliness – the love
of pleasure, success, art, ourselves, and conversely, the fear of boredom,
failure, being ridiculous, being on the wrong side, dying. (Lectures, 241)
W. H. Auden 145

Or, as he put it in a poem written one year after this passage,

Not to lose time, not to get caught,

Not to be left behind, not, please! to resemble
The beasts who repeat themselves, or a thing like water
Or stone whose conduct can be predicted, these
Are our Common Prayer, . . . (Poems, 542)

If The Sea and the Mirror is the work that precipitated many of Auden’s most
important Shakespearean insights as a critic, ‘In Praise of Limestone’ is the
poem that resulted from this process of reflection on his own career and
vocation. Describing a landscape that the ‘inconstant’ speaker is ‘consist-
ently homesick for . . . chiefly / Because it dissolves in water’, its opening
lines re-imagine the Shakespearean England of his early poetry: the
eidetic island of Richard II, King Lear and The Tempest, whose sovereignty
is constantly challenged by the ‘envious siege / Of wat’ry Neptune’. But it
blurs this location with the limestone landscapes of Italy, where the resem-
blance that he saw to the geology of his own ‘ideal’, lead-mining Pennines
inspired the poem.107 The result is a piece of writing in which – as Auden
observed at the end of his lecture on Antony and Cleopatra – the ‘brilliant
light’ of good weather makes the world it represents ‘seem infinitely
desirable and precious’. Through the figure of limestone, the tragic
opposition of ‘earth and water’ that Auden notes as a recurrent image in
the play is transformed into a comic Christian symbol of earthly life and
‘the life to come’, which is both transient and forgiving. As he wrote of ‘the
splendour of the poetry’ in Antony and Cleopatra, ‘you can’t suggest that the
world is destructive without showing it in all its seductiveness’ – a seduction
that Auden acknowledged when he singled it out as the one Shakespeare
play he would save, if he had to destroy the others (Lectures, 241–2).
Arthur Kirsch comments that ‘Auden’s critical virtues are exceptionally
compelling in the lecture on Antony and Cleopatra in part because the
kind of adult, erotic love he saw in the play was the kind he was especially
comfortable talking about’, rather than ‘young, romantic love’ (Lectures,
xvii). The lecturer’s worldly ease translated into a poem which also
found the middle-aged Auden more comfortable in his relationship
to the romantic youthful choice he made in following the vocation of
Shakespeare. In the 1940s, he had been self-critically drawn towards the
poet-hero of Prospero, whose final gesture was to ‘drown’ his book in
penitence for his powerful ‘music’. The elegiac verses of ‘In Praise of
Limestone’ recall those employed by ‘Prospero to Ariel’, but emerge on
146 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

the other side of the heroic poet’s self-dissolution, and concede that our
‘greatest comfort is music’. Like the landscape it describes, the poem’s
swaying, conversational address is not ‘the sweet home that it looks’ – even
‘the poet’ is made uneasy by what he finds there – but it is composed with
a sense of ‘worldly duty’ to the poet’s art, and Auden’s belief in its ability to
call ‘into question / All the Great Powers’ assume, simply by its continued
existence.108 Discussing the idea of a ‘faultless love’ and ‘the life to come’
in terms of a geology riven by faults, it is a text about the persistent social
fact of difference, as outlawed by totalitarian states: the ‘band of rivals’ who
populate the poem are sometimes ‘Arm in arm, but never, thank God, in
step’ (Poems, 540–2).
Shakespeare’s dramatic world stands for this insoluble fact in Auden’s
work from the first. The young poet’s ‘instinctive antipathy to what is
Officially-Approved-Of’ found an ally in England’s Top Bard even as he
called into question the various kinds of cultural romance represented by
his plays (Prose IV, 307). The title of ‘Lead’s the Best’, for example, excerpts
three words from the poem’s overheard conversation between miners to
suggest a moral from The Merchant of Venice: ‘all that glisters is not gold’
(2.7.65). In the casket riddle of the play, it is the lead casket which leads
Bassanio to the love of Portia. But desire of gold has already entangled
him with Antonio and Shylock, so that he still has a lesson to learn about
his own worldliness, and the limits of romance’s alchemy. Auden places
this lesson at the heart of one of his most subversive critical readings of
Shakespeare, ‘Brothers and Others’, which argues for a moral affinity
between the homosexual Antonio and the Jewish Shylock, as two outsiders
to the ‘fairy tale’ world of Bassanio’s story:

Recalling that the inscription on the leaden casket ran, ‘Who chooseth
me, must give and hazard all he hath,’ it occurs to us that we have seen
two characters do this. Shylock, however unintentionally, did, in fact,
hazard all for the sake of destroying the enemy he hated, and Antonio,
however unthinkingly he signed the bond, hazarded all to secure the
happiness of the friend he loved. Yet it is precisely these two who cannot
enter Belmont. Belmont would like to believe that men and women are
either good or bad by nature, but Shylock and Antonio remind us that
this is an illusion: in the real world, no hatred is totally without justifi-
cation, no love totally innocent. (DH, 235)

‘Lead’s the Best’ undermines the ruling-class romance of innocence and

justice by implying a parallel between the working man and the outcast
W. H. Auden 147

place of Caliban on Prospero’s island, a theme Auden would continue in

his contrarian critical treatments of ‘outsider’ figures such as Falstaff and
Iago.109 Another early poem from the same year, ‘Encounter’, suggests
more explicitly the part that Auden’s homosexuality played in his lifelong
reading of Shakespeare as a great outsider. The epigraph is taken from
King Lear’s confrontation with Cordelia – ‘Nothing will come of nothing’
(1.1.90) – and the first stanza of the poem alludes to Cordelia’s parting
words her sisters: ‘The jewels of our father, with wash’d eyes / Cordelia
leaves you.’ (1.1.268–9). ‘Encounter’ travesties this high-minded farewell as
it conjures a post-coital world inhabited only by ‘men’ about to leave each
other for the working day:

Men blink out

With eyes like unwashed jewels at the dawn,
Stale from a night of joy.110

This is an ‘unwashed’ world of non-procreative sex (‘Nothing will come of

nothing’) which the pure Cordelia cannot inhabit, just as the ‘slender lady’
was an unreal dream to the lead mines. Later, in his criticism, Auden would
single out such ideal feminine figures for some of his bluntest scepticism.
Cordelia is the embodiment of ‘absolute love’, but a dramatic ‘bore’;
Desdemona’s love for Othello is ‘the romantic crush of a silly schoolgirl’
(DH, 201, 268). The seductive voice of the worldly realist, though, is one
that ‘In Praise of Limestone’ rightly has cause to suspect as another form
of romantic isolation: it lures ‘the really reckless’ away with the liberating
idea that ‘‘There is no love; / There are only the various envies, all of
them sad’.’ (Poems, 542) While it may be that ‘in the real world, no hatred
is totally without justification, no love totally innocent’, Auden’s essay on
The Merchant of Venice goes on to preach a form of ‘faultless love’ in its
insistence that ‘we accept all other human beings on earth as brothers, not
only in law, but also in our hearts’ (DH, 235).
Remembering the poetry of Antony and Cleopatra in his 1948 composite
of England and Italy – Shakespeare’s own two dominant imaginative
landscapes – Auden found a richly particular image for this sentiment,
which brings the ‘stranger’ standing on the high, crumbling cliff of his
1930s work into the later intimacy of ‘my dear’, and places the poet on a
level with everyone else.111 It is limestone’s levelling quality which makes
it Auden’s essential landscape of love and revelation: ‘it dissolves in
water’, and so, ultimately, will dissolve all earthly ambitions founded on it,
including those of the aspiring ‘son’ in the opening lines, who has a ‘power
148 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

to charm’ despite ‘all his faults’, but whose ‘child’s wish’ to be distinguished
from ‘his brothers’ arose and will return here (Poems, 540). The apoca-
lyptic fall of the worldly hero is also the sublunary vision of Cleopatra at
the moment of Antony’s death, praised by Auden’s lecture as ‘marvellous

The crown o’ th’ earth doth melt. My lord!

O, wither’d is the garland of the war,
The soldier’s pole is fall’n! Young boys and girls
Are level now with men; the odds is gone,
And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon. (4.15.63–8)

G. Wilson Knight saw ‘‘melting’, ‘dissolving’’ as ‘a crucial theme in the play’:

‘For the blending of elements is similar to that blending of the sexes in
love’.112 It seems appropriate that Auden stood against Wilson Knight in the
election to the Oxford Professorship of Poetry, because – as with Eliot – his
response to Shakespeare so often follows the same schematic lines, only to
disagree over the purity of the final ‘vision’. In one of the first poems of his
youth that he preserved, from 1927, Auden adopted the middle lines of
Cleopatra’s melting speech for another modernist lyric of erotic revelation
(‘the secrecy beneath the skin’) and moral scepticism about the simple
convergences of heterosexual romance:

Returned from that dishonest country, we

Awake, yet tasting the delicious lie:
And boys and girls, equal to be, are different still. (EA, 24)113

It was for his ability to inhabit the condition of difference between people
equally that Auden valued Shakespeare so highly, and that led him to
defend the treatment of the universal ‘mystery’ of love in the Sonnets from
simplification by ‘ideology’, whether heterosexual or homosexual.114 Like
the dramatist of Antony and Cleopatra, the speaker of the Sonnets expresses
love for both a man and a woman, and melts into the multiplicity of the
experience. Auden’s poetry began in the hope of revealing his society to
itself as comprehensively as the worldly stage of Shakespeare had once
done. His later responses to Shakespeare – in prose and verse – continued
this ambition, but on the understanding that the revelation of poetry was
the truth of mutability, created by ‘inconstant ones’ for unknown others.
Chapter 4

Samuel Beckett
Dan Gunn

The contrast could hardly be more acute: between the writer for whom,
more than for any other, practically everything seems possible, expressible,
expandable, doable; and the writer for whom, from the outset, remarkably
little seems possible, the writer who, as his career progresses, turns
against the very notion of expression, who seeks contraction, who places
constraints on whatever might still be doable on the page or stage. The
epithet ‘great’, adhering to Shakespeare as naturally as to achievement
itself, skulks round Samuel Beckett and his oeuvre, menacing as much as
regaling them; ‘achievement’ being, with all the term implies of success and
completion, an arch-antagonist of Beckett’s aesthetic. Then, Shakespearean?
When any reader of Beckett will hold a dozen names that might substitute
for Shakespeare’s, each urging an evident or compelling case? Beckett the
great Dantean, obviously; after which the names of Racine, Dr Johnson,
the Marquis de Sade, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Proust, Joyce, Gide, Synge, are
likely to present themselves; accompanied by figures less literary such as
Geulincx, Kant, Schopenhauer; to which would have to be added, for
anyone determined to hunt influences, the Bible and the Oxford English
His education, and the frequency of allusion to Shakespeare in his work,
leave no doubt that Beckett was thoroughly familiar with Shakespeare’s
plays and verse. Yet rarely does he refer to Shakespeare in his critical writings
or in his voluminous correspondence. Any study of Beckett’s relations to
Shakespeare seeking to chart influence of the most straightforward kind
is liable to be short and arid. Indeed, while Beckett’s work is as intensely
literary as any in the canon, in that it is unimaginable without its literary
precursors, it is also – the major work especially, by which I intend his work
from the end of the Second World War onwards – singularly inhospitable
to studies demonstrating literary lineage; permeated though it is by the
writing of others, Beckett’s major work is too startlingly odd and new to be
150 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

deemed ‘under the influence’. Beckett himself addresses the issue in the
days when his popularity is belatedly growing, responding to a question
posed in 1954 by Hans Naumann (a reader for his new German publisher
Suhrkamp Verlag) about the authors who have marked him. After first
discounting Kafka, ‘I am not trying to seem resistant to influences,’ Beckett
goes on, ‘I merely note that I have always been a poor reader, incurably
inattentive, on the look-out for an elsewhere. And I think I can say, in no
spirit of paradox, that the reading experiences which have affected me
most are those that were best at sending me to that elsewhere.’ (Letters II:
The present essay will attempt to navigate towards the ‘elsewhere’ – the
‘elsewheres’ – that Beckett may have found in, or through, Shakespeare;
and that a contemporary reader of the two writers may discover, in turn,
by reading the work of the one through the lens provided by the work of
the other. It will indicate ways in which Shakespeare may have impinged on
Beckett in his early years; it will examine, in some detail, the most popular
avenue pursued by scholars linking the two writers – an avenue opened
by Polish critic Jan Kott in the 1960s in his highly influential essay on the
subject, published in Shakespeare our Contemporary. It will go on to examine
certain moments in Shakespeare’s work that appear to open on to that
Beckettian elsewhere (an ‘ailleurs’ is Beckett’s French term) – or, alterna-
tively, passages in Shakespeare whose elsewhere quality may be the better
apprehended thanks to Beckett. Intriguingly, those works that are in their
fibre unsusceptible to Shakespeare’s impact offer the richest connections:
unsusceptible because written in a language other than Shakespeare’s –
French. In Beckett’s early work in English, from Dream of Fair to Middling
Women (written in 1931–2) to Watt (written during the War years),
Shakespearean traces are apparent and allusions to the plays frequent.2
However, the surface scattering of Shakespeare reveals little genuine
confederacy, still less influence. Only when Shakespeare’s inroad, through
citation and verbal allusion, is blocked, does Beckett reveal a deeper
connection, to a Shakespeare whose achievement can indeed accom-
modate his own achievement-less world, a Shakespeare whose commitment
to impoverishment, loss, the grotesque, the impossible, the aporetic, the
unutterable, the inconsequential, is as keen as even Beckett could wish.

In culture and education, Samuel Beckett was not untypical of children of

solidly middle-class Anglo–Irish Protestant families in and around Dublin
Samuel Beckett 151

in the early years of the twentieth century: neither was literature especially
present – his father was a surveyor, his mother had worked as a nurse – nor
was fluency in any language but English a requirement. By contrast with
certain other nearly contemporaneous figures who would become great –
Vladimir Nabokov springs to mind, or Paul Celan – nothing obvious in his
environment disposes the young Beckett to become a writer, let alone an
expert linguist and translator.
If not at home, then surely at Earlsfort House preparatory school,
which he attended from 1915, aged nine, Beckett would have encoun-
tered Shakespeare’s work, and then more thoroughly when he joined, as
a boarder, Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh, which he attended
until aged 17. It was at Portora that the ground was laid for his grasp of
Latin and French, as well as his fondness for English verse.3 Details of
what exactly Beckett studied at Portora are thin on the ground, but my
co-editor on Beckett’s letters, George Craig, who attended a very similar
school in Northern Ireland 25 years later, assures me that the reading and
performing of Shakespeare plays would certainly have been central to the
curriculum. In his first published essay, on James Joyce’s Work in Progress,
Beckett enlists Shakespeare in support of his argument that in Joyce’s work,
‘form is content, content is form [. . .] He is not writing about something:
he is writing something’. He adds: ‘Shakespeare uses fat, greasy words
to express corruption: ‘Duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed that
rots itself in death on Lethe wharf’.’4 Beckett’s misquotation of Hamlet’s
father’s admonishment (in Hamlet 1.5) – ‘death’ has replaced ‘ease’ in the
original – may also be, Christopher Ricks suggests, an unconscious tribute
to the poet Beckett most admires at this time, John Keats, and to the
‘easeful death’ of his ‘Ode to a Nightingale’.5
When Beckett entered Trinity College Dublin in October 1923, it was
to study towards an Arts degree, which had a loose structure requiring
students to be responsible for many aspects of their own education while
attending classes and lectures. Beckett completed two years’ study of
English literature, performing well in his examinations. His authorized
biographer James Knowlson reports Beckett’s regular attendance at the
Shakespeare lectures of Professor W. F. Trench, which included talks on
Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of
Venice, Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Macbeth,
Coriolanus and The Tempest. That his Shakespeare studies stayed with him is
evident from the allusions in the early works. Yet the metaphor Knowlson
employs for these – they are ‘intricately woven into the tapestry’ of Dream
of Fair to Middling Women, More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy – assigns
152 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

greater centrality to them than seems warranted.6 Rather, it seems to me,

the allusions contribute, with others, to the ironic textual surface; they
inform the highly self-conscious erudition of the narrators and protago-
nists whose literary awareness elevates them above their surroundings while
impeding them in their quotidian dealings – scholarly avatars of the wings
on Baudelaire’s albatross (which allow the poet to soar but make walking
on earth impracticable). And what seems to me true of Shakespearean
allusion, the narrowly verbal lesson, seems all the more true of any more
formal or structural debt.
There is a view of Beckett, one he often encouraged, that finds him
stumbling almost accidentally into the world of theatre. Certainly, he
begins writing plays late, composing his first serious play, Eleutheria, in
1947 when he has turned 40, and not seeing a production of one of his
plays until 1953, when he is approaching 50, the age when Shakespeare
was retiring. He writes the work for which he is most celebrated, Waiting for
Godot (or more precisely En attendant Godot) rapidly, almost as a diversion
between two novels, Malone meurt (Malone Dies) and L’Innommable (The
Unnamable). Asked about theatre, Beckett could make it sound as if he were
as unschooled as the protagonists of his early works were the opposite.7
Notwithstanding such authorial asseverations, evidence indicates the
contrary: that Beckett had broad experience of drama, not least from his
Trinity College days when he would regularly attend plays, and this during
a rich period at the Abbey Theatre. It was at the Abbey during his student
days that Beckett saw W. B. Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well, Sean O’Casey’s Juno
and the Paycock, and was so moved by the work of John Millington Synge,
by The Well of the Saints in particular, that when asked by his biographer
to name which dramatist had exerted the greatest influence on his own
theatre, ‘he suggested only the name of Synge’.8
Anyone aware of Beckett’s literary preferences, as these develop during
his years at Trinity College, may be surprised by his neglecting to name
another dramatist to whose work he is introduced at this time. It is to his
tutor, Thomas Rudmose-Brown, that Beckett was indebted for nourishing
his fondness for Racine, a fondness that never dims but which, before I
turn to it, requires that something basic be said.
Beckett’s taste in literature takes him – to use his own notion – toward an
elsewhere. Through effort and application, he studies the French, Spanish,
German and Italian classics as well as contemporaries, most in their
original language. And his choice is predicated upon a flight from, when
not an outright rejection of, his mother tongue. Those not themselves
adept at languages tend to impute a ‘gift’ to others that they themselves
Samuel Beckett 153

lack; ignoring the drive that imparts to the gift its energy. It is true that
Beckett was an extraordinary linguist; equally true, if much harder to
analyse or prove, that he was drawn towards the foreign as an escape from
almost everything that might be considered home: from his mother, his
family, Ireland, the English language and his own immersion in it. When
asked if he was English, Beckett famously quipped – ‘Au contraire’.9 In
1949, during the most intense period of his writing life (which was also the
most intensely French period of his writing life), when asked by Georges
Duthuit to contribute to what will eventually become the ‘Three Dialogues’
on contemporary artists – as close as Beckett ever comes to an aesthetic
manifesto – he indicates in a letter that the escape is not yet fully achieved:
‘It is perhaps the fact of writing directly in English which is knotting me up,’
he explains, ‘Horrible language, which I still know too well.’ (Letters II: 170)
Just how far Shakespeare might be judged a figure from Beckett’s home
context, how ambivalently his emblematic Englishness might be received
from within Ireland, and hence how far Shakespeare should be seen as
a constitutive part of the English inheritance Beckett consciously turned
away from, are questions too complex to do more than invoke here; one of
the major strands of present-day Beckett studies seeks to measure Beckett’s
relation to Ireland, and to measure his Ireland against his England.10 What
is incontestable is that Beckett’s investment in foreign languages and their
literatures constitutes also an escape from Shakespeare, and not just from
the more obvious aspects of Shakespeare’s drama for which Beckett had
little time – the rise and fall of princes and kings, the cups of poison and
the daggers, the lost twins, the intervening deities, the interfering fairies,
the sheer bustle and inexorable onwardness of plot.
It is in part, then, in appreciation of the fact that Racine is not
Shakespeare, that Beckett soaks him up. In 1953, the year in which Godot
finally opens in Paris, it is his own play he has in mind in his ‘too’ when
he writes to his great friend Tom MacGreevy: ‘Last night a marvellous
Bérénice on the air, with Barrault Antiochus. There too nothing happens,
they just talk, but what talk, and how spoken.’ (Letters II: 407) In discussing
the opening exposition of Antony and Cleopatra, Jan Kott draws out the
implications of the contrast, in a description that, coming straight after his
seminal chapter on ‘King Lear or Endgame’, seems almost to be invoking
Beckett. Indeed, by substituting ‘Beckett’ for ‘Racine’, the distance of both
dramatists from Shakespeare is concisely staked out:

This one situation would provide Racine with enough material for an
entire tragedy. And he would use just one room in Cleopatra’s palace.
154 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

In it the action of the whole play would take place. Racine would use
only the messenger from Rome and a pair of confidants for Antony and
Cleopatra. The world would find them in that one room of theirs. Over
it would be just the heavens, cruel, empty, unalterable and silent. All the
possibilities of escape and revolt would be discussed and exhausted in
the space of five acts. The messenger would travel to and from Rome
several times. Every time he would ask for Antony’s return. The world
would be just as relentless and merciless as the heavens. The tragedy
could work itself out in twelve or six hours, or even in one. Indeed, it
would happen out of time. Hic et nunc.11

In the light of Kott’s suggestion, and my appropriation of it, Beckett’s

rare appraisal of Shakespeare, in 1935, may be the less surprising: ‘I have
been reading The Mill on the Floss. It is at least superior to Shakespeare’s
Histories.’ (Letters I: 240)
In the 1930s, after leaving Trinity College and as he struggles to establish
himself as a writer, there are two salient experiences, themselves complexly
linked to departure if not escape from home, that bring Beckett into contact
with a certain Shakespeare. The first is his immersion in the work of, and
later his close association with, James Joyce, for which and for whom the
importance of Shakespeare, of Hamlet in particular, is addressed in Maud
Ellmann’s essay in the present volume. About the second, because of the
confidential nature of the practice, it is hard to be more than speculative;
yet the psychotherapy into which Beckett entered, with a then young W. R.
Bion in London in January1934, could hardly have failed to revive the figure
of Shakespeare. In one of the fullest accounts of the importance of Beckett’s
analysis for his writing, Ciaran Ross suggests that a shared investment in
literature, including Shakespeare, may have drawn Beckett to Bion.12 In any
case, no engagement with psychoanalysis as full-hearted as Beckett’s could
fail to implicate Shakespeare. For, as Marjorie Garber argues, Shakespeare
subtends the very institution of psychoanalysis. ‘Freud’s famous theory of the
Oedipus complex was founded,’ she suggests, ‘not so much on Sophocles’
play Oedipus the King as on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.’13 And, of all plays, Hamlet
is likely to have been in Beckett’s mind. Critics agree that the death of
Beckett’s father, in June 1933, was a major factor in the crisis leading to
his seeking the help of a psychotherapist; while his intensely ambivalent
feelings towards his mother are attested to throughout his letters and work.
‘I am what her savage loving made me,’ Beckett wrote to MacGreevy after his
definitive break with her and with Ireland in October 1937, ‘and it is good
that one of us should accept that finally.’ (Letters I: 552)
Samuel Beckett 155

Freud appropriates the concept of catharsis from Aristotle’s definition of

tragedy, not from Shakespeare; but in the cleansing that Beckett envisages
in his psychotherapy, a Shakespearean echo is distinctly audible. Speaking
of his psychosomatic heart troubles in a letter to MacGreevy, he writes of
the ‘symptom of a diseased condition that began in a time which I could
not remember, in my ‘pre-history’, a bubble on the puddle’; going on to
note the hubris which has preceded his fall – ‘the fatuous torments which
I had treasured as denoting the superior man were all part of the same
pathology’. (Letters I: 258) In the memoir of her friendship with him,
Anne Atik recalls how Beckett would, ‘at particularly painful moments’,
recite Edgar’s lines from King Lear: ‘the worst is not / So long as we can
say, “This is the worst”.’ (4.1.27–8)14 And Edgar’s speech is the spur to at
least one late Beckett text, Worstward Ho (whose working title was ‘Better
Worse’).15 Beckett reports to MacGreevy on how his own internal tyrant
must needs be toppled in order ‘to redeem a composition that was invalid
from the word ‘go’ & has to be broken up altogether’. An echo – more
than an echo, practically a psychoanalytically-inflected translation – of
Edgar’s lines resonates in Beckett’s conclusion: ‘If the heart still bubbles,
it is because the puddle has not been drained, and the fact of its bubbling
more fiercely than ever is perhaps open to receive consolation from the
waste that splutters most, when the bath is nearly empty.’ (Letters I: 259)

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the criticism linking the two writers, including
the one book I have found that is devoted to the subject, concentrates on
the two long plays Beckett wrote in the late-1940s and mid-1950s, Waiting
for Godot and Endgame, relating these especially to Hamlet, King Lear and
The Tempest.16 Critics have tended to focus on: the role of foolery and the
grotesque in both writers’ work; the self-conscious artificiality of drama,
with the device of the play-within-the-play; the ramifications for tone and
genre of Nell’s assertion in Endgame that ‘nothing is funnier than unhap-
piness’.17 Summing up much of what will be articulated in the scholarship
over the forthcoming 35 years, Ruby Cohn, in 1976, elaborates:

Beckett’s dramatic progress is not paced after Shakespeare, but both

are possessed by nothing. In Beckett’s work as in Shakespeare’s King
Lear, the quest for self proceeds through a reduction toward nothing:
a hundred knights to zero, castle to hovel to cliff that is not, court
grandeur to a bare forked animal, studied rhetoric to garbled fragments
156 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

– ‘Thou has pared thy wit o’ both sides and left nothing i’ the middle.’
Beckett’s fiction and drama pare away narrative, character, and wit in the
quest to give expression to a being that quivers toward nothing.18

Cohn’s vision is influenced by the work of Jan Kott in which King Lear is read
through Beckettian spectacles darkened by the catastrophe of the Second
World War, the inhumanity of the Holocaust, the bleakness of the Cold War,
the threat of nuclear annihilation.19 Endgame emerges as a skeletal Lear in
which the heavens are sneering, the world is fallen, cruelly indifferent to
human suffering. Kott’s Endgame - inflected Lear presents an unconsoling
universe in which Lear himself, mad and ‘unaccommodated’, is upstaged by
his Fool and by Gloucester, as tragedy is translated into grotesquery:

The downfall of the tragic hero is a confirmation and recognition of the

absolute; whereas the downfall of the grotesque actor means mockery of
the absolute and its desecration. The absolute is transformed into a blind
mechanism, a kind of automaton. Mockery is directed not only at the
tormentor, but also at the victim who believed in the tormentor’s justice,
raising him to the level of the absolute. The victim has consecrated his
tormentor by recognizing himself as victim.20

The US edition of Kott’s Shakespeare our Contemporary contains a preface by

one of the most important interpreters of Shakespeare for the second half
of the twentieth century, Peter Brook, who attributes to Kott a reinvention
of the Elizabethan in terms which vividly evoke Beckett. Brook’s 1962
production of King Lear with the Royal Shakespeare Company, described
by the critic influential in promoting the notion of the ‘theatre of the
absurd’, Martin Esslin, as ‘one of the finest Shakespeare performances
within living memory’,21 arose out of his early awareness of Kott’s reading
of Beckett, as the director made clear in conversation with Peter Roberts
during rehearsal in Stratford-upon-Avon. After outlining the difficulty of
situating the play in any particular historical period, Brook states:

It is not that the issue of the play is about a king and a fool and cruel
daughters. In a way it is so much loftier than any historical setting that the
only thing one can equate it to is a modern play such as Beckett might
write. Who knows what is the period of Waiting for Godot? It is happening
today and yet it has its own period in reality. That is also essential to Lear
because Lear for me is the prime example of the Theatre of the Absurd,
from which everything in good modern drama has been drawn.22
Samuel Beckett 157

Brook’s stage production was carried to film by the director himself in 1971,
the relation between Beckett’s stage work and the film medium being made
explicit in an essay published in 1960 comparing Happy Days favourably
with Alain Resnais’s film L’Année dernière à Marienbad: ‘My interest is in
the possibility of arriving, in the theatre, at a ritual expression of the true
driving forces of our time, none of which, I believe, is revealed in anecdote
or characterization by the people and situations in so-called realistic
plays.’23 When Brook filmed Lear, he chose black and white, concentrated
the action into a single large compound, employed radical editing, unusual
camera angles and deadpan dialogue, submitted plot to atmosphere,
leaving a stifling impression that communication was interrupted at best
when not impossible, with subplot and exposition ablated. And, as if to seal
the connection, Brook chose for his fool the actor who, by the late 1960s,
was as closely identified with Beckett’s work as any, Jack MacGowran. Since
he had first played in Beckett’s radio play All that Fall in 1957, MacGowran
had played in Godot, Endgame, Beginning to End (a one-man show based
on Beckett’s work), and a work virtually created for him, Beckett’s first
television play, Eh Joe (1966). In his biography of MacGowran, Jordan
Young cites Cyril Cusack as saying of him: ‘‘All his earlier work was present
in the fool. What Jack brought from his background was a reality to the
performance. It was not theatrical at all; it was real, as Shakespeare must
have intended it’.’24
The much commented Shakespeare-Endgame connection reaches its
acme in Harold Bloom’s chapter on Beckett in The Western Canon,
where with even more than his customary hyperbole the critic asks,
‘Is not Endgame part of Shakespeare’s creation?’ Bloom states ‘that no
Shakespeare including Richard II and Richard III, seems wholly unaffected
by it,’ continuing, intriguingly: ‘one way of recognizing Endgame’s inter-
pretive power is to see the difference between the illuminations it bestows
on Shakespeare’s work and the failure of any backwards illumination in
Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, Shakespeare-soaked epics’. Bloom wisely depre-
cates the critical tendency to read the play as an exercise in dramatized
despair, suggesting that ‘anxious expectations dominate, and anxiety is
neither despair nor a wrestling with death’.25 Hamm is viewed, rightly, as
an amalgam as well as a tribute to at least three Shakespearean characters.
His consciousness dominates the play much as Hamlet’s does his own,
both protagonists self-consciously playing and fashioning dramas that
create and interrogate reality – ham actors in dramas not quite of their
own confection; while the conflict between the generations is as intense
here as in Shakespeare’s play, as is the horror expressed at breeding and
158 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

regeneration. Hamm also contains something of Lear, in his dereliction,

his narcissistic search for reassurance, his fleeting perception of a world
abandoned by meaningful endings. And, not only because he cites him,
Hamm contains much of Prospero, with Clov his Caliban arming himself
against Hamm’s reproaches with his echo of Caliban’s defence: ‘I use the
words you taught me. If they don’t mean anything any more, teach me
others. Or let me be silent.’ (CDW, 113).
Edgar leads his blinded father to what he claims to be the summit of Dover
cliffs, up ground that Gloucester perceives to be flat but which his son claims
is ‘horrible steep’ (4.6.3); a scene which finds its parallel in Lucky’s leading
Pozzo, blind, in Act II of Godot, and in Clov’s wheeling blind Hamm round
the centre of a world which he spies through his telescope and on which he
reports. The noise of the roaring sea is evoked by Edgar, the bustling world
below the cliffs, producing what Kott terms ‘the paradox of pure theatre’
by which, through words, not a real world is summoned, not a real cliff, but
one which is both hyper-real and un-real.26 Whether, when Gloucester picks
himself up after his imaginary plunge, he finds himself in a godless world,
unredeemed, as Kott claims, or whether he is transformed as Kott’s critics
claim, and whether either of these corresponds to what occurs in Endgame,
is of less concern to me than my sense that what Marjorie Garber calls ‘a
consummate Shakespearean ‘unscene’’27 offers a yet deeper link between
what Shakespeare – a certain Shakespeare – was attempting and what Beckett
described as being the horizon of his ambition (in his ‘German letter’ to
Axel Kaun): a ‘literature of the non-word’(‘Literatur des Unworts’) (Letters I:
520, 515). Gloucester falls into his son’s creation, into its nothingness: actors,
both, in a drama not of their own devising; the giddiness ours as much as it
is Gloucester’s, as a world is created that we know not to be real, then – as in
the duck–rabbit illusion – uncreated when we know it to be real (and back
again). In such a mise en abyme may be located a fundamental link between
Shakespeare’s and Beckett’s dramas, the very basis of what Daniel Albright
calls ‘the neo-Elizabethan character of Beckett’s plays’, which he judges to
be characterized by their shared ‘open indeterminacies of space’ – to which
I would only add: and not only of space.28
It is towards such an ‘open indeterminacy’ that Beckett gestures when
he finds himself, just as his theatrical career is beginning, explaining to
Georges Duthuit why he does not wish to take up the offer of Nicolas de
Staël for a stage set for the as-yet-unproduced Godot:

He sees the whole thing with a painter’s eye. [. . .] I do not believe in
collaboration between the arts, I want a theatre reduced to its own
Samuel Beckett 159

means, speech and acting, without painting, without music, without

embellishments. (Letters II: 218)

As Beckett continues, he gives a vision of theatre that goes to the heart

of the possibility held in Edgar’s speech, as well as of Gloucester’s much
debated reaction:

The setting has to come out of the text, without adding to it. As for the
visual convenience of the audience, you can guess where I put that. Do
you really think that one could hear anything, faced with a set by Bram
[van Velde], or see anything other than him? In Godot it is a sky that is sky
only in name, a tree that makes them wonder whether it is one, tiny and
shrivelled. I should like to see it set up any old how, sordidly abstract as
nature is, for the Estragons and Vladimirs, a play of suffering, sweaty and
fishy, where sometimes a turnip grows, or a ditch opens up. Nothing, it
expresses nothing, it is an opaque no one bothers to question anymore.
Any more formal specificity becomes impossible. If it really is essential to
know where they are (and in my view the text makes it clear enough), let
the words look after that, that too, by means of labels, or better still [. . .]
by announcements: ‘Well, it seems this is the sky, all this, and that thing
over there, is a tree, apparently.’

It is upon this tree, under this sky, that Vladimir and Estragon will attempt
suicide, with as much success as Gloucester. The common view of Beckett’s
theatre, that it is anti-naturalistic, with Ibsen (whose work Beckett certainly
disliked) as archetypal antagonist, hardly goes far enough. For naturalism,
taken to its limit, has turned into its opposite; as if, to vary the analogy,
words would themselves become objects through some infinitely regressive
passage from the symbolic register to the real. It is in this sense, rather than
in the more obvious one by which worldly possessions or even metaphysical
certitudes would be lost, that the word on which Beckett proceeds to hook
his argument on theatre should be understood: ‘Indigence,’ Beckett writes,
invoking a poverty not just of substance but of means – an indigence which
must be earned, and in ways which are costly: ‘Indigence, we can never say
it often enough, and, decidedly, painting is incapable of that.’
Shakespeare’s theatre, in which almost anything is possible, and Beckett’s
theatre, in which it often seems almost nothing is possible: it is to their
shared ability, through language, to defeat the tyranny of that almost that
I wish to devote the remainder of this essay, working through particular
moments in Shakespeare’s work which seem to open on to a Beckettian
160 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

elsewhere. In doing so, I shall attempt to chart something of both authors’

ability to convert themselves – despite the logical impossibility of this – into
their opposite; from which logical impossibility, I would like to suggest, a
new, hitherto unimagined, artistic form emerges.

One of the most obvious contrasts between the plays of Shakespeare and
those of Beckett – so obvious it has largely been ignored – is in their use
of stage directions: the former’s minimal (in so far as we can judge), the
latter’s maximal, to the point where certain of Beckett’s late plays – Act
without Words I and II, Breath, Quad, Come and Go, for example – are nothing
but stage directions. Shakespeare’s stage directions are rarely memorable,
and the one obvious exception at first sight could hardly appear more alien
to Beckett’s world. Yet it is, I hope to show, intensely Beckettian.
By the time we read ‘Exit pursued by a bear’, or watch the bear cross the
stage, The Winter’s Tale has travelled as far, and ostensibly as irreversibly, into
one man’s mind as any Shakespeare play – I am tempted to say any play
at all, at this stage in history – has done; and not just any mind either, but
that of Leontes which is taking signs for demons, rapidly disintegrating,
mistaking its own processes for the workings of the world. Precipitately,
Leontes has declined from peace-loving ruler to tyrant hell-bent on
destroying credibility and kin. And, unlike his precursor in jealousy,
Othello, he has done so unprompted, Iago-less. Or rather he is his own
Iago, inwardly compelled to put something where nothing once was:

Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughter with a sigh . . . ? (1.2.284–7)

So slides Leontes from externally sanctioned to internally surmised action,

through to the reading of minds by which he can accuse his wife of salacious
thoughts or dreams: ‘wishing clocks more swift? / Hours, minutes? noon,
midnight?’ (1.2.289–90). Nobody – not his wife, not Antigonus, not the
doughty Paulina, not even Apollo’s oracle – can raise him from his infantile
fantasies of omnipotence which, if in inverted form, reveal a world become
transparent, entirely legible, a projection of an inner state: a state described
by critics – to give just the two most popular recent explanations – as being
shot through with nostalgia for an idealized pre-sexualised pastoral, or
Samuel Beckett 161

as replete with repressed homosexual urges. To the point where, in a

pronouncement that threatens more than just an individual and his family,
more than just a kingdom, Leontes issues a challenge to theatre itself:

Your actions are my dreams.

You had a bastard by Polixenes,
And I but dream’d it. (3.2.82–4)

When one man’s dream becomes another man’s – or woman’s – reality,

then we have arrived at the outer reaches of what can be represented on
stage. Even Lear, whom Leontes resembles in his conjuring of nothing, his
narcissism – even in his madness Lear never loses the other so radically,
or confuses inner and outer so utterly. Not even Leontes’s successor,
Prospero, for all his books and staff, can figure himself omniscient, or so
cruelly anti-theatrical.
If it is death, the deaths of his son Mamillius and his wife Hermione,
which begins to jolt Leontes back into a world beyond his delusions,
what death does for the play and its audience – since, extraordinarily,
the audience is given no superior perspective on Hermione’s ‘death’ – is
to replace delusion by almost equally internalized grief. Even the shift of
scene to the shores of Bohemia brings no relief, since Antigonus’s mission
to abandon the king’s daughter is so sinister, and since he is disturbed by
a dream that Hermione has died (a dream whose own delusional nature
will be revealed only later). And a storm is brewing. Little are we to know
that this storm will be the very opposite of King Lear’s which blows us
into the inner chambers of the king’s fallen psyche, rather gusting us out
of psychology toward a different kind of theatre. Stage directions could
be said to be where drama is at its least vocal or internalized (its most
proto-novelistic): words effecting action that is not enunciated, that is
within, before, or beyond the expressive range of the protagonists. When
Antigonus is pursued by a bear, it is as if a whole verbal and psychological
edifice were collapsing: a body is chased by another body, the latter
animal, as in some reverse trope of the hunter-gatherer. Having turned
its back on the mummery, display, ritual, courtliness, of its antecedents
in the Medieval Mystery Plays, on the conventionality still to be found in
the work of a contemporary such as Christopher Marlowe, and having
dragged its audience incomparably deep into the drama of consciousness,
Shakespeare’s art doubles back upon itself. Having demonstrated that
there is almost no action that is not verbal action first and foremost – even
the direction ‘They fight’ does not terminate talk – he returns to mime;
162 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

mime which already feels so old-fashioned in Hamlet’s dumb-show, and

which is propelled here by a stage direction that assaults the play almost as
violently as the bear assaults Antigonus.
Every reader of Beckett will have his or her own preferred Beckettian
bears. In what may be the play, of all Beckett’s plays, which lets us furthest
in to the drama of a solitary consciousness and its mixing of memory and
desire, it comes straight from the comic-book of contemporary mummery,
as Krapp, after ‘meditatively eating banana’, then ‘treads on skin, slips,
nearly falls, recovers himself, stops and peers at skin and finally pushes it,
still stooping, with his foot over edge of stage into pit’ (CDW, 216). Hamm’s
final, devastating speech in which he imagines himself speaking into a
terminal solitude is mitigated if not vitiated by the stage direction for Clov
that tacitly interrupts it: ‘He halts by the door and stands there, impassive and
motionless, his eyes fixed on HAMM, till the end.’ (CDW, 132–3) Theatre will, of
course, tend to stage a tension between action and words: Beckett’s theatre
stages their radical non-coincidence.
Beckett’s very first mime, Act Without Words I, was conceived as a sort of
wordless coda to Endgame, in which the verbal action of the former play
– expecting, extending, longing – is silently reprised and undercut by the
gestures of the clownish actor to whom the world presents its promises and
threats with as little care for realism as if a bear were being released. Indeed,
perhaps it might not be too far-fetched to think of Beckett’s very move into
theatre, so late in his writing career, as deriving from the need to invoke a bear.
Beckett pens his first play, Eleutheria, in 1947, in the midst of his most intensive
years of writing works – Mercier et Camier, the stories ‘La Fin’ (‘The End’),
‘L’Expulsé’ (‘The Expelled’), ‘Premier amour’ (‘First Love’) and ‘Le Calmant’
(‘The Calmative’) – which propel the reader into an increasingly deterritori-
alized, exclusively linguistic reality where even the body may be nothing but
a dream – ‘I don’t know when I died’, begins ‘The Calmative’.29 Eleutheria is
superficially the most Shakespearean of Beckett’s plays, boasting a large cast
and precise geographical and social locations, while its split stage exploits a
device used by Shakespeare from as early as The Comedy of Errors and The Taming
of the Shrew. Beckett will use the figure on one level, Victor Krap, to undercut
the action happening on the other. Yet however closely he may resemble
Goncharov’s Oblomov or Melville’s Bartleby, Victor is still flesh and blood, in a
way that Beckett’s fictional characters are not – ‘in a theatre you can’t just erase
the spectacle by sleight of words,’ writes Daniel Albright; ‘if there are actors on
a stage, they can’t credibly represent themselves as not existing’.30
Not just the body, but the type of body foregrounded by the bear returns
us to Beckett: a body (reported as being) in pieces and pain. ‘To see how
Samuel Beckett 163

the bear tore out his shoulder-bone’, recounts the clown who has witnessed
Antigonus’s dismemberment, ‘how he cried to me for help’ (3. 3.95–6). The
reduction of the body to the primitive sensationalism of what psychoanalyst
Jacques Lacan was wont to call the ‘corps morcelé’ (‘the body in pieces’) is
pursued in Beckett’s work with the bear’s relentlessness: from Victor Krap’s
inertia, to Estragon’s lameness, to Pozzo’s blindness and Lucky’s deafness;
from Hamm’s blindness to Clov’s inability to sit; from Winnie’s loss of her
legs (in Happy Days), then of her torso; from Play’s characters’ loss of all but
their heads, to a corporeal reduction eventuating in nothing more than
a mouth, in Not I; and all taken up as plot in the explicit harrowing – on
stage as a stage – in Catastrophe. And how we should react to such physical
privations is quite as undetermined in Shakespeare’s case as in Beckett’s.
Theatrical historians are undecided on how the bear was originally staged,
as well as on the reaction it would have produced. In his introduction to
the play, Stephen Orgel comes down on the side of a man in bear suit,
and on the side of neither laughter nor tears: ‘The bear, indeed, has
been shown by Louise Clubb to constitute, in itself, a tragicomic topos in
sixteenth-century continental drama, a generic commonplace.’31
The Winter’s Tale was collected in the Folio with its generic kind
and historical neighbours as a comedy, but the term ‘tragi-comedy’ –
for which the OED attributes first use to Shakespeare’s contemporaries
Thomas North and Philip Sidney – cleaves to it as it does to Beckett’s
drama. Indeed, despite the preponderance of criticism linking Beckett
to Shakespeare’s tragedies, generically Beckett’s theatre is much closer to
works such as Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida (both of which I
discuss below), that have sometimes been called ‘tragi-comedies’; this when
the only one of Beckett’s plays to offer a clear generic indication – not in
its French original but in its English translation, as if endorsing an Anglo-
Saxon tradition – is Waiting for Godot, which bears on its first title page ‘a
tragicomedy in two acts’. This play contains little or nothing of the redemp-
tiveness offered by the pastoral of The Winter’s Tale : when Estragon suggests
as palliative ‘We should turn resolutely towards Nature’, Vladimir rejoins
‘We’ve tried that.’ (CDW, 60) Yet the comedy is no less indispensable to
the work, as Beckett reminded its first director Roger Blin during the very
first week of the play’s production, in January 1953, after learning that
Estragon’s trousers, released of their belt, were not being allowed to fall
to his ankles: ‘As for any laughs that might greet their falling right down,’
he writes, ‘to the great detriment of that touching final tableau, there’s
absolutely no objection to them. They’d be of the same order as the earlier
ones. The spirit of the play, in so far as it has one, is that nothing is more
164 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

grotesque than the tragic, and that must be put across right to the end, and
particularly at the end.’ (Letters II: 350, to Roger Blin). Dismayed to learn of
Estragon’s holding on his trousers, ‘This he must not do’, Beckett objects
to Blin, ‘it’s utterly inappropriate. It wouldn’t occur to him at that moment
– he doesn’t realise they have fallen down.’ In Beckett’s admonishment is
contained his very conception of theatrical character, hollowed out as this
is by the discontinuity between inner and outer, action and speech.
Asked in 1953 by Carlheinz Caspari for help in what will be the first
German production of Godot, Beckett responds:

The characters are living creatures, only just living perhaps, they are not
emblems. I can readily understand your unease at their lack of character-
isation. But I would urge you to see in them less the result of an attempt
at abstraction, something I am almost incapable of, than a refusal to tone
down all that is at one and the same time complex and amorphous in
them. (Letters II: 391)

One year later, writing of a meeting with Ralph Richardson, who was lining
up to play Vladimir in the London premiere of Godot, Beckett reports: ‘had
a highly unsatisfactory interview with SIR Ralph Richardson who wanted the
low-down on Pozzo, his home address and curriculum vitae, and seemed to
make the forthcoming of this and similar information the condition of his
condescending to illustrate the part of Vladimir’ (Letters II: 507, to Barney
Rosset). Beckett’s response is emblematic of his attitude to the hunt for an
objective correlative in a world where objective, like subjective, has ceased
to be a viable category: ‘Too tired to give satisfaction I told him that all I
knew about Pozzo was in the text, that if I had known more I would have
put it in the text, and that this was true also of the other characters. Which
I trust puts an end to that star.’ To ask, as Richardson appears to have done
for Pozzo, for background on or insight into the psyche of Leontes might
make sense; to ask the same of the clown, or of Antigonus, of Perdita and
Florizel – not to mention of Time, or indeed of the bear – would illustrate
a misapprehension of the nature of a play that is, as A. D. Nuttall puts it, in
distinctly Beckettian terms, ‘broken-backed, or at least painfully double’.32
And the bear offers more. For if it wrenches us from Leontes’s
psychomachia, and reminds us of the body (in pieces), then it also prompts
the shift from the claustrophobically adult world and its corresponding
dramas, to one closer to childhood and children: to simples, both human
and vegetal, and to corresponding sorts of utterance in which the play’s
second half abounds. When the Clown narrates the bear’s work he does so
Samuel Beckett 165

as a child might, verbally pointing: this, then that, then that, then that...
The figure of Time relates the years that have elapsed as if nothing were
more natural. Autolycus’s songs which follow are the fulfilment, suggests
Gabriel Josipovici, of the winter’s tale that Mamillius has failed to finish in
the play’s first part where there existed no space for children, squeezed
out by adult obsessions with legitimacy – by male anxiety over paternity; in
tone and content his songs are not unlike Vladimir’s ditty about the dog
that opens Act II of Godot. The high drama of the recognition scene where
Perdita is reunited with her father – this when the thrust of Shakespeare’s
late plays is powerfully towards reconciliation – is forgone in favour of a
lengthy prose account of it by three faceless Gentlemen, one of whom
declares that ‘Such a deal of wonder is broken out within this hour that
ballad-makers cannot be able to express it’ (5.2.23–5), before stating that
the news ‘is so like an old tale, that the verity of it is in strong suspicion’
(5.2.28–9). Shakespeare stages, this is to say, the drama of narrative, of
telling, of utterance, embracing all the primitive, regressive, even reductive
implications of this move. Josipovici writes:

It seems to me that it has to be a pantomime bear. We are no longer in

the world of Othello, or even of A Comedy of Errors. We are in the world of
story-telling, which in one sense is much more realistic than the other.
For in story-telling the teller does not seek to efface himself as does the
novelist; and in pantomime there is no pretence that what we see is
anything other than what playwright and actors are putting on before
us as a show. This is the kind of pact Shakespeare enters into with his
audience in these late plays.33

The reasons why Shakespeare turned away from inwardness and suspicion
in – and within – his late plays are of less concern here than their conse-
quence: that what is staged is not just drama of plot and character but of
narration. Beckett’s theatre, which grows out of his fiction which itself is
never ‘novelistic’ in the sense Josipovici educes above – never seeking to
efface the novelist, it rather endeavours to turn the fact of novelising into
the matter of the fiction – becomes, as it develops, a theatre of narration,
where not just stories but the tellings of stories are staged.34
Vladimir and Estragon tell each other tales to help pass the time. In daily
potions Hamm doses out his story, to his surrogate son as to his progen-
itors, who are paid to listen. Winnie tells of Mildred the child and of Mr
and Mrs Shower (or Cooker). However, it is in the late plays that narration,
the uttering of a story that may or may not be about the one uttering,
166 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

becomes the very stuff of the drama: as in Not I where a mouth is blathering
to a silent ‘auditor’; as in Footfalls, where a voice is recounting a story to a
woman pacing mutely up and down; as in the still later plays, where the
tales are being told to, not by, the figures on stage – to call them ‘characters’
would be over-upholstering them. In That Time, a floating spotlit head
is addressed in the second-person by three voices; in Eh Joe, a woman’s
voice is probing Joe’s conscience. When he writes of the ‘neo-Elizabethan
character of Beckett’s plays’, Daniel Albright has in mind such dramatiza-
tions of narrative, indeterminable mixes of recollection and invention. And
this was taken by Beckett to the point where, in Ohio Impromptu, the entire
drama is of one man reading to another, where the echo is unmistakeable
of Mamillius’s story announced with his unfulfilled ‘A sad tale’s best for
winter’ (2.1.25). The ‘Reader’ (R) here is interrupted by the ‘Listener’ who
knocks on the table to pause and prompt him:

So the sad –
Saw the dear face and heard the unspoken words, No need to go to
him again, even were it in your power.
[Pause. Knock.]
So the sad tale a last time told they sat on as though turned to stone.
(CDW, 447)

The play ends with an exhaustion of telling and tale that may also, perhaps,
afford a final rest for Mamillius:

The sad tale a last time told.

Nothing is left to tell.
[Pause. R makes to close book.
Knock. Book half closed.]
Nothing is left to tell. (CDW, 448)

Thirty years earlier, pressured into articulating his aesthetic, Beckett finds
another way of stating that ‘Nothing is left to tell’ – a way that evokes, for
a final time now, Shakespeare’s bear. When asked by Georges Duthuit
to put down his views on the painter Bram van Velde, Beckett stalls,
finally suggesting that Duthuit ask him questions, to which he promises
to respond. The ‘Three Dialogues’ which emerge, published first in
Transition in 1949 at just the time of Godot and L’Innommable, constitute his
Samuel Beckett 167

first dramaticule (as Beckett liked to call his short plays). Duthuit plays the
‘raisonneur’, the straight-man to Beckett’s eccentric who is propounding
‘The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to
express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire
to express, together with the obligation to express’.35 Resisting Beckett’s
idiosyncratic view, Duthuit enjoins him to acknowledge an art that is recog-
nizable as art, that expresses, even if only the void. In the third and final
dialogue, on Van Velde, Beckett truly finds his stride, stating famously here
– it is a view to which we shall return – that ‘to be an artist is to fail, as no
other dare fail, that failure is his world and the shrink from it desertion, art
and craft, good housekeeping, living’. Yet already in the second dialogue
(on André Masson) he attempts to live up – or down – to his own ideal of
abjection. The concession Duthuit wishes to wrench from Beckett is of an
art redolent with what abounds in the second half of The Winter’s Tale : ‘the
painting that admits ‘the things and creatures of spring, resplendent with
desire and affirmation, ephemeral no doubt, but immortally reiterant’’.
Exasperated with Beckett’s view of an art ‘unresentful of its insuperable
indigence and too proud for the farce of giving and receiving’, Duthuit
hectors Beckett one more time, asking, ‘Are we really to deplore the
painting that is a rallying, among the things of time that pass and hurry us
away, towards a time that endures and gives increase?’ To which Beckett, in
conclusion of the dialogue, his own sad tale a last time (another last time)
told – told as a stage direction:

B. — (Exit weeping.)36

Why is it that Pozzo, though his servant Lucky carries a stool for the
purpose, finds it so hard to seat himself? ‘But how am I to sit down now’,
he asks, ‘without affectation, now that I have risen?’ (CDW, 28–9). Having
managed it once, and then risen again, he accepts the offer of assistance
from Estragon for a second attempt, who provides a patently spurious
pretext: ‘Come come, take a seat, I beseech you, you’ll get pneumonia.’
(CDW, 38) The assistance works, Pozzo defeats his own inertia – ‘Done it
again!’ Pozzo’s trouble with sitting is akin to Lucky’s difficulty in thinking
without his hat on (or ceasing to think without its first being removed),
akin to the passing of the day, which seems never to end until all of a
sudden it is over, the moon risen in anything but realistic slowness; akin
to Molloy with his sclerotic knees propelling himself into a frenzied attack
168 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

on the charcoal-burner (in the novel bearing his name); to Krapp who
has never sung but bursts into song; to the pacer in Footfalls who needs
to see the floorboards in order to continue her pacing; examples all of
the interruption between intention and action, or between negation and
impulsion. Beckett’s personages often appear puppet-like, manipulated by
compulsions not their own; or if their own – as in the case of Molloy’s urge
to visit his mother – so much their own as to be inexpressible, practically
unthinkable. Language itself provides the bulk of the interruptions or
impossibilities, the rushes and lurches and limpings; language that most
intimate and most alien, most constitutive and most appropriated, element
of self; language which, when it comes to try to name its own contradic-
tions, is revealed as a painfully naked emperor.
Struggling with a proximate problem, where it matters deeply to him
to say something significant about the contemporary painter who means
more to him than any other, this is how Beckett puts it to Duthuit:

D. — One moment. Are you suggesting that the painting of van Velde
is inexpressive?
B. — (A fortnight later) Yes.
D. — You realise the absurdity of what you advance?
B. — I hope I do.37

When Martin Esslin tries to define what is new in his Theatre of the Absurd,
he stresses ‘that the certitudes and basic assumptions of former ages have
been swept away’, and that a ‘sense of metaphysical anguish at the absurdity
of the human condition is, broadly speaking, the theme of the plays of
Beckett’.38 The first claim is one which, exposed to Shakespeare’s work,
quickly dwindles. A. D. Nuttall provides one explanation why: ‘If we set
aside technological advances like mobile telephones, it is remarkably hard
to think of anything Shakespeare has not thought of first, somewhere.
Marxian, Freudian, feminist, Structuralist, Existentialist, materialist ideas
are all there.’39 And Esslin’s second claim, about ‘metaphysical anguish’,
appears today to be sinking under its Existentialist freight: for when has
metaphysical anguish not been present in literary works, and how could
absurdity ever become a ‘theme’? Beckett himself is intensely aware of
the limitations, even the dangers of ‘the absurd’ – hence his ‘I hope I
do’. He probably has Esslin’s influential study in mind when he states,
later: ‘Negation is not possible. Nor affirmation. It is absurd to say that it
is absurd. That’s still passing a value judgement. There can be no protest,
no agreement.’40 The absurd can never be thematized: on the contrary, as I
Samuel Beckett 169

have tried to intimate through the examples above, it is the desecrator of

consistency, of character, of thematics. When trying to hold its sharp edge
in my mind, I find myself turning to my own preferred short exposure of
it, in the work not of Beckett but of a contemporary, a poet discussing a
playwright – one much influenced by Shakespeare.
At the conclusion of Georg Büchner’s play Danton’s Death, something
occurs very close to what I am trying to evoke here – at least it does in the
account given of it by Paul Celan in his speech entitled ‘The Meridian’.
The French revolutionaries are awaiting execution on the Place de la
Révolution. The force of conviction and role-playing appears inescapable:
‘Camille theatrically,’ explains Celan, ‘one might almost say iambically,
dies a death.’ The overbearing determinism leads Celan to choose an
analogy familiar to us: ‘all around Camille, pathos and proverbialism
confirm the triumph of ‘puppet’ and ‘wire’’. It is in the midst of this
enacting, precisely, of thematics that Camille’s wife Lucile, about to be
executed, in the teeth of her own convictions, cries out. ‘Here comes
Lucile, blind to art, the same Lucile for whom language is something
personal and perceptible, once again with her sudden ‘Long live the
King!’’ The conclusion Celan draws, on the term and concept-defying
concept that I am trying to evoke, ascribes a truth to poetry as ephemeral
as breath itself:

After all those words uttered on the rostrum (it’s the scaffold) – what
a word!
It is a counter-word, a word that snaps the ‘wire’, a word that no longer
bows to ‘history’s loiterers and parade-horses’, it is an act of freedom. It
is a step.

Not that the truth uttered here is ideological, or strictly historical; rather
it is one that, as Celan goes on to say, ‘has no fixed name once and for all
time, yet it is, I believe. . . poetry’:

Certainly this sounds – and in view of what I’m venturing to say about
it now, today, there may be no coincidence – this sounds at first like a
profession of faith in the ‘ancien régime’.
But here – you’ll allow someone who grew up with the writings of Peter
Kropotkin and Gustav Landauer to stress this explicitly – here there’s no
homage to monarchy or to any so preservable Yesterday.
Homage here is to the Majesty of the Absurd, testifying to human
170 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Celan conjures a freedom that defies not only death – Lucile knows she
is about to die – but a larger demise: of the ‘wire’, automatism, character,
belief. And such freedom, such an elsewhere, such an absurd, is certainly
not, as Celan signals through Büchner, uniquely of the twentieth century.
I have never seen it as entirely coincidental that Beckett’s drinking-
house of choice through the 1950s and ’60s was The Falstaff, on the rue du
Montparnasse in Paris. ‘What is honor?’ asks Falstaff on the battlefield at
Shrewsbury. ‘A word. What is in that word honor? What is that honor? Air.’
(1 Henry IV, 5.2.133–5) Falstaff casts himself on the ground in an abjection
quite as defiant of manly virtues and victory as any of the examples, literal
and figurative, that abound in Beckett’s work (Pozzo’s lying on the ground
in Godot is commonly compared to the tricks of Stefano and Trinculo in
The Tempest, but it has its antecedent, as do his eating and drinking, his
decline, in Falstaff). When eventually he rises, what Falstaff says is attrib-
utable partly to his instinct for self-preservation; yet his statement spreads
beyond motivation, beyond the consensual requirements of his irony at
valour’s expense, into something less knowable, more strange: ‘To die is to
be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the
life of a man; but to counterfeit dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be
no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed.’ (5.4.115–19)
The Falstaff of 2 Henry IV, pondering old age and disease, is more patently
Beckettian than ever, as are his betrayals and his scepticism: Falstaff doubts
– doubts nearly everything – when the capacity for doubt is a necessary
prerequisite for virtually any Beckettian protagonist. And Falstaff plays: as
Vladimir and Estragon will imitate Pozzo and Lucky, Falstaff plays the King
to Hal (in 1 Henry IV, 2.4, most explicitly). When he is banished at the
end of 2 Henry IV, banished too is, if not ‘all the world’ (2.4.480), then a
certain crippled Beckettian body, with its agues and its fleas, in defiance of
the spirit of improvement; giving rise to what, if I had to choose, might be
my least Beckettian Shakespeare, Henry V.
Except that Falstaff is revived elsewhere: more meaningfully than in The
Merry Wives of Windsor in the figure of Antony (as umpteen critics have
noted), and to an extent in Cleopatra too. Not only is Antony a bundle of
contradictions that can barely be held together by a single integument, he
is, like so many Beckett characters, continually startled by the immanence
of the world, or by worlds all of which have merits, all possessing a seductive
singularity. When asked to describe Egypt’s crocodiles, his response is a
joke at his interlocutors’ expense, but it may also signal a recognition of the
incommensurability of Egypt and Rome, the shipwreck of metaphor that
leaves behind the dreck of tautology:
Samuel Beckett 171

It is shap’d, sir, like itself, and it is as broad as it hath breadth: It is just

so high as it is, and moves with it own organs. It lives by that which
nourisheth it, and the elements once out of it, it transmigrates. (2.7.42–5)

Replete with messengers as this play is, the message can never be trans-
mitted neutrally, unmotivated, as Antony, messenger-beater, comprehends;
contrasting so with Enobarbus, whose speech describing Cleopatra (‘The
barge she sat in like a burnish’d throne’, 2.2.191–204) offers the play’s
epitome of metaphor, of a poetic in which his claim, that Cleopatra’s
person ‘beggar’d all description’, is in fact – which is to say in fiction –
revealed as a hollow one. Antony himself, in his speech about the clouds
(4.14), considers the nature of metaphor, but concludes with something
close, again, to tautology – ‘As water is in water’ (line 11). And Antony
lives, it seems to me, a temporal equivalent of his failure, not just to match
his own reputation, but to be a ‘character’ at all, inhabiting as he does a
succession of presents none of which is consistent with its predecessor.
There is more than a little of him in Estragon, who can turn up in the same
place day after day and wonder if it is indeed the same place. Or in Lucky,
who appears at first as a mute simpleton; until Pozzo reveals that he has
learnt the better part of his humanity from nobody else.
Antony’s voltes-face, his devotion to singularity, find their equivalents
in Beckett’s fondness for tautology. ‘I like parsnips because they taste like
violets,’ states the narrator of ‘First Love’, ‘and violets because they smell like
parsnips. Were there no parsnips on earth violets would leave me cold and
if violets did not exist I would care as little for parsnips as I do for turnips, or
radishes.’ (CSP, 43) Beckett’s unpoetic poetic aspires to a sort of nominalism,
or a radical literalism, that reveals the idealism contained in the very notion
of character. Not by chance, when discussing Antony and Cleopatra, does A.
D. Nuttall invoke a thinker crucial to Beckett, Bishop Berkeley, when writing
of how Shakespeare appears to anticipate his empiricism: ‘it is almost as if
Shakespeare, long before these developments in ‘professional’ philosophy,
smelled out the latent idealism in notions like ‘coherence’ and ‘vivacity’’.42
For Antony, as for many Beckett characters, the world is not an amalgam
of concepts – virtue, valour, duty, all of which are redolent of Rome – but a
dissolving of particulars into particulars, water into water. When Estragon
approaches Lucky to wipe away his tears, Lucky kicks his shin. Ceasing to
be a persecuted slave sold off to the highest bidder, he becomes the tyrant
Pozzo laments – ‘he’s killing me’; which prompts Vladimir to berate the very
same Lucky who seconds before was being consoled: ‘How dare you! It’s
abominable! Such a good master!’ (CDW, 34)
172 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Death – this being tragedy – has a way of highlighting the Beckettian

dimension to Antony and Cleopatra (or the Antonian dimension to Beckett).
Beckett dreams, as we have seen, of an art ‘unresentful of its insuperable
indigence’. Enobarbus, conjurer of metaphors and comparer of worlds,
succumbs to a death induced by Antony’s being, in Beckett’s terms from
the same dialogue with Duthuit, ‘too proud for the farce of giving and
receiving’;43 by Antony’s being the artist not of victory but of loss, the artist
of failure. When Enobarbus betrays his master and passes over to Octavius’s
side, how does Antony react? Not unlike Lucile on the scaffold in Celan’s

Go, Eros, send his treasure after; do it,

Detain no jot, I charge thee. Write to him
(I will subscribe) gentle adieus and greetings. (4.5.12–14)

Enobarbus’s own self-assessment – ‘But let the world rank me in register

/ A master-leaver and a fugitive’ (4.9.21–2) – is no more convincing in its
ethical dimension than are commentators’ suggestions that he perishes
by ‘a physiological process in which grief or melancholy ‘blows’ the heart
by swelling it until it breaks’.44 For Enobarbus is killed by Antony’s incon-
sequentiality, by his master’s repudiation of an economy of loss and gain,
by his love indeed (if Lacan is correct in glossing love as ‘giving what one
does not have’). Even Enobarbus’s passing is Beckettian, for though the
stage direction indicates he ‘dies’, a sliver of doubt adheres to the defini-
tiveness of his end when the Second Watch reports, ‘he may recover yet’
(4.9.33). While Antony, for his part, gives: with the same absence of logic,
the same potentially crushing immanence, as Vladimir and Estragon also
give – give the one thing they have and do not have, their time. Godot is
usually imagined to be some harsh and forbidding demiurge. But what
if, like Pozzo persecuted by his servant’s loyalty, he were oppressed, even
terrorised, by the devotion of those who defy all the evidence in order to
give to him?
What I find to be Beckettian in Enobarbus’s death is almost more so in
Antony’s. Suicide is, for the Roman, not in itself a negation, so much as a
negation of a negation; rather as, in Beckett’s world (where self-elimination
wanes as a possibility from the time of Murphy on), suicide might promise
to negate an eternity of dying. Yet Antony’s failure to live up to the stoical
ideal adds a further negation, leaving him as laughable as Estragon with
his trousers round his ankles. Not only does Antony require the ironically
named Eros to assist him, but Eros gets there first, leaving Antony to botch
Samuel Beckett 173

the job. ‘How, not dead? Not dead?’ (4.14.103). Jan Kott suggests that
this Shakespearean tragedy turns into grotesque as its protagonists are
overwhelmed by history – ‘And the world has become flat.’45 But what if it
were not history the victor, not Octavius, but the loser – the losers – who
in losing win in some other, less obvious or nameable way, not just against
Octavius’s but against their very own ideals? Not grotesque or merely
bathetic, then, but snapping what Celan calls the ‘wire’, testifying to human
presence in their very failures; which include, of course, a failure to be
faithful to each other.
Antony and Cleopatra are indeed a proto-Beckettian couple. Imagine
substituting Antony’s name for Vladimir’s, Cleopatra’s for Estragon’s, in the
opening of Godot Act II:

ESTRAGON: Don’t touch me!

[VLADIMIR holds back, pained.]
VLADIMIR: Do you want me to go away? [Pause.] Gogo! [Pause.
VLADIMIR observes him intently.] Did they beat you? [Pause.] Gogo!
[ESTRAGON remains silent, head bowed.] Where did you spend the
ESTRAGON: Don’t touch me! Don’t question me! Don’t speak to me!
Stay with me!
VLADIMIR: Did I ever let you go? (CDW, 54)

This becomes, shortly after:

ESTRAGON: It’d be better if we parted.

VLADIMIR: You always say that, and you always come crawling back.
(CDW, 57–8)

Which leads, in the play’s closing moments, to a final affirmation of

aloneness and its opposite:

ESTRAGON: I can’t go on like this.

VLADIMIR: That’s what you think.
ESTRAGON: If we parted? That might be better for us.
VLADIMIR: We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow. (CDW, 87–8)

Vladimir and Estragon are not the first, and are far from being the last, of
the oddly linked couples (or ‘pseudo-couples’ as they have been called)
in Beckett’s work, the ambivalence of whose relations evokes a logic of
174 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

addiction quite as strongly as does Antony’s dependence on Cleopatra.

One of the stranger and less commented of such pseudo-couples is
observed by Molloy at the start of his novel. Two men, one setting out from
the city, the other already on the road: inevitable they will meet, that a
story will follow the encounter – for surely, if so observed, their approach
must be motivated and purposeful. In the end they barely cross and their
coupledom is truncated; a union so fleeting as to be almost a projection
of the observing Molloy, yet unforgettably real at the same time. In the
French original, the two men are called ‘A’ and ‘B’. Leslie Hill, in his study
of the ‘Trilogy’, offers several reasons as to why the name of one of the
men changed in translation, from ‘B’ to ‘C’, none of which is especially
convincing.46 In translation, I have suggested, Shakespeare rises to the
surface, as when Hamm says, ‘Finie la rigolade’, only for this to become, in
translation, Prospero’s ‘Our revels now are ended.’47 Fanciful it may be, but
where Leslie Hill detects an echo of Cain and Abel in the shift to A and C,
I hear an echo of Antony and C  leopatra.
‘So I saw A and C going slowly towards each other,’ writes Molloy,
imparting significance with his gaze, ‘unconscious of what they were
doing.’48 It is a commonplace that Antony, even more so Cleopatra, exist in
order to be seen; forever self-consciously on stage, practically devoid of that
interiority to which solitude gives rise and soliloquy gives vent. If Northrop
Frye is right to suggest that ‘In every play Shakespeare wrote, the hero or
central character is the theatre itself’, then rarely is this truer than here.49
Continuing my exercise in substitution, in Frye’s statement one might
replace Shakespeare’s name by Beckett’s, whose works foregrounded their
meta-theatricality from the outset. ‘And this,’ enquires M in the emblemati-
cally entitled Play, which takes infidelity and jealousy, the stuff of boulevard
theatre, and ruthlessly unpicks it, ‘when will all this have been . . . just play?’
(CDW, 313) Asked by Estragon if he recognizes where they are, Vladimir
turns towards the auditorium and recognizes ‘that bog’; while Pozzo, blind,
wondering where he is standing, queries if it ‘isn’t by any chance the place
known as the Board?’ (CDW, 16, 81) ‘Good,’ he declares, ‘Is everybody
ready? Is everybody looking at me?’ (CDW, 30) And once he has confirmed
he is the centre of attention: ‘I don’t like talking in a vacuum. Good. Let
me see.’ (CDW, 31) Being seen is, almost literally here, the precondition of
seeing – vision and cognition. What may be the most lyrical and affecting
speech in Godot ends with Vladimir believing he is being watched: ‘At me
too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, he is sleeping, he
knows nothing, let him sleep on.’ (CDW, 84–5) No sooner uttered, than the
boy arrives for the second time to announce the non-arrival of Mr Godot.
Samuel Beckett 175

And the message Vladimir would have the boy convey? ‘Tell him . . . [He
hesitates]. . . tell him you saw me and that . . . [He hesitates] . . . that you saw
me.’ (CDW, 86)
The relation between seeing and histrionics is so stressed in Beckett’s
work that the specularity of drama transforms into the drama of specu-
larity. The word ‘look’ (and its cognates) appears 80 times in Endgame
(27 times uttered, 53 times in the stage directions); the word ‘see’ (and
cognates) appears 35 times (28 in utterance, 7 in stage directions). Nell is
almost sightless, Clov is armed with a telescope, which he turns upon the
audience, while, unseeing, Hamm seeks to become by being seen; yet his
exhibitionism hollows him out, deprives him of individuation, renders him
a ham. It is with a mix of trepidation and longing that he enquires of Clov:
‘We’re not beginning to . . . to . . . mean something?’ To which Clov answers
: ‘Mean something! You and I, mean something! [Brief laugh.] Ah that’s a
good one!’ (CDW, 108) Winnie, at the end of Happy Days Act I, releases
her most cherished wish: ‘Do you know what I dream sometimes? [Pause.]
What I dream sometimes, Willie. [Pause.] That you’ll come round and live
this side where I could see you.’ (CDW, 158) The recognition that would
accompany the exchange of regards would be transformative, as Winnie
appreciates when she then declares, ‘I’d be a different woman’. The word
she next uses – ‘Unrecognizable’ – is no negation of specularity but its
paroxysm: Winnie, recognized at last, would not be herself. The scopic
fantasy, to see and be seen, reaches a cannibalistic pitch as the other is
internalized: ‘Or just now and then, come round this side just every now
and then and let me feast on you.’ When, at the end of Act II, Willie does
indeed reach the front of Winnie’s mound, and reaches up towards her,
he emulates Antony reaching up to Cleopatra, ‘Aloft’, in his death scene –
Cleopatra who responds:

Had I great Juno’s power,

The strong-wing’d Mercury should fetch thee up,
And set thee by Jove’s side. Yet come a little –
Wishers were ever fools – O, come, come, come. (4.15.34–7)

Winnie, her head bursting with quotations, citing Shakespeare more

often than any other Beckett character – Hamlet (twice), Romeo and Juliet,
Cymbeline, Twelfth Night – urges her Antony on, dragging his attention
from the perusal of naked women and the flotsam of world history in the
newspaper’s trivia. While he is ‘clinging to mound with one hand, reaching up
with the other’, she exhorts him: ‘Come on, dear, put a bit of jizz into it, I’ll
176 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

cheer you on.’ (CDW, 167). And when finally he raises his head: ‘That’s
right, Willie, look at me. [Pause.] Feast your old eyes, Willie.’ The play
climaxes upon a stage direction: ‘She smiles, gazing front. She turns her eyes,
smiling, to WILLIE, still on his hands and knees looking up at her. Smile off. They
look at each other. Long pause.]’ (CDW, 168)

In his much-cited essay, ‘Trying to Understand Endgame’, Theodor Adorno

suggests that as opposed to what is the case in classical tragedy, with
Beckett non-death has become the drama. Of Hamm, Adorno writes: ‘The
minor paraphernalia of health are of excessive importance to him. But he
fears not death but rather that death could miscarry’ – an extension of
the worries of Vladimir and Estragon over the sturdiness of the bough on
which they would hang themselves.50 This implies, as Jean-Michel Rabaté
summarizes Adorno’s argument, that ‘the pathos of the play derives from
the sense that even after all is over, one has to go on’.51 In Adorno’s words,
which ring with a certain truth for all of Beckett’s mature work where
‘Birth was the death of him’, as the opening of A Piece of Monologue has it
(CDW, 425): ‘Everything that exists is to be made identical to a life that
is itself death.’ For Adorno, this does not imply that Beckett’s plays are
merely despairing, rather that they act as a corrective, in a post-Holocaust
era facing atomic catastrophe, to the Existential valorization of life lived in
an awareness of the imminence of death, to the ideal of individual authen-
ticity, and to ‘the creed of the irreducibility of individual existence’ that was
in turn ‘linked to the Western pathos of the universal and lasting’.52
It would take more space than is available here to conduct a serious
examination of Shakespeare’s attitude, or attitudes, to death. But what can
be remarked briefly is that his characters – many of them – share Hamlet’s
doubts about death’s finitude, even when they do not suffer so crushingly
the consequent devaluation of the meaningfulness of life. Hamlet has first-
hand evidence that death is no end, in the person of his father’s ghost;
evidence that will haunt Macbeth too, through the ghost of the murdered
Banquo. Hamlet’s father’s rhetoric of purgation is Christian in colour, yet
Hamlet’s longing for death – ‘’Tis a consummation / Devoutly to be wish’d’
(3.1.61–2) – when followed by its qualifications, is not far from the longing
expressed by many a Beckett character: the wish to have the light turned
off, the wish For to end yet again (as one of his late pieces is called) – with
‘yet again’ being a codicil as worthy of Hamlet as of Beckett. Hamlet’s
doubt is both epistemological and ontological. Pervading from perception
Samuel Beckett 177

through cognition, doubt undermines anything approaching knowledge

or certitude, as in Beckett’s work where it becomes the very ground of a
story such as ‘First Love’, in which the narrator doubts ‘First’, then doubts
‘Love’, finally doubting the nature of his very experience. The work of René
Descartes is usually what appears in discussion of the centrality of doubt to
Beckett’s world, but Shakespeare’s work is almost as relevant. Hamlet-like,
the narrator of ‘First Love’ soliloquizes internally, and in doing so recon-
nects the medieval world of Hamlet’s father to the more ostensibly modern
one of his son’s hesitations:

I had such horror of these paltry perplexities that I always fell into the
same error, that of seeking to clear them up. It took me a long time,
my lifetime so to speak, to realize that the colour of an eye half seen, or
the source of some distant sound, are closer to Giudecca in the hell of
unknowing than the existence of God, or the origins of protoplasm, or
the existence of self, and even less worthy than these to occupy the wise.
(CSP, 43)

Every reader will have his or her own impression of the bleakest, most
life-thwarting version of existence in Shakespeare. My own is uttered in a
comedy, where Duke Vincentio (in disguise) attempts to console Claudio,
condemned to death for fornication: ‘Merely, thou art death’s fool,’ the
Duke pronounces, ‘For him thou labor’st by thy flight to shun, / And yet
run’st toward him still.’ (3.1.11–13) As he warms to his chilling task, he
continues, witheringly:

Thou hast nor youth nor age,

But as it were an after-dinner’s sleep,
Dreaming on both, for all thy blessed youth
Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich,
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
To make thy riches pleasant. What’s yet in this
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
Lie hid moe thousand deaths; yet death we fear
That makes these odds all even. (Measure for Measure, 3.1.32–41)

The grim solace offered by the Duke – life is so deathly that death is a
relief by comparison – applies a temporary poultice to Claudio’s fevered
apprehension of mortality. Yet it takes only the flicker of hope offered by
178 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

his sister’s visit for death to menace again, not as finitude now but as the
contrary, in a torrent of anguish:

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;

To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling – ’tis too horrible! (3.1.117–27)

At the risk of horrifying his sister, Claudio chooses death-filled life over
life-filled death, concluding:

The weariest and most loathed worldly life

That age, ache, [penury], and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death. (3.1.128–31)

At the end of what I judge to be Beckett’s most important early story –

and its title is pertinent here, ‘Dante and the Lobster’ – Belacqua’s aunt
prepares to submerge a lobster, living, in a pot of boiling water. The aunt
reacts to Belacqua’s remonstrations:

‘You make a fuss’ she said angrily ‘and upset me and then lash into it
for your dinner.’
She lifted the lobster clear of the table. It had about thirty seconds to
Well, thought Belacqua, it’s a quick death, God help us all.
It is not.53

Reportedly, when More Pricks Than Kicks, the collection in which this story
appears, was reprinted in 1966, Beckett was tempted to modify the closing
line, to ‘Like Hell it is’.54
Despite what might appear to be a reference to Paolo and Francesca
(from Inferno Canto V) in ‘blown with restless violence about / The
Samuel Beckett 179

pendant world’, it appears improbable that Shakespeare read the writer

whom I take to be the single most important for Beckett. Yet Dante’s
influence was not confined to those who read him, and his synthesis of
pagan myth, classical philosophy, Christian doctrine and a vengeful imagi-
nation would surely have been indirectly familiar to Shakespeare. In his
polemical essay, ‘A Season in Hell’, George Steiner proposes a continuity
running from the Middle Ages through Hieronymus Bosch, through Faust,
to the Concentration Camps – the same Camps judged by some to loom
behind Beckett’s mature work, such that Adorno could write (in 1958):
‘The natural connection between the living has now become organic
garbage. The Nazis have irrevocably overthrown the taboo on old age.
Beckett’s trashcans are emblems of the culture rebuilt after Auschwitz.’55
In Steiner’s sequence Dante is cardinal:

L’univers concentrationnnaire had no true counterpart in the secular

mode. Its analogue is Hell. The camp embodies, often down to minutiae,
the images and chronicles of Hell in European art and thought from the
twelfth to the eighteenth centuries [. . .] The literature of the camps is
extensive. But nothing in it equals the fullness of Dante’s observations.56

The line from Dante to the Shakespeare of Claudio’s terrors, or to the

horrors of Titus Andronicus, or to Hamlet’s father’s ‘My hour is almost
come / When I to sulph’rous and tormenting flames / Must render up
myself’ (1.5.2–4), is one which extends, through the key figure of the
Marquis de Sade whose work Beckett so admired, to the sufferings his own
characters undergo. And beyond the sufferings, or within them, exacer-
bating them, are links between Beckett and the Medieval world of Dante, as
well as Shakespeare’s inheritance of it; both so obvious that they are easily
‘Why do readers of all ages and of so many diverse cultures and
backgrounds keep going back to the Inferno with so much empathy?’ asks
Dante scholar Lino Pertile. ‘The reason, I submit, is not Hell’s graphic
display of divine justice but rather the tragically flawed humanity of its
inhabitants.’57 The flaw, and the way the flaw is revealed, are what spin the
thread connecting Dante to Shakespeare and Beckett. For it is through a
series of miniature playlets that Dante’s characters come alive, revealing
themselves as so much more than mere exemplifications of the logic of the
‘contrapasso’ by which God’s justice is fulfilled in the sinner’s punishment:
playlets – ‘dramaticules’ – acted out between Dante (accompanied by
that member of his own pseudo-couple, Virgil) and those he encounters,
180 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

interrogates, admires, berates, chastises and even tramples upon. And it

is through these dramas that the second aspect I wish to stress is in turn
highlighted. Dante’s is a world where death is everywhere summoned,
yet abandoned by death’s durability. In his Christian universe, annihi-
lation may be wished for but is never achieved; the suicides, transformed
into bleeding talking trees, attest to this fact. Hamlet’s doubts, Claudio’s
terrors, these are amply justified by Dante’s Christianity; quite as amply
as by Beckett’s abhorrence of Christianity. For both give rise to a radical
withdrawal of finitude. Hamm may insult God all he likes – ‘The bastard!
He doesn’t exist’ – but, as Adorno implies, God’s refusal to show himself
does not result in a discovery of death (CDW, 119). And even the certainty
proclaimed by his blasphemy is instantly qualified, by Clov’s rejoinder: ‘Not
And there is a further thread linking the three writers, less obvious owing
to Dante’s being a poet rather than a dramatist. Most of the characters
divulging their secrets and stories to Dante the pilgrim are unaware that
they are conversing with one who will return to the land of the living
and will broadcast these; yet we the readers are never allowed to forget
it, and our knowledge ratchets up the drama. When Claudio disburses
his terrors to the priest, we in the audience cannot forget that the priest
is the Duke who has the authority to quash the death-sentence. Death,
in other words, with its terrors, is itself subject to the very specularity
we have been examining, and to its auditory equivalent as the private
is revealed as already public. For Daniel Albright, writing on Beckett’s
earliest drama, Eleutheria, a version of this tension between private and
public constitutes an all-important link between Shakespeare’s theatre and
Beckett’s: ‘Shakespeare continually juxtaposes some rigid public stage with
an improvisatory private stage.’ What Albright states seems equally true of
both authors:

A univocal space vies with an equivocal space; a stolid domain obedient

to every law of Newton and Aristotle vies with an outrageous domain
subject to flagrant violations of time and space. Playwrights have often
been attracted to this model of a double theatre, in which the implacable
and the impromptu both find space to work.58

Death itself, as we watch Claudio suffering, is theatricalized and meta-

theatricalized; ironized, certainly, but with an irony that itself is radically
unstable and which no amount of folklorish bed-tricks and resuscitated
Claudios can quite stabilize (as Isabella’s final silence to the Duke’s
Samuel Beckett 181

proposal of marriage may serve to remind us). In Beckett’s fictions, the

moribund are forever being denied the notional privacy of death as they
are watched over, publicly scrutinized, tended to, protracted – extenuated.
In the rarely played Rough for Theatre II, in a twist upon Claudio’s prison
episode, two men, A and B, sit at desks while they contemplate, then
adjudicate, the tale of a third man, C, who stands motionless before an
open window, waiting to be ordered to jump to his death in some cruel
variant of assisted suicide. Lest we forget we are witnessing the spectacle of
others witnessing – and thereby transforming, undermining, hypostasizing
– death, the lamp used by B goes out, flickers on, goes out again, rendering
A’s question – ‘Any light on that?’ – all too literal. The lamp elucidates
the dark as the testimonies against C elucidate his miserable past; while
in a covered cage a bird begins to sing, ignoring its companion dead on
the floor. ‘And to think all that is organic waste!’ remarks A, echoing (or
adumbrating) Adorno’s phrase cited above as he peers into the cage, ‘All
that splendour!’ (CDW, 248).59 As the play ends, C has not jumped, and A
appears to be about to wipe the tears from his face.
Anne Atik reports that Beckett liked to recite Shakespeare’s sonnet 71,
‘No longer mourn for me when I am dead’, and that he considered writing
a play based upon it.60 He would pause after uttering the lines ‘Nay, if you
read this line, remember not / The hand that writ it, for I love you so,’
before finishing:

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,

But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

Several plays that Beckett did indeed write may be responses to the
sonnet-narrator’s wish to disappear without trace, to escape the ‘look’
of the ‘wise world’; and to the wish that cuts truculently against that, to
be remembered in the grip that the poem exerts upon its ‘you’, to be
memorialized in the poem itself. In Krapp’s Last Tape, the protagonist,
issuing his ‘Farewell to love’, ends the play by saying of his ‘best years’
that ‘I wouldn’t want them back’. While all the time, as he repudiates the
person he is and has been (in his recorded tapes), a continuity is forming
up against his denials: he records for posterity his wish to ‘leave it at
that’ even as he falls prey to the seduction of his former affair and of its
moment when ‘I said again I thought it was hopeless and no good going
on’. (CDW, 223) No surprise that it is the eyes of his several women that
182 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

haunt him most and which, in failing to close to him, defy his entropic
disappearing act.

There is an extraordinary passage in a letter Beckett addresses to Georges

Duthuit ten years earlier, just before writing Godot, which combines the
same elements: anticipation, the eye, and mourning. Beckett is back,
reluctantly, in Ireland, visiting his mother. What he writes anticipates the
play Footfalls, drawing as this work does on his mother’s insomnia (and
employing the name by which his mother was known, May), and turning
‘Mr Frost’ into ‘Mrs Winter’. Echoes too perhaps of Melancholy Jacques’s
‘seven ages’ speech – ‘Last scene of all, / That ends this strange eventful
history, / Is second childishness, and mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes,
sans taste, sans every thing’ (As You Like It, 2.7.163–6):

Do you know the cry common to those in purgatory? Io fui [I was]. I went
with my mother to church last Sunday, a distant church, so that she could
find the pillar behind which my father would hide his noddings off, in
the evening, his physical restlessness, his portly man’s refusal to kneel.
The parson announced: ‘Mr Frost, loved and respected by all, entered
life yesterday morning, funeral tomorrow’. Poor old Georges, no luck for
you this evening. The weather is fine, I walk along my old paths, I keep
watching my mother’s eyes, never so blue, so stupefied, so heartrending,
eyes of an endless childhood, that of old age.

The eyes, perceived, are themselves a summons to both life and death, like
the purgatorial Io fui, as Beckett continues:

Let us get there rather earlier, while there are still refusals we can make. I
think these are the first eyes that I have seen. I have no wish to see others,
I have all I need for loving and weeping, I know now what is going to
close, and open inside me, but without seeing anything, there is no more
seeing. (Letters II: 92)

Mourning, that human process which, when removed from its collective
or ritual context, is practically imperceptible, even to the mourner, is here
rendered specular, spectacular, dramatic. And this is the case when the very
energy of volition in ‘Let us get there’ – the French original is ‘Allons-y’ –
cuts against the melancholy or resignation colouring the death-wish.
There is perhaps no more Beckettian act of mourning in Shakespeare,
none more poignant or scopogenic, than that of Guiderius and Arviragus
Samuel Beckett 183

for their fallen ‘brother’ Fidele – ‘scopogenic’ being my own coinage for
spectacle that calls attention to its own visuality. One wishes, as one did
with Measure’s Claudio who is being watched, unseeing, to call out ‘Look!
Look more closely!’ The double theatre of which Daniel Albright writes is
summoned by the juxtaposition of the inevitable and the impromptu in
what Guiderius intones:

Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun,

Nor the furious winter’s rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust. (Cymbeline, 4.2.258–63)

The universalizing truth is, if not refuted, then pitted against the living
creature over whom it hovers: Look! She breathes! And our reaction here is
amplified, its scopogenic fertility too, by the grotesque version of this scene
that ensues, when Fidele-Imogen, revived, sights the decapitated body of
what she takes to be her husband Posthumus (but which is, in fact, that of
his evil rival Cloten).
It is 1610, probable date of the composition of Cymbeline, and a young
man is standing, lightly clad, holding a sword in his right hand, while in
his left, at the end of his outstretched arm, he holds a severed head which
he regards with something between compassion and disgust. The severed
head’s eyes are open, unable to return the slaughterer’s gaze. In the
background, darkness, nothing to distract the viewer’s eyes from the eyes
which look, and see, and do not see. Two years earlier, in a more complex
scene, an almost naked man has not yet reached the headless point,
pinned to the ground by a muscular figure holding a knife in his right
hand: a classical scene it almost appears, despite the early seventeenth-
century costumes, such is the austerity of setting, the symmetry of line. At
the same time, especially when viewed in setting, unmistakably baroque,
with the bystanders’ eyes again being averted. The terms that Caravaggio’s
biographer Helen Landon uses to describe The Beheading of Saint John the
Baptist (at the Co-Cathedral of St John in Malta) direct us to the staging of
the gaze:

In its original austere setting it would have been overwhelmingly

illusionistic, for, as the novice entered the sacristy, there was nothing
between him and this group of life-size figures, firmly set in a stage
184 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

like architectural space, their action caught and frozen, and the bold
geometric basis of the composition so clear and so strong. He must have
felt himself a witness at a mesmeric moment of high drama, as the blood
pours from St John’s neck.61

In his introduction to Macbeth, Nicholas Brooke compares the play to

baroque painting and sculpture;62 the first painting I evoked above, David
with the Head of Goliath (in the Galleria Borghese, Rome), certainly makes a
satisfying match with that play. Still, Caravaggio’s combination of restrained
cruelty and stylised setting, of classical orderliness and barbarism, of
voyeuristic impulsion and compassion, of death and the spectacle of
death, of paganism and Christian promise, strikes me as being even closer
to Cymbeline. In 1971, following an eye operation that restored his sight,
Beckett visited Malta, and he did so, according to his friend the painter
Avigdor Arikha (to whom he sent a postcard of the painting), precisely in
order to see The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. He later explained to
Arikha as well as to his biographer that this painting formed part of the
inspiration behind Not I, the play in which a detached head – or rather
mouth – pours out words to an ‘auditor’. There is a figure in the painting
who, ‘in a gesture of helpless compassion’ (CDW, 375), seems deafly to play
the auditor’s role: the old lady next to the jailer who watches the decapi-
tation, her enormous hands covering her ears as if hearing no evil could
metonymically absolve her.
Not I does not inaugurate Beckett’s decapitations, nor will it end them:
That Time, from 1975, presents ‘LISTENER’S FACE about 10 feet above
stage level midstage off centre’ (CDW, 388), while Happy Days Act II has
Winnie severed at the neck (to perception at least). Yet, as in Caravaggio,
decapitation does not diminish the intensity of the gaze or its search for
the gaze of the other, what in Rockaby will become ‘she so long all eyes /
famished eyes’ yearning ‘to see / be seen’ (CDW, 441). And as in Endgame,
where Hamm and Clov question the possibility of their acitvely meaning,
so Winnie, longing to be seen, also apprehends the fixity of meaning that
being seen can confer. She recollects a man and a woman named Shower
or Cooker (regulators of temperature in a uniformly baking heat?) who as
they passed her stopped to gape: ‘What’s she doing? he says – What’s the
idea? he says – stuck up to her diddies in the bleeding ground – coarse
fellow – What does it mean he says – What’s it meant to mean?’ (CDW,
156) The man’s companion retaliates: ‘And you, she says, what’s the idea
of you, she says, what are you meant to mean?’ The woman’s compassion
is matched by Winnie’s own, for her Willie, even if it is as misplaced
Samuel Beckett 185

as Guiderius’s or Imogen’s, as misplaced as the old woman’s hands in

Caravaggio’s painting. Scorching in her mound, it is not for herself but for
her ungrateful other that she cites Guiderius’s ‘Fear no more the heat o’ th’
sun’, having to enquire, the moment she says it, ‘Did you hear that?’ (CDW,
148) Lest the ambivalence driving specularity were not evident enough, in
his French translation Beckett turns Shakespeare into Racine, citing – or
rather, in the Winnie manner mis-citing – the chorus in Athalie (2.9.829),
‘Qu’ils pleurent, oh mon Dieu, qu’ils frémissent de honte’, where he
raises Racine’s ‘crainte’ (fear) into the more poignant and public ‘honte’

When she commits suicide, repudiating her role as a bit-part actor within
Octavius’s triumph, Cleopatra refuses to mean something. But she is not
the most extreme example of such a refusal in Shakespeare, and indeed
the flight from or eschewal of signification occurs throughout the plays,
intimating ever that beneath the acting there may be no being, no richly
human subject lying latent. If Beckett’s is a theatre which disestablishes
the very notion of character, a precedent is certainly there in Shakespeare,
notwithstanding Harold Bloom’s claims about Shakespeare’s ‘invention of
the human’. Viola’s assertion, ‘I am not that I play’ (Twelfth Night, 1.5.184),
refers most obviously to her living in disguise and out of gender, but Feste
is there to remind us that the equivocation may go deeper. Iago’s ‘I am
not what I am’ (Othello, 1.1.65) is as profound a challenge to the very
notion of character as can be issued, leading ineluctably to his final refusal
to divulge his motive – to undermine the very idea of motive. (Daniel
Albright, comparing Iago to Hamm, Beckett’s winnowing of character to
Shakespeare’s, recalls W. H. Auden’s remarks on how Iago, ‘when in the
company of other characters, ought to be played as a consummate actor,
but in soliloquy he ought to be played with every technical fault of the poor
actor, for Iago’s goal is annihilation, and he is nothing in himself except a
bundle of random histrionic gestures’.)64
Suicide is, of course, not only for Cleopatra, an attempt at self-capture, and
as such is doomed to failure even if the perpetrator is not as clumsy as Antony
or as pusillanimous as Estragon. In Beckett’s first play for television, Eh Joe,
suicide stalks Joe through a voice which declines to go mute. Joe’s wish is the
complement of Winnie’s: not to be seen but not to be seen. After confirming
his room is free of possible others, he relaxes for a moment, only to be
assailed by this voice that could almost be of his conscience but for its being a
186 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

woman’s. In ten sections interrupted by silences, the camera closes in on Joe’s

face in abnegation of his fantasy of having escaped the gaze of the other, while
the voice accuses him of cowardly mistreatment and recounts the suicide on
the shore. Whether Joe is haunted by a revenant or is crazy, or whether such
speculation is itself mere rationalization, the evidence suggests, as Adorno
puts it, that ‘mourning itself is no longer possible’.65 Joe, ‘eyes unblinking’,
head progressively severed by the camera, stares out like Caravaggio’s Goliath,
prompting recollection too of the inadequacy of the gesture of the compas-
sionate woman bystander in The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, who cannot
cover eyes and ears at once, or the wrong-headedness (in the most literal
sense) of the acts of mourning in Cymbeline. ‘No weeping melts the armor,’
writes Adorno, ‘the only face left is the one whose tears have dried up.’ The
camera persecutes Joe as does the voice, in a world where self-slaughter offers
no term. As Beckett’s preferred literary critic, Maurice Blanchot, was to write:

Suicide is perhaps – it is no doubt – a fraud, but it has for its stakes to

make for an instant evident – hidden – the other fraud which is the death
known as organic or natural, and which is fraudulent to the extent that
it claims to present itself as distinct, definitively separate and not to be
confounded, able to take place, and to take place only once, like that
banality, the utterly unique, the unthinkable.66

Death by volition, the notionally unrepeatable, is contravened by art, which

forever offers evidence that even the unique is repeatable; by theatre above
all, and by a theatre which quite literally highlights this fact. The decollated
heads in Play, which appear to inhabit something approximating to Dante’s
Inferno, are stirred into afterlife by a spotlight shining momentarily upon
them, ‘unique inquisitor’ as the stage direction describes it, with those
illuminated named ‘its victims’ (CDW, 318). Vision – seeing, being seen – is
torture, but no less of a compulsion, despite cognition fading fast. M, the
male head, as the play ends, pleads:

And now, that you are . . . mere eye. Just looking. At my face. On and off
[. . .] Looking for something. In my face. Some truth. In my eyes. Not
even. Mere eye. No mind. Opening and shutting on me. Am I as much –
[Spot off  M. Blackout. Three seconds. Spot on M.] Am I as much as . . . being
seen? (CDW, 317)

It is in Coriolanus, even more than in Antony and Cleopatra, that Shakespeare

exposes the intractable ambivalence investing the specular nature of
Samuel Beckett 187

being: a play in which what preoccupied that other great modern

dramatist, Bertolt Brecht, is less significant here than one man’s insistence
that existence might be defined by acts alone and not by their appearance
or visible traces, a play about one man’s revolt against the scopic drive
inherent to theatre and against that drive’s origins. In an oft-cited passage
from a letter to Thomas MacGreevy from the time when he made his
definitive break from Ireland in 1937, a break precipitated by a violent
rift with his widowed mother, Beckett writes, ‘I am what her savage loving
has made me, and it is good that one of us should accept that finally.’
(Letters I: 552) A little more than ten years later, shortly before writing the
letter containing the remarkable passage cited above about his mother’s
eyes, Molloy begins, ‘I am in my mother’s room. It’s I who live there now. I
don’t know how I got there.’ It continues, ‘I piss and shit in her pot. I have
taken her place.’67 The one necessity Molloy knows is that of returning
to his mother, even though he cannot abide or abide with her when he
reaches her.
It is not my intention to constrain either Beckett’s work or Shakespeare’s
to the lineaments of some Oedipal drive; rather to note that the relation
between the maternal origin and the meaningfulness of life is posed as
paramount by both writers’ works. The mothering that Volumnia has
meted out to her son is quite as ‘savage’ as any that Beckett or Molloy could
imagine, her speeches about feeding on blood leaving Lady Macbeth’s pale
by comparison. And Coriolanus has ‘taken her place’, to the point where
his very being is ferocity, and all else is counterfeit. ‘Would you have me,’
he asks in a version – an invaginated version – of Iago’s formulation, ‘False
to my nature? Rather say, I play / The man I am.’ (3.2.14–16) His downfall
is prompted by a refusal of the specularity his mother now demands, by
his being more his mother than she is herself: when Volumnia commands
him to be theatrical in order to win the post of Consul, to expose his
wounds for ‘voices’, she even admits, ‘I would dissemble with my nature’.
(3.2.62) But Coriolanus asserts he can never be an actor, any rehearsal of
his military exploits being ‘A most inherent baseness’ (3.2.124) Dedicated
to anti-theatrical unrepresentability, to the indivisible ideal of the inter-
nalized phallic mother, hence incapable of turning action into ‘meaning’,
Coriolanus approaches the quasi-incestuous aphasia that Molloy confronts
when trying to talk of his mother. Failing to convert doing into being by
way of the repetition of seeming, he becomes enemy of the people (and of
their theatre) and must pay the price. For, as A. D. Nuttall points out, when
Coriolanus claims quasi-divine self-identity in a hubristic parthenogenesis,
all he is expressing is his ideal:
188 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

I’ll never
Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand
As if a man were author of himself,
And knew no other kin. (5.3.34–7)

Nuttall comments:

‘As if’ implies reference to a state of affairs that does not exist, implicitly
confesses the artificiality of the Stoic stance. Then the word ‘kin’ reminds
us of Volumnia. His assumption of a power to make himself, as a moral
being, is comprehensively undermined by the fact that all this courage,
all this aggression, was formed and moulded by the mother. His sturdy
independence is itself an artefact.68

In that ‘As if’ is contained the mother’s fatal appeal: her truncated death
Beckett’s one and only film, entitled Film, opens upon an eye opening and
closing. A man in a greatcoat (played by Buster Keaton) stumbles alongside
a wall until he bumps into a couple who, turning to regard him (regard the
camera), are appalled. He enters his lodging where an elderly woman turns
to him and collapses in horror. In his room there hangs an image of ‘God
the Father’ which he rips up, and a mirror he avoids then later covers. To
be seen is the ordeal, when eyes are everywhere – cats, dogs, goldfish, even
chairs have eyes. Beckett’s script gloss runs: ‘It will not be clear until end of
film that pursuing perceiver is not extraneous, but self.’ (CDW, 323) The
film ends with the man’s seeing himself and raising his hands to cover his
eyes (one of which is already blinded by a patch), in a gesture not unlike
that of Caravaggio’s old woman; then finally, as at the start, with a single
eye, its lid opening and closing. The elderly man avoiding the gaze of the
other, including that of the camera, is Beckett’s Coriolanus – his ‘broken
Coriolanus’ perhaps (to borrow Eliot’s description from the closing of The
Waste Land). When Coriolanus attempts (in Act 3, scene 3) to learn how
to act, to expose himself, to ‘mountebank their loves’ (3.2.132), his resolve
lasts mere seconds, before his rage at representation rises into repudiation
of ‘a part / That I shall blush in acting’ (2.2.144–5):

You common cry of curs, whose breath I hate

As reek a’ th’ rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air – I banish you! (3.3.120–3)
Samuel Beckett 189

The wrong-headedness of ‘I banish you!’ finds its echo in the gestures of

the man in Film who turns cat and dog out of his room, tears up the image
with the goggle eyes of God and the photograph of what are presumably
his parents; gestures both touching and futile when the spectator cannot
be so easily blinded or banished – not when, as the film script’s epigraph,
taken from Bishop Berkeley, advertises, ‘Esse est percipi’ (‘To be is to be
Coriolanus’s subsequent move leads to one of the oddest, and for me most
Beckettian, moments in Shakespeare. We may best approach it through the
middle of Act II of Godot, where Vladimir and Estragon trade insults. Estragon
summarizes: ‘That’s the idea, let’s abuse each other’, before relenting:

ESTRAGON: Now let’s make it up.

VLADIMIR: Your hand!
ESTRAGON: Take it!
VLADIMIR: Come to my arms!
ESTRAGON: Your arms?
VLADIMIR: My breast!
ESTRAGON: Off we go!
[They embrace. They separate. Silence.]
VLADIMIR: How time flies when one has fun! (CDW, 70–1)

There is no shortage of execration expressed by both Coriolanus and his

arch-enemy Aufidius, making the moment when the former throws himself
on the latter’s mercy one of the most highly charged in the play. Nothing
in the devotional nature of Aufidius’s loathing prepares us for his reaction:

Let me twine
Mine arms about that body, where against
My grained ash an hundred times hath broke,
And scarr’d the moon with splinters. (4.5.106–9)

Aufidius’s pleasure, greater he claims than on his wedding night, will not
relieve Coriolanus, at the last, from the further reversal by which Aufidius –
in a frenzy utterly Beckettian – literally tramples his ally-enemy under foot;
before swinging one final time, in that unpredictable way so reminiscent of
Lucile’s ‘Long live the King!’, to predict for him, ‘Yet he shall have a noble
memory.’ (5.6.153)
190 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Action and speech are often, indeed nearly always, at loggerheads

with one another in Beckett’s plays, and this is regularly signalled, I have
suggested, by stage directions. At the very end of Godot, after Vladimir
has said ‘Shall we go?’ and Estragon has responded ‘Yes, let’s go’, we read
‘[They do not move]’ (CDW, 88). Clov returns from his kitchen at the end
of Endgame, ‘dressed for the road’, but he does not budge (CDW, 132).
Defying implausibility, Happy Days ends with Winnie and Willie locked in
ocular embrace. If it were not for the bear, I would be tempted to claim that
no stage direction in Shakespeare is more significant or affecting than what
follows Volumnia’s tirade against her son, after he refuses to renounce his
sack of Rome. In Beckett’s late prose work Worstward Ho, we read:

Bit by bit an old man and child. In the dim void bit by bit an old man
and child. Any other would do as ill.

Hand in hand with equal plod they go. In the free hands – no. Free
empty hands. Backs turned both bowed with equal plod they go. The
child hand raised to reach the holding hand. Hold the old holding
hand. Hold and be held.69

Writing of visual representations of this gesture by which a child learns to

walk in trusting its hand to a parent’s grasp, Gabriel Josipovici suggests that
what is implied is the child’s relation to the infinite:

A miracle no less great than that of the Resurrection is about to occur,

the miracle that takes place in every human life when we are forced to let
go and find that we can actually make it on our own, when we reconcile
ourselves to letting go and find that those we have nurtured can actually
make it on their own.70

The child’s hand opening upon the infinite is present in a passage from
another late Beckett text, Company, which itself opens with an entirely
uncharacteristic directness upon the pain that opening can engender. The
first of the recollections which striate this text, the trauma acts almost as
an incipit of memory:

A small boy you come out of Connolly’s Stores holding your mother by
the hand [. . .] Looking up at the blue sky and then at your mother’s face
you break the silence asking her if it is not in reality much more distant
than it appears. The sky that is. The blue sky. Receiving no answer you
Samuel Beckett 191

mentally reframe your question and some hundred paces later look up at
her face again and ask her if it does not appear much less distant than in
reality it is. For some reason you could never fathom this question must
have angered her exceedingly. For she shook off your little hand and
made you a cutting retort you have never forgotten.71

The maternal curse is rarely hard to locate in Beckett, conflating as it does

origin and destiny, gift and theft. It resounds, for example, in Vladimir’s
most poignant speech, which echoes with Hamlet’s graveyard – ‘Astride of a
grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger
puts on the forceps.’ (CDW, 84) Volumnia shrinks to bend her son to her
will, kneeling before him to plead. And when he responds, Coriolanus
knows that his mother has perpetrated the exact contrary of the resur-
rection Josipovici describes, has opened upon an infinite that is lethal and

O mother, mother!
What have you done? Behold, the heavens do ope,
The gods look down, and this unnatural scene
They laugh at. (5.3.182–5)

He is, as he realizes, almost already dead, condemned by his own inter-

nalized ideal of his mother’s martial code – Martius in name and Martius
in that mothering which goes by the name of nature:

O my mother, mother! O!
You have won a happy victory to Rome;
But, for your son, believe it – O, believe it –
Most dangerously you have with him prevail’d
If not most mortal to him. But let it come. (5.3.185–9)

What has gone unuttered, and what the words spoken risk traducing in
their appeal to an adult understanding of gods and fate, has been inscribed
in a stage direction before Coriolanus can pronounce his own doom:
‘[Coriolanus] holds her by the hand, silent.’ The gesture may have its precedent
in North, Shakespeare’s source, but there the silence and the hand-holding
are separate, while here they are inextricably one. Here is the veritable
death at the heart of the play, transmitted in the grasping of a mother’s
hand; compared to which Aufidius’s trampling is marionette mechanics,
the bluster of an offended pantomime horse. In conclusion to the chapter
192 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

in Touch from which I have already cited (aptly named for my present
purpose ‘The Lesson of the Hand’), Josipovici endeavours to explain why
the protagonist’s death in Oedipus at Colonus is so moving. ‘Sophocles has
succeeded’ – and for ‘Sophocles’ let me substitute ‘Shakespeare’ – ‘in
writing a play in which, to adapt a famous remark about Waiting for Godot,
we are made to recognise how, for each of us, as for Oedipus, everything
happens just once.’72 And for Sophocles, read Beckett too: the memory
of Company’s narrator, opened by the incomprehensible sloughing off of
his hand by his mother; the very insistence of memory serving only to
prove the irreparable singularity of the event. Even in Inferno the unprec-
edented does supervene, as Dante the pilgrim’s presence makes clear:
words are uttered never uttered before. The second run-through of Play,
which repeats itself da capo, affirms that in that inferno too, of words and
light, a voice, even a voice speaking the same words over, can never be
(heard as) identical to itself. The remark about how Godot is a play where
nothing happens – twice – only serves to underline an odder reality: that,
as with Coriolanus’s taking of his mother’s hand, which regression to
childhood marks him as now, here, a supremely powerful and an exqui-
sitely vulnerable adult, everything in Act II of Godot serves to inform us that,
to adapt a remark of Vladimir’s, something really is taking its course – even
the tree is not itself, having sprouted leaves; and that this course, despite
appearances, is as irreversible as it is unrepeatable.

A. D. Nuttall describes it, the final Shakespeare work to which I wish

briefly to turn a Beckett-inflected gaze, as ‘the play Hamlet could have
written’. Doubt, in other words, is no longer the privilege or curse of a
single character but has infected the whole. In what is practically a gloss
on Beckett’s reproval of actors and critics seeking the ‘low-down’ on his
characters, Nuttall goes on to say: ‘Here, for once, L. C. Knights’s idea that
dramatic character begins and ends with what we see, holds.’73 In Troilus
and Cressida, the tendency of Shakespeare’s characters to stage themselves
is taken to its apogee, with self-division consequently rife in both Trojan
and Greek camps. As insistently as in Film, ‘esse est percipi’ founds reality
here, though the characters’ very striving to be seen largely vitiates their
attempts. The manner in which they endeavour to escape their own literary
reputations, their ‘citational identity’ (as Anthony B. Dawson describes it),
closely resembles what is to be found in Beckett’s early work, as does the
rebarbative tone, the nastiness, the cleverness too – Thersites’s vituperation
Samuel Beckett 193

would not be out of place in Dream of Fair to Middling Women.74 However,

the theorizing of relativity and of specularity, by Ulysses especially, reads
like a philosophical primer for much of the mature Beckett’s work. Ulysses
reports to the sulking Achilles:

A strange fellow here

Writes me that man, how dearly ever parted,
How much in having, or without or in,
Cannot make boast to have that which he hath,
Nor feels not what he owes, but by reflection. (3.3.95–9)

Identity, Ulysses urges, is itself relational. He has a purpose, of course,

that of galvanizing Achilles, but his argument permeates the play, not
least through Troilus for whom ‘What’s aught but as it is valued?’ (2.2.52).
Something of this is inherent to theatre, of course, is constitutive of
what Northrop Frye terms theatre’s ‘decorum’, by which every character
qualifies every other character’s actions and words. But in this play, it is not
just as the soothsayer warns Antony: how he pales when beside Caesar –
‘Thy lustre thickens / When he shines by’ (Antony and Cleopatra, 3.3.28–9);
rather it is as if character itself had ceased to be sustainable, amidst the
speechifying and attitudinizing. Nor does plot come to the rescue, since
in true Beckett fashion the play has no distinct beginning or end-point,
and the lovers, whose union seems so cursory, outlive the tragic potential
that might have elevated them into sombre simulacra of Romeo and Juliet,
leaving them marooned in what the Folio classifies a comedy.
In myriad ways Beckett’s works foreground the frustrations consequent
on a world view not wholly dissimilar to that presented by Ulysses and
Troilus, where value, being, and knowledge are not inherent, but relative
and constructed. Shakespeare was, of course, not alone in interesting
himself in solipsism and the philosophical argument over the source of
value; still less Beckett, in an era marked by Einstein, by Heisenberg, by
Saussure, by Wittgenstein. But what connects them in this regard is their
shared determination to find a means to dramatize this relativity; for while
theatre’s decorum throws up multiple perspectives, it also, in its sheer
corporeal actuality, in the palpable presence of the actor, defies the sceptic
and the doubter. Here in Troilus and Cressida, corporeality itself is being
winnowed: falling so far short of the martial ideal, so close to Thersites’s
vitriol, that disease, injury, and lust have reduced the body to a site where
life and death drives are barely distinguishable in their agon – ‘war and
lechery confound all!’ (2.3.75). And death appears not as the defining
194 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

end to life, so that when the most important of the pseudo-couples finally
meets (their list includes Patroclus and Achilles, Pandarus and Thersites,
Helen and Cressida, Paris and Menelaus, and why not Troilus and Cressida
too), their duel is the cruellest anti-climax, Hector and Achilles resembling
pantomime figures even more closely than do Coriolanus and Aufidius. For
here too the crucial death has already happened: the death of an ideal –
the double death of a double ideal.
In the context of Beckett, the very notion of an ‘ideal’ may seem quaint,
yet it insists: in the perfection of rotation and equilibrium sought by
Molloy’s calculations over his sucking-stones; in the urgency with which
the Unnamable tries to finish his story; in Winnie’s wish to be seen; in
the man’s wish, in Film, not to be seen; in the ‘First’ of ‘First Love’, indeed
in the ‘Love’; in, even, the Proustian arc of the sentence in that same
story which, after 18 sub-clauses, interrupts itself – ‘that, that what, that
nothing, this sentence has gone on long enough’ (CSP, 11). Troilus’s
fantasy of truthfulness, which itself relativizes the relativism he elsewhere
espouses, projects itself on to Cressida, as does its complement the fantasy
of falsehood. He declares:

[Yet] after all comparisons of truth

(As truth’s authentic author to be cited)
‘As true as Troilus’ shall crown up the verse,
And sanctify the numbers. (3.2.180–4)

And Cressida concurs, swearing that she too can become a paragon of
truthfulness, as of its contrary if she swerve – ‘‘As false as Cressid’’ (3.3.196).
When Cressida is separated from Troilus to be transported to the Greek
camp, he declares, ‘be thou true, / And I will see thee’ (4.4.66–7). Which
prophecy itself comes to a strange non-fulfilment in the single most
plangent scene in the play, when Troilus watches Cressida giving away his
love-token to Diomedes, himself watched by Ulysses, the whole spectacle
overseen and commented on by Thersites. Non-fulfilment, for Troilus does
not see Cressida so much as spy upon her – less lover or saviour than voyeur;
Cressida’s falsity is as ambiguous and opaque as her emblem of falsity
proffers the contrary. The theatrical lust to see, the compacting of ontology
and epistemology, of being and knowing, unravels before our own yearning
gaze, itself signalled by Troilus’s imagining the existence of two Cressidas:
‘This is, and is not, Cressid!’ (5.2.146)
Am and am not, are and are not, is and is not: staged ideal-breaking
unbeing, in which any putative epiphany dissolves into questionable
Samuel Beckett 195

histrionics. Hamm, in Endgame, asks Clov to put his stuffed cloth dog on
the ground before him. ‘Is he gazing at me?’ he asks. ‘As if he were asking
me to take him for a walk?’ (CDW, 112). In Clov’s answer sounds the knell
of an ideal as literary as any that Troilus and Cressida are compelled to
traduce, deriving from a common source too, as man’s best friend, Hamm’s
Argos, falls on his side for want of a fourth leg: ‘If you like.’
There is a moment – for my present purpose, a final moment – in this
most awkwardly Beckettian of Shakespeare’s plays, a moment that has
perplexed viewers and critics alike: if at this stage my argument offers it up
differently, then perhaps I have garnered some credibility for Beckett the
‘Great Shakespearean’. During the first protracted debate in the Trojan
camp on the advisability of retaining Helen, cause of the war, after Troilus
states ‘What’s aught but as ’tis valued?’ (2.2.52), Hector, who is as close in
this play of unlikeable characters as we come to someone we can respect,
launches into an attack upon relativism:

But value dwells not in particular will,

It holds his estimate and dignity
As well wherein ’tis precious of itself
As in the prizer. (2.2.53–6)

He expands into a cogent, virtually irrefutable argument in favour of

nature and natural laws of matrimony, and against the shedding of more
blood therefore: it is quite the most convincing speech in the Trojan
chamber, even in the entire play, and this not despite, but rather because
of, our disabused sense that the moral ambiance, the plot (such as it is),
and the characterization (with its self-doubling) are whelming him:

Thus to persist
In doing wrong extenuates not wrong,
But makes it much more heavy. Hector’s opinion
Is this in way of truth. (2.2.186–9)

Hector signs his own death warrant as, changing tack mid-line, he continues:

yet ne’er the less,

My spritely brethren, I propend to you
In resolution to keep Helen still,
For ’tis a cause that hath no mean dependance
Upon our joint and several dignities. (2.2.189–93)
196 Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Auden, Beckett

Even as fine a critic as A. D. Nuttall throws his hands up in exasperation

at Hector’s tergiversation, hazarding that ‘Shakespeare wrote the first,
eloquent part of Hector’s speech, adjourned to the pub for a heavy lunch,
and returned thinking ‘I have to turn the action round here’.’75
But what if Hector’s sudden rebuff of his own winning rhetoric were
of the same order, as odd and unforeseeable, as Lucile’s ‘Long live the
King!’, as perverse as ‘First Love’’s narrator’s interrupting his Proustian
sentence, as absurd – I hope I can invoke this word now without reduc-
tionism – as Pozzo’s sitting down when he cannot sit down. What if he too,
if Shakespeare, like Lucile, like Beckett, were in search of an elsewhere. And
what if the shift that appears a defeat – Hector’s, Shakespeare’s – were of
the same nature as is proffered in the opening of Worstward Ho, where the
term reappears from the dialogues with Duthuit of more than 30 years
previously: ‘Fail again. Fail better.’76
After settling himself at his desk, Krapp listens to a tape of his own
voice from 30 years previously, aged 39: in that tape he recalls listening
to a further tape from ten years before, in which was recorded, among
other things, ‘Last illness of his father’ (CDW, 218). Then, returning to
the (30-year-past) present, he recollects the death of his mother. But
against the loss of origins and the repetition cuts an argument – something
stronger than an argument, more like a revelation; it is one which, if one
knows Beckett’s biography, resonates the more loudly, since it does appear
to correspond to an experience the playwright had in Ireland shortly after
the War. ‘Molloy and the others came to me,’ he told his biographer, ‘the
day I became aware of my own folly.’77 The setting, the parents’ deaths, the
surge, the urgency, all rise to:

Spiritually a year of profound gloom and indigence until that memorable

night in March, at the end of the jetty, in the howling wind, never to be
forgotten, when suddenly I saw the whole thing. The vision at last. (CDW,

His task now is to record that capital moment: ‘What I suddenly saw then
was this, that the belief I had been going on all my life, namely – ’. Followed
by his Hectorish, or, as I wish to suggest, his Shakespearean, gesture: Krapp
impatiently switches off the tape and winds forward – ‘foam flying up in the
light of the lighthouse’ – all the trappings designed to convince, until he
switches off again, cursing. Then on again, to ‘my dissolution of storm and
night with the light of the understanding and the fire . . . ’. Before further
interruption, an even louder curse, and the painstaking wind forward, to
Samuel Beckett 197

his audience’s infinite frustration and delight, to the moment where he

finds himself with his lover in the punt. It is through that movement of
the hand, removing Krapp from a logic and a temporality of epiphany,
foreclosing his grandiloquent rhetoric and rightness, that is offered an
elsewhere – an elsewhere which is also a here and now.
A human being, immanent on stage, is inhabiting the very world we
ourselves inhabit, where time does not relent, and where knowing, victory,
coherence, success, may be nothing more than seductive palliatives. Hector
ceases to hector; Krapp is full of crap. In the words of Paul Celan, which
can stand to be repeated: ‘Homage here is to the Majesty of the Absurd,
testifying to human presence.’

Quoted by Anne Stillman on p. 72; for the reference to Eliot’s original see
ch. 2, endnote 71. Unless stated otherwise, further page references in this
Introduction are to the essays in the current volume.
James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: the Life of Samuel Beckett (New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1996), 88.
See the essays on Kott by Madalina Nicolaescu and Zoltán Márkus in Great
Shakespeareans, vol. XIII, ed. Hugh Grady, and on Hall by Stuart Hampton-
Reeves and Brook by Peter Holland, in Great Shakespeareans, vol. XVIII, ed. Peter
Coppélia Kahn, ‘Remembering Shakespeare Imperially: The 1916 Tercentenary’,
Shakespeare Quarterly 52 (2001): 456–78.
Neil Corcoran, Shakespeare and the Modern Poet (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2010), 30–4. The four poets studied by Corcoran are Yeats,
Eliot, Auden and Ted Hughes.
See Adrian Poole, ‘The Disciplines of War, Memory and Writing: Shakespeare’s
Henry V and David Jones’s In Parenthesis’, Critical Survey 22.2 (2010): 91–104.
Humphrey Carpenter, W. H. Auden: A Biography (London: George Allen and
Unwin, 1981), 243.
Twilight in Italy and Other Essays, ed. Paul Eggert (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1994), 143–4. Lawrence’s first impressions of 1912–13 were
expanded for publication in 1915–16.
T. S. Eliot, ‘Hamlet’, in Selected Essays (London: Faber and Faber, 1999), 143.
Richard Halpern, Shakespeare among the Moderns (Ithaca, NY and London:
Cornell University Press, 1997), 44.
Quoted by Martin Scofield, The Ghosts of Hamlet: The Play and Modern Writers
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 32, 33.
G. Wilson Knight, ‘King Lear and the Comedy of the Grotesque’, in The Wheel
of Fire (1930; revised and enlarged ed., London: Methuen, 1949), 160–76; for
Bakhtin and Shakespeare, Michael D. Bristol, Carnival and Theater: Plebeian
Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (New York and
London: Methuen, 1985), and Ronald Knowles (ed.), Shakespeare and Carnival:
After Bakhtin (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998); for Bakhtin and Joyce, see M.
Keith Booker, Joyce, Bakhtin, and the Literary Tradition: Toward a Comparative
Cultural Poetics (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1997).
Notes 199

Quoted Corcoran, Shakespeare and the Modern Poet, 28.
See Vincent Cheng, Shakespeare and Joyce: A Study of Finnegans Wake (University
Park, PA and London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1984), passim, but
especially 198–216.
The close of ‘Forty Years On’ (1968), in Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson
(London: Faber and Faber, 1976), 785.
Corcoran, Shakespeare and the Modern Poet, 43, 44.
A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas, ed. Michèle Barrett, London: Penguin
Books, 1993, 44. See Cary DiPietro, ‘How many children had Virginia Woolf?’,
in Shakespeare and Modernism, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006),
A Room of One’s Own, 51.
H. D., By Avon River (New York: Macmillan, 1949), 16.
A Room of One’s Own, 21–2.

Chapter 1

I would like to thank Judith Farquhar, David Orsbon, Adrian Poole, Kate
Ravin, Shawn Smith, Tacy Stephens and John Wilkinson for their help with this
As recalled by Frank Budgen, according to Clive Hart in Structure and Motif in
‘Finnegans Wake’ (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1962), 163.
James Joyce, Ulysses (1922; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), Ch. 1, p.15, ll.
555–7. Henceforth cited as U, followed by chapter and line numbers.
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939; London: Faber, 1964), 575, l. 29; 59, l. 31;
161, l. 31. Henceforth cited as FW, followed by page and line numbers.
T. S. Eliot, After Strange Gods (London: Faber, 1934), 52.
See Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (1959; New York: Oxford University Press,
1982), 147: henceforth cited as JJ; Philip Kitcher, Joyce’s Kaleidoscope: An
Invitation to ‘Finnegans Wake’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), xxi. Joyce
borrowed his title from Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, where the artist Basil
Hallward holds that ‘every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the
artist, not of the sitter’: Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1881; London:
Penguin, 2003), 9.
Frank Harris, The Man Shakespeare (1909; White Fish, MT: Kessinger, 2004), 7.
See Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1922), in The
Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Standard Edition, trans. James
Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1953–74), Ch. 7, p. 105. Henceforth cited as SE.
Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ed. Seamus Deane (1914; London:
Penguin, 1992), 269: henceforth cited as P. For Shakespearean breakfasts see
Vincent John Cheng, Shakespeare and Joyce: A Study of ‘Finnegans Wake’ (University
Park, PA and London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1984), 101–6; 235–6.
My debts to Cheng’s work are too numerous to itemize in full.
See Declan Kiberd, Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce’s Masterpiece
(New York: Norton, 2009), 331.
200 Notes

Wilde, letter to Edmond de Goncourt, 17 December 1891, cited in Richard
Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (New York: Knopf, 1988), 351.
Vicki Mahaffey points out the multiple meanings of ‘fret’ in States of Desire:
Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and the Irish Experiment (New York: Oxford University Press,
1998), 19–21. Although Joyce read Ben Jonson’s works assiduously, they do
not seem to have provoked his anxiety of influence as Shakespeare’s did. See
William M. Schutte, Joyce and Shakespeare: A Study in the Meaning of ‘Ulysses’ (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957), 86.
Joyce, Stephen Hero, ed. Theodore Spencer et al (New York: New Directions,
1963), 28–9. Henceforth cited as SH.
In the Portrait (220), Stephen says to Davin: ‘You talk to me of nationality,
language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.’
Joyce, ‘Drama and Life’ (1900), in Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, ed. Kevin
Barry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 28. Henceforth cited as OCPW.
See Richard Ellmann, The Consciousness of Joyce (London: Faber, 1977), 50.
Henceforth cited as CJ.
See the Gilbert scheme of correspondences in Ulysses, ed. Jeri Johnson (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1993), 735.
Letter from Joyce to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 27 January 1925, in Selected Letters
of James Joyce, ed. Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking Press, 1975), 305–6.
Henceforth cited as SL.
Wilde, ‘The Artist as Critic’, in The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde
(Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 357, 365.
I refer to Shakespeare’s dedication to the Sonnets: ‘To the only begetter of
these ensuing sonnets Mr. W. H.’ In ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, Stephen describes
fatherhood as ‘a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to
only begotten’ (U 9.838–9).
According to Shaw, this theory was first mooted by Thomas Tyler; see Shaw’s
preface to The Dark Lady of the Sonnets in Misalliance, The Dark Lady of the Sonnets,
and Fanny’s First Play (London: Constable and Co., 1914), 107.
See William H. Quillian, ‘Shakespeare in Trieste: Joyce’s 1912 Hamlet Lectures’,
James Joyce Quarterly 12.1–2 (Fall 1974–Winter 1975): 7–63 (24).
In 1916, Joyce interpreted a dream of Nora’s in which there are two ghosts in
Hamlet, another strange miscount that may have influenced Stephen’s faulty
arithmetic (CJ 52). Or possibly Stephen is playing on the cat’s proverbial nine
lives; for the same reason Julius Caesar is described as ‘nine-knived’ in Finnegans
Wake; that is, knifed by nine conspirators.
These are transcribed in Quillian, ‘Shakespeare in Trieste’: 24–63. A further
notebook, now housed in the Beach Collection of Joyce material at the Buffalo
University Library, has been transcribed by Richard M. Kain, ‘James Joyce’s
Shakespeare Chronology’, The Massachusetts Review 5 (Winter 1964): 342–55
Quoted in Quillian, ‘Shakespeare in Trieste’: 9.
Ibid.: 60, 24.
See Schutte, Joyce and Shakespeare, 53–6.
Wilde, letter to Robert Ross, 2 February 1899, in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde,
ed. Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis (New York: Henry Holt, 2000), 1121.
Notes 201

Oscar Wilde, ‘The Portrait of Mr. W.H’ in The Complete Short Stories, ed. John
Sloan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 137.
The phrase was coined by Alfred Douglas in his poem ‘Two Loves’ (1894).
Joyce, Letters, ed. Stuart Gilbert and Richard Ellmann, 3 vols (New York: Viking
Press, 1957–66), 3: 99. Henceforth cited as L.
Joyce’s notes for his Trieste lectures draw attention to the name Arden, and
describe Arthur in King John as ‘literary monument to memory of son’; see
Quillian, ‘Shakespeare in Trieste’: 24, 26.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes Shakespeare as ‘myriad-minded’ in Biographia
Literaria, ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1984), 19.
Nathan Wallace, ‘Shakespeare Biography and the Theory of Reconciliation in
Edward Dowden and James Joyce’, ELH 72.4 (2005): 799–822 (800).
Dowden, letter to John Dowden, 28 September 1865, in Letters of Edward Dowden
and His Correspondents, ed. Elizabeth Dickinson West Dowden and Hilda M.
Dowden (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1914), 24; quoted in Wallace, ibid., 803.
Schutte, Joyce and Shakespeare, 67. In 1903, Dowden refused to recommend the
impecunious Joyce for a job at the National Library, calling him ‘extraordinary’
and ‘quite unsuitable’. See Helen Sword, Ghostwriting Modernism (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 2002), 64.
Joyce, Poems and ‘Exiles’, ed. J. C. C. Mays (London: Penguin Books, 1992), 344.
Ibid., 200.
See René Girard, Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure
(1961), trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1965/1976).
See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial
Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 28–30.
Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, The Freudian Subject (1982), trans. Catherine Porter
(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 26.
In ‘Nestor’ Stephen, following Aristotle, speaks of ‘the room of infinite possi-
bilities’ ousted by historical realities (U 2.50–1).
See Richard Le Gallienne, ‘The Boom in Yellow’, in Prose Fancies: Second Series
(London: John Lane, 1896), 79–89.
For Joyce’s use of Weininger’s ideas in his portrayal of Bloom as the ‘new
womanly man’, see JJ 463.
Joseph Valente, ‘The Perils of Masculinity in ‘Scylla and Charybdi’’, in Ulysses:
En-Gendered Perspectives, ed. Kimberly J. Devlin and Marilyn Reizbaum (Columbia,
SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1999), 111–35 (113–14, 130–1).
Ibid., 131–2.
Ibid., 112–15.
‘Shakspere has hidden himself, and is exposed’: Edward Dowden, Shakespeare: A
Critical Study of his Mind and Art (London: Henry S. King and Co., 1875), 357–8;
quoted in Wallace, ‘Shakespeare Biography’, 814.
See Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde, 438. It is Richard Ellmann who told me that
sodomy was not to Wilde’s taste.
See Jean-Michel Rabaté, ‘On Joycean and Wildean Sodomy’, in Quare Joyce, ed.
Valente (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1998), 35–46 (38).
202 Notes

Valente, ‘The Perils of Masculinity’, 134–5.
Rabaté, ‘On Joycean and Wildean Sodomy’, 35.
G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1977), 443–4.
John Bishop, Joyce’s Book of the Dark (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press,
1986), 27.
Eugene Jolas, ‘My Friend James Joyce’, in James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism, ed.
Seon Given (New York: Vanguard, 1948), 24.
Samuel Johnson, ‘Preface to Shakespeare’, in Samuel Johnson: The Major Works,
ed. Donald Greene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 429.
Christine Froula, Modernism’s Body: Sex, Culture, and Joyce (New York: Columbia,
1996), 202.
See Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, SE 5:554–64 and passim.
See Cheng, Shakespeare and Joyce, 11: ‘Joyce always returns to his obsession
– Joyce.’
Adaline Glasheen, Third Census of ‘Finnegans Wake’: An Index of the Characters and
their Roles (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1977), 260.
The glosses are John Gordon’s in Finnegans Wake: A Plot Summary (Syracuse, NY:
Syracuse University Press, 1986), 213. A further possibility is ‘nomen’, i.e. name.
See Roland McHugh, Annotations to Finnegans Wake (Baltimore, MD: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 2006), 181.36.
D. H. Lawrence, letter to Maria and Aldous Huxley, 15 August 1928, in The
Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2000), 405.
Robert Greene, Greene’s Groats-worth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance
(1592; Oxford: Benediction Classics, 2007), 41.
FW 177.32; 295.4; 47.19; 191.2; 123.24; 539.6; 344.6; 96.23; 143.22; 145.24;
152.33; 143.21; 274.L4; 177.32.
Cheng, Shakespeare and Joyce, 35.
See Cheng, Shakespeare and Joyce, 103.
See Cheng, Shakespeare and Joyce, 48.
Cheng, Shakespeare and Joyce, 40–3.
Joyce, letter to Grant Richards, 5 May 1906: SL 83.
See Stephen Heath, ‘Ambiviolences: Notes for Reading Joyce’, in Post-Structuralist
Joyce: Essays from the French, ed. Derek Attridge and Daniel Ferrer (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1984), 44.
The ‘Weakear’ may also refer to Oscar Wilde’s deafness after his ordeal in
prison. In an earlier passage Joyce aligns ‘poor O. W.’ – ‘deff as adder’ – with
‘poor Haveth Childers Everywhere’; that is, HCE (FW 535.22­35). Helen Sword
(Ghostwriting Modernism, 65–70) has pointed out that Dowden’s daughter
Hester, who became one of London’s preeminent professional spirit mediums,
conducted a series of otherworldly interviews with Oscar Wilde in 1923,
subsequently published as Psychic Messages from Oscar Wilde (1924). In these
séances, Wilde was summoned to pass judgement on Ulysses, which he roundly
condemned: ‘Yes, I have smeared my fingers with that vast work.’ Joyce evidently
knew Hester Dowden’s book, since he told his patron Harriet Weaver that ‘a
book of spirit talks with Oscar Wilde . . . will explain one page’ of Finnegans
Notes 203

Wake. This page has been identified by Sword as the passage cited above (FW
JJ 414; Robert H. Deming, James Joyce: The Critical Heritage, 2 vols (London:
Routledge, 1970), 1:85.
Ernest Jones, Hamlet and Oedipus (New York: Norton, 1976), 22. First published
with this title in 1949, Jones’s theories had been in circulation since 1910, when
his first essay on the topic appeared in The American Journal of Psychology. Cheng
notes that his ideas ‘do not differ between earlier and later versions’ (Shakespeare
and Joyce, 258).
Jones, Hamlet and Oedipus, 88. See also Cheng, Shakespeare and Joyce, 75–8.
See Jones, Hamlet and Oedipus, 109, 78, 39.
Her name is also reminiscent of Ireland’s Dark Rosaleen and Margarita in
Gounod’s Faust.
Dante, Inferno, Canto 34, ll. 64–8; see also Glasheen, Third Census, 41.
Matthew Creasy, ‘Shakespeare Burlesque in Ulysses’, Essays in Criticism 55. 2
(2005): 150.
See Richard W. Schoch, Not Shakespeare: Bardolatry and Burlesque in the Nineteenth
Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 11, 110, 188.
Cited in Schoch, Not Shakespeare, 43.
See Cheng, Shakespeare and Joyce, 86.
See McHugh, Annotations to ‘Finnegans Wake’, 330.30.
Joyce told his friend Frank Budgen in a letter of 16 August 1921 that Molly’s
monologue ‘turns like the huge earth ball slowly surely and evenly round and
round spinning, its four cardinal points being the female breasts, arse, womb
and cunt expressed by the words because, bottom . . . woman, yes’ (SL 285). See also
Cheng, Shakespeare and Joyce, 36.
Bottom’s speech echoes I Corinthians 2:9.
Quoted by Stefan Zweig in The World of Yesterday: An Autobiography (New York:
Viking Press, 1943), 275.
Eugene Jolas, ‘Remembering James Joyce’, ed. Rainer Rumold and Andreas
Kramer, Modernism/Modernity 5.2 (1998): 18.
In a charming story called The Cat and the Devil written for his grandson
Stephen, Joyce appends the following postscript: ‘The devil mostly speaks a
language of his own called Bellsybabble which he makes up himself as he goes
along but when he is very angry he can speak quite bad French very well though
some who have heard him say that he has a strong Dublin accent.’ This story
was published as The Cat and the Devil by Dodd, Mead and Company (New York,
1964) and Faber and Faber (London, 1965), but the text cited here is Joyce’s
letter to Stephen Joyce (10 August 1936), SL 384.
John Thomas Looney defended the theory that Shakespeare was the Earl of
Oxford; George M. Battey was a zealous Shakespearean cryptographer who
attempted to prove by numerological analysis that the true author could
be Bacon or Daniel Defoe. See Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare’s Ghost Writers:
Literature as Uncanny Causality (1997; London: Routledge, 2010), 4.
James A. Connor, ‘Radio Free Joyce: Wake Language and the Experience of
Radio’, Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies, ed. Adelaide
Morris (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 18.
204 Notes

R. Murray Schaffer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the
World (Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1994), 88, 90, 241.
James Atherton, The Books at the Wake: A Study of Literary Allusions in James Joyce’s
‘Finnegans Wake’ (Mamaroneck, NY: Appel, 1974), 47–8.
W. B. Yeats, A Vision (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 12–14.
Hugh Kenner, Joyce’s Voices (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978),
Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2008), Book 7, 124.

Chapter 2
The Complete Poems and Plays (London: Faber and Faber, 1969), 16. Hereafter
abbreviated to CPP, with page references in the text.
Inventions of the March Hare, ed. Christopher Ricks (London: Faber and Faber,
1996), 46.
Unless otherwise stated quotations are from The Riverside Shakespeare, gen.
ed. G. Blakemore Evans, 2nd edn (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), in
accordance with the other essays in this volume. Quotations from the Folio are
indicated in the text.
Moralités légendaires (1887), ed. Daniel Grojnowski (Paris and Genève: Droz, 1980).
See Helen Bailey, Hamlet in France from Voltaire to Laforgue (Genève: Droz, 1964) and
Anne Holmes, Jules Laforgue and Poetic Innovation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).
See, for instance, the conclusion to The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism
(London: Faber and Faber, 1933; repr. 1964), 143–56; and ‘The Music of
Poetry’, in On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber and Faber, 1957), 26–52.
Notes to Rockaby (1980), in The Complete Dramatic Works (London: Faber and
Faber, 1986), 433.
Introduction to The Selected Poems of Marianne Moore (London: Faber and Faber,
1935), 5; ‘The Turnbull Lectures’ (1933) in The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry,
ed. Ronald Schuchard (London: Faber and Faber, 1993), 289.
‘Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca’ (1927), in Selected Essays (1932; repr.
enlarged ed. 1951; repr. London: Faber and Faber, 1999), 130. Hereafter abbre-
viated to SE, with page references in the text.
The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, 289.
‘To Criticize the Critic’ (1961), in To Criticize the Critic (London: Faber and
Faber, 1965), 18.
‘Reflections on Contemporary Poetry’, The Egoist (July 1919): 39.
Ibid., 39.
‘What Dante Means to Me’ (1950), in To Criticize the Critic, 390.
‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’ [Lectures delivered at Edinburgh]
(1937), Hayward Bequest, King’s College, Cambridge, HB P/7, 17.
Hugh Haughton, ‘Allusion: The Case of Shakespeare’, in T. S. Eliot in Context,
ed. Jason Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 157–68;
Shakespeare and the Modern Poet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010),
Notes 205

63–4. See also Charles Warren, T. S. Eliot on Shakespeare (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI
Research Press, 1987).
And see Ricks, Decisions and Revisions in T. S. Eliot, The Panizzi Lectures, 2002
(London: The British Library and Faber and Faber, 2003)
In interview with D.S. Carne-Ross, Delos, i (1968) and cited in Ricks, The Force of
Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989; repr. 1997), 89.
‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’, 5.
William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (1935; repr. London: Hogarth Press,
1986), 27.
A Student’s Guide to the Poems of T. S. Eliot (1968; repr. London: Faber and Faber,
1994), 237.
The poem as it appears in Ara Vus Prec [sic] (London: Ovid Press, 1920), 30.
The epigraph is taken from the moment when Coriolanus reveals his identity to
Aufidius, ‘My name is Caius Martius, who hath done / To thee particularly, and
to all the Volsces, / Great hurt and mischief’ (4.5.65–7). Compare the misquo-
tation in Eliot’s epigraph here to the slight misquotation in the epigraph to
‘Gerontion’, taken from Measure for Measure (3.1.32–4): ‘Thou hast nor youth nor
age / But as it were an after dinner sleep / Dreaming of both.’ CPP, 37 (Shakespeare
has ‘after-dinner’s’ and ‘on both’).
Seamus Perry is describing Eliot’s relations with Coleridge in ‘Eliot and
Coleridge’ in Coleridge’s Afterlives, ed. J. Vigus and J. Wright (Basingstoke:
Palgrave, 2008), 224–46 [232].
‘Observations’ by T. S. Apteryx [TSE’s pseudonym], The Egoist (May 1918): 69.
‘‘The Duchess of Malfi’ at the Lyric: and Poetic Drama’, Art & Letters (Winter
1919/1920): 38.
‘A Commentary’, The Criterion (April 1924): 231–5.
‘On the Tragedies of Shakespeare Considered with Reference to their Fitness
for Stage Representation’ (1812), in Charles Lamb on Shakespeare, ed. Joan
Coldwell (Gerard’s Cross: Smythe, 1978), 36 and Tennyson: A Memoir (London:
Macmillan and Co., 1897), II: 292.
To Helen Gardner, 13 May 1964 (Bodleian ms Eng. lett. d. 294).
Christopher Ricks, in Decisions and Revisions in T. S. Eliot, 36. Ricks is discussing
Eliot on Baudelaire, ‘To understand Baudelaire you must read the whole
of Baudelaire. And nothing that he wrote is without importance’, from a
paragraph that opened his review of Arthur Symons, Baudelaire: Prose and
Poetry, in The Dial (May 1927).
Elizabethan Dramatists (London, 1963), 5–6.
‘When I was young I felt much more at ease with the lesser Elizabethan dramatist
than with Shakespeare: the former were, so to speak, playmates nearer my own
size’, in ‘What Dante Means to Me’, To Criticize the Critic, 127.
‘To Criticize the Critic’, in To Criticize the Critic, 18.
‘What Dante Means to Me’, in To Criticize the Critic, 127.
Introduction to G. Wilson Knight, The Wheel of Fire (1930; repr. London:
Routledge Classics, 2001), xvii. See Michael Taylor’s essay on Wilson Knight in
Great Shakespeareans, vol. XIII.
‘The Possibility of Poetic Drama’, in The Sacred Wood (192;, repr. London:
Methuen and Co., 1948), 63.
206 Notes

John Dryden: The Poet: The Dramatist: The Critic (New York: Haskell House, 1932),
30–1, and discussed in Christopher Ricks, T. S. Eliot and Prejudice (1988; repr.
London: Faber and Faber, 1994), 159–71.
Ricks, Eliot and Prejudice, 159.
SE, 72, 129; Inventions of the March Hare, 400.
‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’, 11.
‘The Beating of a Drum’, Nation and Athenaeum (6 October 1923): 11–12.
‘Poetry and Drama’, in On Poetry and Poets, 75.
‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’, 17.
William Empson, The Structure of Complex Words (1951; repr. London: Penguin),
Eric Griffiths, ‘Lines and Grooves: Shakespeare to Tennyson’ in Tennyson Among
the Poets: Bicentenary Essays, ed. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst and Seamus Perry
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 140.
Ricks, Eliot and Prejudice, 161.
‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’ and Tennyson: A Memoir, II: 290.
On Poetry and Poets, 100; ‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’, 12.
On Poetry and Poets, 77 (Eliot’s italics).
See The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, 123, and SE, 209.
‘Studies in Contemporary Criticism’, The Egoist (October 1918): 114, and
‘Milton II’ in On Poetry and Poets, 150.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘monopolylogue’ (1819) as ‘a dramatic
entertainment in which a single performer takes the part of all the characters
involved’, usually with reference to the performances of Charles Mathews (see
Adrian Poole and Rebekah Scott, ‘Charles Dickens’, in Great Shakespeareans, V:
‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’, 18; Beckett, The Complete Dramatic
Works, 150.
Eric Griffiths, ‘Here is the World Elswhere’, Times Literary Supplement (December
11 2009), 18.
In The Letters of T. S. Eliot, ed. Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton (London: Faber
and Faber, 2009), I: 4.
‘Prize Day Address at the Methodist Girls’ School in Penzance’, ‘sometime in
the Thirties’. Hayward Bequest, King’s, Essays, Addresses, and Verses.
Corcoran, Shakespeare and the Modern Poet, 63.
Letters I: illustration 15.
To Fanny Keats, 13 March 1819, in Letters of John Keats: a Selection, ed. Robert
Gittings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 203.
‘London Letter’, The Dial (August 1921): 213, and The Use of Poetry and the Use
of Criticism, 146–7.
Letters I: 5.
The Development of Shakespeare as a Dramatist (New York: Macmillan, 1907); An
Introduction to English Literature (New York: H. Holt, 1901); ‘Shakespeare on the
Ohio and Mississippi Frontier’ and ‘Shakespeare in Schools and Colleges’, in E.
Dunn Shakespeare in America (1939; repr. New York: B. Blom, 1968).
‘Shakespeare, or the Poet’ (1850) in The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson,
with introductions and notes by Robert E. Spiller (Cambridge, MA: Belknap,
Notes 207

1971), IV: 204, and Adrian Poole, ‘America and the Anglo-Saxon Mecca’, in
Shakespeare and the Victorians (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2004), 214–20.
William Greenleaf Eliot, Lectures to Young Men (Boston, MA and New York:
Crosby, Nicols, and C. S. Francis, 1856), 38, 42; and The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn (1884) with an Introduction by T. S. Eliot (London: Cressett Press, 1950),
134–8: ‘The opinion of my parents that it was a book unsuitable for boys left
me, for most of my life, under the impression that it was a book suitable only
for boys.’ (vii)
Francis Teague ‘Mr Hamlet of Broadway’, in Shakespeare and the Popular American
Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 100–10.
Eliot on ‘The Poetic Drama’, Athenaeum 14 (May 1920): 635.
‘A Note on Ezra Pound’, To-day 4 (September 1918): 3–9 (6).
Literary Criticism: French Writers, Other Writers; the Prefaces to the New York Edition,
ed. Leon Edel (New York: Library of America, 1984), 1075.
Philosophical Investigations, 2nd edn, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell,
1953, repr. 1997), 153e.
In ‘The Lion and the Fox’, Twentieth Century Verse 6/7 (Nov/Dec 1937),
‘Shakespearean Criticism’, in A Companion to Shakespeare Studies, ed. Harley
Granville-Barker and G. B. Harrison (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1934), 295.
Letters I: xix.
Letters I: 87.
‘Degrees of Reality’, Hayward Bequest, HB /P/5 (13).
Letters I: 75.
Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley (London: Faber and
Faber, 1964), 168.
The Sacred Wood, 31.
The Sacred Wood, 66.
The Sacred Wood, 162.
The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, 98–9; ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, in Ricks,
Eliot and Prejudice, 281.
The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, 98–9.
The Sacred Wood, 82.
Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral, 68.
‘Othello as the Typical Colossus’, in The Lion and the Fox (London: G. Richards,
1927), 192.
‘Shakespeare and Montaigne’, Times Literary Supplement (24 December 1925):
Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, ed. G. H. Von Wright and Heikki
Nyman, trans. C. G. Luckhardt and A. E. Aue Maximilian, 2 vols (Oxford:
Blackwell, 1982), II: 7e.
See How to Do Things With Words (1955; repr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975).
‘Eliot in and out of The Waste Land’, Critical Quarterly 17.1 (Spring 1975): 7–30 (16).
Biographia Literaria (1817), repr. ed. Nigel Leask (London: Everyman, 1997),
208 Notes

On Poetry and Poets, 76–7.
‘Reflections on Vers Libre’ (1917), in To Criticize the Critic, 185.
Frank Kermode, Shakespeare’s Language (London: Penguin, 2000), 100.
Eliot’s introduction to Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition by S. L.
Bethell (Cambridge: P. King and Staples, 1944), iii.
To Criticize the Critic, 187.
The Waste Land, A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the
Annotations of Ezra Pound, ed. Valerie Eliot (1971; repr. London: Faber and
Faber, 1990), 69.
Eliot’s ‘Opera’, in Inventions of the March Hare.
‘Marivaux’, in Art and Letters, II. 2 (Spring 1919): 83.
To Criticize the Critic, 186.
The Best Plays of the Old Dramatists, ed. J. A. Symonds (London: Vizetelly), 110.
Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral, 27.
Letters I: 43.
See SE, 137.
Eliot’s Introduction to Marianne Moore’s Selected Poems, 5.
‘Reflections on Contemporary Poetry’, in The Egoist (July 1919), and in
Inventions of the March Hare, 399.
‘Poetry and Drama’, in On Poetry and Poets, 86.
‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’, 12.
‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’, 10.
‘The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse’, 9.
Proust (London: Chatto and Windus, 1931), 20.
‘T. S. Eliot: The End of an Era’ (1956), in The Poet in the Imaginary Museum
(Manchester: Carcanet, 1977), 41.
Literary Criticism: Essays on Literature, American Writers, English Writers, ed. Leon
Edel (New York: Library of America, 1984), 1211.
One Way Street (1928), repr. One Way Street and Other Writings, trans. Edmund
Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter (London: Verso, 1979), 100.
The Composition of the Four Quartets, ed. Helen Gardner (London, 1978), 196.
All in Gardner, Four Quartets, 171–96.
Gardner, Four Quartets, 194.

Chapter 3
‘Thanksgiving for a Habitat’, in Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson, 2nd edn
(London: Faber and Faber, 1991), 701. Hereafter Poems, with references in the
See James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (London: Faber and Faber, 1939), 539,
where the great names of European poetry become a corporate unity: ‘that
primed favourite continental poet, Dante, Gouty and Shopkeeper, A. G.’ [Ger:
Aktiengesellschaft; Eng: public limited company]. Auden would have known
the passage from Haveth Childers Everywhere (London: Faber and Faber, 1931).
He quotes Joyce’s ‘triumvirate’ again in the introduction to his translation
Notes 209

of Goethe’s Italian Journey (Forewords and Afterwords, ed. Edward Mendelson

(London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 131).
The English Auden, ed. Edward Mendelson, 2nd edn (London: Faber and Faber,
1978), 190. Hereafter EA, with references in the text. The stanza was cut from
later versions of the poem.
Prose: Volume II (1939–1948), ed. Edward Mendelson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 2002), 92. References to this and other volumes of Auden’s
prose, all edited by Edward Mendelson and published by Princeton University
Press (Volume I (1926–1938) (1996); Volume III (1949–1955) (2008); Volume IV
(1956–1962) (2010)), hereafter in the text.
The Dyer’s Hand (London: Faber and Faber, 1963), 40. Hereafter DH, with refer-
ences in the text.
See Erica Riggs, ‘W. H. Auden as Serio-Comic Critic’, Twentieth Century Literature,
37. 2 (Summer 1991): 207–24, on Auden’s ‘assertive and self-qualifying’ critical
style (207).
See, for example, Lucy McDiarmid, Auden’s Apologies for Poetry (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), and Neil Corcoran, Shakespeare and the
Modern Poet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), Ch. 6.
See Anthony Hecht, The Hidden Law: The Poetry of W. H. Auden (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1993), 37–8.
T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, 3rd edn (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), 21, 141.
Charles Osborne reports Auden’s authorship of the following palindrome:
‘T. Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad, I’d assign it a name:
gnat dirt upset on drab pot toilet.’ (W. H. Auden: The Life of a Poet (New York:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979), 316)
Eliot, Selected Essays, 144; Lectures on Shakespeare, ed. Arthur Kirsch (London:
Faber and Faber, 2000), 158–65. Hereafter Lectures, with references in the
text. Cf. Auden’s proposal that Iago, when alone, ‘must display every technical
fault for which bad actors are criticized’ as a correlative of his existential
‘nothingness’ (DH, 258).
As well as using it for his major published collection of Shakespearean essays,
‘The Dyer’s Hand’ was also the title of Auden’s 1939 review of Shakespeare by
Mark van Doren, and a series of BBC talks he gave on poetry in 1955.
Forewords, 88–108.
Corcoran, Shakespeare and the Modern Poet, 128.
Shakespeare Quarterly, 54. 1 (2003): 111–14 (113).
See Michael Taylor, Shakespeare Criticism in the Twentieth Century, on Auden’s
‘extension’ of Bradley’s ‘Nietzschian view of Iago’ (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2001), 42.
Review of Priscilla Thouless, Modern Poetic Drama (1934), in Prose I, 69–70 (70);
W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, Plays and Other Dramatic Writings
by W. H. Auden 1928–1938, ed. Edward Mendelson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1988), 521.
Selected Essays, 281–91.
W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England,
comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings
and 2 Genuine Dates, illustrated by John Reynolds (London: Methuen and Co.,
210 Notes

1930); Richard Dark, Shakespeare and That Crush: Being Angela’s Guide to English
Literature, illustrated by Thomas Derrick (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1931).
Gary Taylor, Reinventing Shakespeare (London: Hogarth Press, 1990), 295.
Jewel Spears Brooker, ‘Transcendence and Return: T. S. Eliot and the Dialectic
of Modernism’, South Atlantic Review 59 (1994): 53–74.
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925), ed. David Bradshaw (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2000), 73, 158.
The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1969), 65.
Humphrey Carpenter, W. H. Auden (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1981),
Carpenter, Auden, 57.
‘Lead’s the Best’, Juvenilia: Poems 1922–1928, ed. Katherine Bucknell (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 127–9.
Robert Medley, quoted in Carpenter, Auden, 41.
A. D. Nuttall, Shakespeare the Thinker (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale
University Press, 2007), 373.
Terence Hawkes, That Shakespeherian Rag: Essays on a Critical Process (London:
Methuen, 1986), 64–5. The lecture, ‘Shakespeare and England’, was printed in
Raleigh’s book England and the War (1918).
‘Eleven Letters from Auden to Spender’, in ‘The Map of All My Youth’: Early Works,
Friends and Influences, Auden Studies 1, ed. Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas
Jenkins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 55–87 (60). As if in illustration, the
letter goes on to quote Othello 3.3.453: ‘In my life by this wonderful pontic sea
one gets egocentric mania.’
The resemblance is noted by Samuel Hynes in The Auden Generation: Literature
and Politics in England in the 1930s (London: Faber and Faber, 1976), 112.
See Steve Ellis, The English Eliot: Design, Language and Landscape in ‘Four Quartets’
(London: Routledge, 1991), 90.
John Fuller, W. H. Auden: A Commentary (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1998), 145.
See Carpenter, Auden, 147–53. Samuel Hynes notes that Auden revised the
poem around 1934 to give it a more political emphasis on ‘actual History’
(Auden Generation, 152).
Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies (1930; repr. London: Chapman and Hall, 1960), 192.
On the Romantic tradition of Newton as a ‘poetic’ English visionary in the line
of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, see Joseph Anthony Wittreich, ‘The Poetry
of the Rainbow: Milton and Newton Among the Prophets’, in Poetic Prophecy in
Western Literature, ed. Jan Wojcik and Raymond-Jean Frontain (London and
Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1984), 94–105.
Fuller, Auden, 152.
Auden’s specification of ‘chalk’ cliffs archetypically suggests the south coast
around Dover.
For the classic account of Edgar’s speech as ‘the first . . . piece of verbal three-dimen-
sional perspective in any literature’, see Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy:
The Making of Typographic Man (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), 15–17.
Jed Esty, A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 217.
Notes 211

Carpenter suggests that the poem was originally written as the prologue to an
unrealized dramatic collaboration with Christopher Isherwood (Auden, 154).
Plays, 429, 670.
Randall Jarrell nevertheless sees an ‘essentially Shakespearean’ structure to
the play’s series of reflective ‘big speeches’, written in a style ‘as far from the
ordinary imitation-Shakespeare purple passages as anything could be’ (Randall
Jarrell on W. H. Auden, ed. Stephen Burt with Hannah Brooks-Mortl (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2005), 119–21).
T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood (London: Methuen, 1920), 60–70.
See Edward Mendelson, Early Auden (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), 336.
Plays, 191.
Plays, 191.
Mendelson, Early Auden, 63.
Plays, 280.
Eliot, Sacred Wood, 168–71.
See Lucy S. McDiarmid, ‘W.H. Auden’s “In the year of my youth . . .’’ ’, Review of
English Studies, 29. 115 (August 1978): 267–312.
Richard Hoggart describes Dog’s lack of dramatic development in Brecht’s anti-
Aristotelian terms: ‘each scene exists for itself’ (Auden: An Introduction (London:
Chatto and Windus, 1951), 75). For Brecht’s formative influence on Auden and
the Group Theatre, see Michael J. Sidnell, Dances of Death: The Group Theatre of
London in the Thirties (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), 54, 59.
‘In Defence of Vulgarity’, Listener, 18. 468 (29 December 1937): 1407–8.
As left-wing reviewers readily noted (Hynes, Auden Generation, 166).
The Lion and the Fox: The Role of the Hero in the Plays of Shakespeare (1927; repr.
London: Methuen, 1951), 130–4.
Quoted Sidnell, Dances of Death, 202.
See Hecht, Hidden Law, 37–8.
Plays, 334, 344; Julian Symons, quoted Sidnell, Dances of Death, 203; Hugh
Gordon Porteus, quoted in Carpenter, Auden, 216.
Sidnell, Dances of Death, 196–8. See also Plays, xxvii. On the fascistic ‘misinter-
pretation’ of Lawrence, see EA, 320–1.
‘Preface’, in W. H. Auden: Selected Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), xx.
Plays, 518, 522. See Mendelson in Plays, xxvi: ‘Auden later said that he recog-
nised while writing The Ascent of F6 that he must eventually leave England.’
Mendelson, Early Auden, 334; see also 128.
Timon of Athens, ed. Anthony B. Dawson and Gretchen E. Minton (London:
Arden Shakespeare, 2008), 116–18.
Christopher Caudwell, Illusion and Reality: A Study of the Sources of Poetry (1937;
repr. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1946), 78–9. Marx himself had praised
Timon’s ‘brilliant picture of the nature of money’ in Economic and Philosophical
Manuscripts (1844) (Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor
Benton (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), 376–7), as well as quoting it in
Capital. I am grateful to Peter Womack and Tony Gash for pointing the history
of this passage out to me.
Quoted in Mendelson, Early Auden, 337; Hynes, Auden Generation, 109–13;
‘Eleven Letters’, 76–7.
212 Notes

The Enchafèd Flood (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), 123–5.
The majority of Auden’s criticism on Shakespeare in The Dyer’s Hand is collected
under the heading ‘The Shakespearean City’, reflecting the use of this figure in
the original published titles for ‘The Prince’s Dog’ (‘The Fallen City’) and ‘The
Joker in the Pack’ (‘The Alienated City’). Auden’s general essay on poetry and
society in the same volume is titled ‘The Poet and the City’.
Enchafèd Flood, 97, 125.
See The Sea and the Mirror, ed. Arthur Kirsch (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 2003), xxi; Lectures, 300.
See above, n. 29.
Frank Kermode summarizes the critical tendency to find a ‘personal allegory’
by the poet in these lines, as well as the view that they are not skilful enough to
be by Shakespeare, in his edition of the play (London: Methuen, 1954), 133–4.
Secondary Worlds (London: Faber and Faber, 1968), 102.
Corcoran, Shakespeare and the Modern Poet, 148.
Carpenter, Auden, 255–6.
Fuller, Auden, 295.
Discoveries: Essays in Literary Criticism (London: W. Collins, 1924), 25.
Lucy McDiarmid suggests that Auden’s poem constitutes ‘a public ritual to
reconstitute society’ at the end of a volume whose ‘overall structure is that of a
Shakespearian comedy’ (Apologies, 67).
Fuller, Auden, 320.
Cf. Fuller, Auden, 341. Auden discusses the relationship between Lear and the
Fool (who represents the king’s ‘rejected sense of reality’ in such exchanges) in
‘Balaam and His Ass’, DH, 124–8.
John Fuller, ‘‘The Hero’: Auden and Flaubert’, in Auden Studies 1: 135–45.
Quoted in Samuel Schoenbaum, Shakespeare’s Lives, new edn (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1991), 477.
Quoted in Plays, xvi, xix. Edward Mendelson sees the tripartite structure of The
Sea and the Mirror as an ‘inverted’ reflection of The Orators (W. H. Auden: Selected
Poems, xiv).
G. Wilson Knight, The Shakespearean Tempest (1932), 3rd edn (London; Methuen,
1953) 268–9.
Both of Shakespeare’s uses of the word are tragic: ‘unsubstantial Death’, Romeo
and Juliet, 5.3.103; ‘unsubstantial air’, King Lear, 4.1.7.
Susan Snyder, ‘Auden, Shakespeare and the Defence of Poetry’, Shakespeare
Survey 36 (1983): 29–37 (37).
Cf. ‘The greatest writer cannot see through a brick wall.’ (DH, 21)
For a close analysis of the argument of this stanza as a microcosm of the whole
poem’s developing paradox of truth as artifice, see Lucy S. McDiarmid and John
McDiarmid, ‘Artifice and Self-Consciousness in Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror’,
Contemporary Literature 16.3 (Summer 1975): 353–77 (372–4).
To Alan Ansen, quoted in Fuller, Auden, 357.
Sea and Mirror, xiii.
Auden suggested that in modern productions Ariel should be literally disem-
bodied by ‘microphones and loud-speakers’ (DH, 133).
To Alan Ansen, quoted in Sea and Mirror, xi.
Notes 213

Collected Poems and Plays, 179. On the semi-parodic imitation of Eliot by Auden’s
Prospero, see Peter McDonald, Serious Poetry: Form and Authority from Yeats to Hill
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002), 113–16.
McDiarmid notes that Antonio’s presence also prevents Ferdinand and Miranda
‘embrac[ing] the whole . . . truly in a circle’ (Apologies, 106).
Forewords, 104.
See McDiarmid and McDiarmid, ‘Artifice and Self-Consciousness’, 376.
Robert Browning, Poetical Works 1833–1864, ed. Ian Jack (London: Oxford
University Press, 1970), 836–44.
Henry James, ‘Introduction to The Tempest’, in The Critical Muse: Selected Literary
Criticism, ed. Roger Gard (London: Penguin, 1987), 428–43 (428). On James’s
doubts, see Schoenbaum, 409.
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), ed. Peter Ackroyd (London:
Penguin, 1985), 3.
Quoted in Prose II, 242–3.
Stan Smith, W. H. Auden (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985), 199, and Stan Smith,
W.H. Auden (Northcote House, 1997), 88–9. See also Smith’s reading of ‘The
Shield of Achilles’ as a poem in which the apparent opposition between
‘Prospero and Ariel, beauty and truth’ is blurred by the figure of the beautiful
shield, which shows us ‘our own’ face (W. H. Auden (1985), 192–3). This idea
is developed further in relation to Auden’s 1930s work in ‘The Hunchback and
the Mirror: Auden, Shakespeare and the Politics of Narcissus’, Miscelánea, 18
(1997): 281–98.
The title echoes 2 Henry IV, 5.3.113 (‘under which king, besonian?’). See Corcoran,
Shakespeare and the Modern Poet, 148–52, for a full discussion of this allusion.
McDiarmid, Apologies, 12.
The Collected Papers of Nevill Coghill, Shakespearian and Medievalist, ed. Douglas
Gray (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1988), 233–4.
See Smith, W. H. Auden (1985), 196.
Compare ‘Letter to Lord Byron’ where Shakespeare’s style is characterized as a
‘gorgeous fur coat’ (EA, 183).
See Hecht, Hidden Law, 416–23.
Corcoran, Shakespeare and the Modern Poet, 136.
Fuller, Auden, 406.
See DH, 89, on the ‘political principle’ that poetry represents one form of ‘the
right to play’.
See Kirsch, Lectures, xvii–xx.
Juvenilia, 174–5.
For a beautifully written comparison of ‘Look, stranger, on this island now’
and ‘In Praise of Limestone’ as two versions of lyric pastoral deconstructed by
Auden in ‘Caliban to the Audience’ (respectively, ‘phallic ecstasy’ and ‘incestuous
rapture’), see John R. Boly, Reading Auden: the Returns of Caliban (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1991), 192–231.
G. Wilson Knight, The Imperial Theme (1931), 3rd edn (London: Methuen,
1951), 236.
The speech is also quoted in the introduction to The Poet’s Tongue, 328.
Forewords, 99.
214 Notes

Chapter 4

For guidance in the writing of this essay I am grateful to Daniel Albright,

George Craig, Ruth Morse and Adrian Poole.
References to Letters I and Letters II are to The Letters of Samuel Beckett Volume I:
1929–1940, and Volume II: 1941–1956, ed. George Craig, Martha Fehsenfeld,
Dan Gunn, Lois Overbeck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009,
2011). Excerpts from these letters are © The Estate of Samuel Beckett. Beckett
is cited here in translation, with reference made to the original French of his
letters and texts only where judged especially relevant or significant.
A full listing of Beckett’s quotations from and direct allusions to Shakespeare
is contained in the entry on Shakespeare in The Grove Companion to Samuel
Beckett: a Reader’s Guide to his Works, Life, and Thought, eds C. J. Ackerley and S.
E. Gontarski (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 521–4.
See James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1996), 58.
‘Dante. . . Bruno. Vico.. Joyce’, transition, 16–17 (June 1929): 248, 249.
Christopher Ricks, Beckett’s Dying Words (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1993), 52. Of the urge to cite, Beckett later writes, on 2 August 1948 in a letter
to Georges Duthuit: ‘The lines that matter are those one forgets. The others
one quotes easily and wrong.’ (Letters II, 91)
Knowlson, Damned to Fame, 69, 631, n.45.
See, e.g., letter of after 23 January 1952 to Michel Polac, Letters II.
Knowlson, Damned to Fame, 71.
Ackerley and Gontarski (eds), Grove Companion, 207.
See, e.g., Emilie Morin, Samuel Beckett and the Problem of Irishness, and Patrick
Bixby, Samuel Beckett and the Postcolonial Novel, in Beckett and Ireland, ed. Seán
Kennedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary (New York: Norton, 1974), 170–1.
Ciaran Ross, Aux frontières du vide: Beckett: une écriture sans mémoire ni désir
(Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2004), 43, 47.
Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare and Modern Culture (New York: Pantheon Books,
2008), 205. See also David Hillman’s essay on Freud in Great Shakespeareans, vol. X.
Anne Atik, How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett (Berkeley, CA: Shoemaker and
Hoard, 2005), 54.
See Knowlson, Damned to Fame, 543. On the origins of Worstward Ho see Mark
Nixon, ‘‘Unutterably faint’: Beckett’s Late English Poetry’, Fulcrum 6 (2007):
See Past Crimson, Past Woe: The Shakespeare-Beckett Connection, ed. Anne Marie
Drew (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1993).
Samuel Beckett, Endgame, in The Complete Dramatic Works (London: Faber and
Faber, 2006), 101. Hereafter CDW, all references in the text.
Ruby Cohn, Modern Shakespeare Offshoots (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1976), 388.
See the essays on Kott by Madalina Nicolaescu and Zoltán Márkus in Great
Shakespeareans, vol. XIII, ed. Hugh Grady.
Notes 215

Kott, Shakespeare, 132.
Martin Esslin, introduction to Kott, Shakespeare, xxi.
Peter Brook, The Shifting Point: Forty Years of Theatrical Exploration 1946–1987
(London: Methuen, 1989), 89.
Brook, Shifting Point, 31.
Jordan R. Young, The Beckett Actor: Jack MacGowran, Beginning to End (Beverly
Hills, CA: Moonstone Press, 1987), 125. Brook was not the only link between
Shakespeare production and Beckett. The London premiere of Waiting for
Godot was directed in 1955 by Peter Hall, then aged only 25, who would go on to
help found the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960, where he served as Artistic
Director until 1968, before becoming Director of the National Theatre.
Harold Bloom, The Western Canon (London: Macmillan, 1995), 509, 506, 511.
Kott, Damned to Fame, 146.
Garber, Shakespeare, 245.
Daniel Albright, Beckett and Aesthetics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2003), 78, 79.
The Complete Short Prose, 1929–1989, ed. S. E. Gontarski (New York: Grove Press,
1995), 61. Hereafter CSP, references in the text.
Albright, Beckett, 28.
Stephen Orgel, introduction to The Winter’s Tale, ed. S. Orgel (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1996), 37.
A. D. Nuttall, Shakespeare the Thinker (New Haven, CT and London: Yale
University Press, 2007), 350.
Gabriel Josipovici, On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion (New Haven, CT
and London: Yale University Press, 1999), 132.
Several critics have drawn a similar parallel, including Verna A. Foster, ‘‘A
Sad Tale’s Best for Winter’: Storytelling and Tragicomedy in The Late Plays
of Shakespeare and Beckett’, and Kellie Harrison Bean, ‘The End is In the
Beginning: Story Telling in Shakespeare, Beckett (and Stoppard)’, in Past
Crimson, Past Woe, ed. Drew, 15–29 and 117–28.
Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit, ‘Three Dialogues’, Transition Forty-Nine, 5
(December 1949): 98.
‘Three Dialogues’, 103, 100.
‘Three Dialogues’, 101.
Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (New York: Doubleday, 1961), 16, 12.
Nuttall, Shakespeare, 265.
In Charles Juliet, Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde, trans.
Tracy Cooke and others (Champaign and London: Dalkey Archive Press, 2009),
Paul Celan, ‘The Meridian’, in John Felstiner: Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 402, 403.
Nuttall, Shakespeare, 327.
‘Three Dialogues’, 100.
Note from David Bevington’s edition of Antony and Cleopatra (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1990), 123.
Kott, Shakespeare, 140.
216 Notes

Leslie Hill: Beckett’s Fiction: In Different Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1990), 61–2.
Beckett, Fin de partie, in Théâtre I (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1971), 191;
Endgame, CDW, 120; Shakespeare, The Tempest, 4.1.148.
Molloy, The Grove Centenary Edition, Volume II (New York: Grove Press, 2006), 4.
Northrop Frye, Northrop Frye on Shakespeare (New Haven, CT and London: Yale
University Press, 1986), 4.
Theodor Adorno, ‘Trying to Understand Endgame’, in Can One Live after
Auschwitz?: A Philosophical Reader, ed. Rolf Tiedemann (Stanford, CA: Stanford
University Press, 2003), 289.
Jean-Michel Rabaté, ‘The Death of Freud: What is to be Preferred, Death or
Obsolescence?’ Qui Parle, 19, 1 (fall/winter 2010), 41.
Adorno, ‘Endgame’, 289, 259.
‘Dante and the Lobster’, in More Pricks Than Kicks (New York: Grove Press,
1972), 22.
Ackerley and Gontarski (eds), Grove Companion, 123.
Adorno, ‘Endgame’, 286.
George Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1971), 53, 54.
Lino Pertile, ‘Introduction to Inferno’, in The Cambridge Companion to Dante, ed.
Rachel Jacoff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 89.
Albright, Beckett, 34.
It is unlikely that Beckett knew Adorno’s article when he wrote this play, as he
seems to have read it first only in 1961, two years after writing Rough for Theatre II.
Atik, How It Was, 53.
Helen Landon, Caravaggio: A Life (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2000), 357.
Nicholas Brooke, introduction to Macbeth (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1990), 24–34.
Jean Racine, Athalie, ed. Gilles Ernst (Paris: le Livre de Poche, 1999), 79;
Beckett, Oh les beaux jours (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 2009), 32.
Albright, Beckett, 67.
Adorno, ‘Endgame’, 267.
Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln, NE
and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), 69–70.
Molloy, 3.
Nuttall, Shakespeare, 295.
Worstward Ho, in Nohow On (New York: Grove Press, 1996), 93.
Gabriel Josipovici, Touch (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press,
1996), 106.
Company, in Nohow On, 6.
Josipovici, Touch, 57.
Nuttall, Shakespeare, 205, 211.
Anthony B. Dawson, introduction to Troilus and Cressida (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2003), 34.
Nuttall, Shakespeare, 217.
Worstward Ho, 89.
Knowlson, Damned to Fame, 319.
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Adorno, Theodor 176, 179, 180, 181, Poet’s Tongue, The 120, 123
186 ‘Prince’s Dog, The’ 107, 138
Æ (George Russell) 18, 28–9 ‘Prologue’ 118, 123, 126
Aeschylus 16 ‘Quest, The’ 131–2, 133
Albright, Daniel 158, 162, 166, 180, Sea and the Mirror, The 7, 106, 109,
183, 185 113, 125, 126, 130, 131–48
Aquinas, Thomas 33 ‘September I, 1939’ 128
Arden, Mary 25–6 ‘Spain 1937’ 128
Arikha, Avigdor 184 ‘ “Truest Poetry is the Most Feigning,
Atik, Anne 155, 181 The” ’ 7, 105, 144
Auden, W. H. 1–9, 105–48 ‘Under Which Lyre’ 143
Another Time 128 Augustine 55–6
Ascent of F6, The 122–3, 132 Austin, J. L. 84
‘At the Grave of Henry James’ 141
Dog Beneath the Skin, The 118–20 Bacon, Francis 15, 52, 53
Double Man, The 131–2 Baker, G. B. 74–5
Dyer’s Hand, The 143, 144 Bakhtin, Mikhail 5
Enchafèd Flood, The 125–6 Balzac, Honoré de 53
‘Epithalamion’ 129–31 Barrault, Jean-Louis 153
‘Forty Years On’ 106, 143 Barton, Judge D. P. 24
‘In Praise of Limestone’ 145–7 Battey, George M. 54
Juvenilia 106 Baudelaire, Charles 152
‘Lead’s the Best’ 111–14, 116, 123, Beach, Sylvia 27
146–7 Becket, Thomas 122
Lectures on Shakespeare 106 Beckett, May 151, 153, 154, 182, 187
‘Letter to Lord Byron’ 105, 106, 109, Beckett, Samuel 1–9, 59, 68, 72, 99,
137 149–97
Look, Stranger! 113, 114–15, 116–17, A Piece of Monologue 176
123 Act without Words I 160, 162
‘Look, stranger, at this island now’ Act without Words II 160
114–17 Breath 160
‘Music in Shakespeare’ 115, 133 ‘Calmative, The’ (Le Calmant) 162
New Year Letter 131 Catastrophe 163
‘Ode to Terminus’ 112 Come and Go 160
On This Island 110–17 Company 190–1, 192
Orators, The 132 ‘Dante and the Lobster’ 178
Oxford Book of Light Verse, The 109 Dream of Fair to Middling Women 150,
Paid on Both Sides 117, 132 151, 193
222 Index

Eh Joe 157, 166, 185–6 Blanchot, Maurice 186

Eleutheria 152, 162, 180 Blin, Roger 163–4
En attendant Godot see Waiting for Bloom, Harold 157, 185
Godot Bonaparte, Napoleon 42
‘End, The’ (La Fin) 162 Borch-Jacobsen, Mikkel 31
Endgame (Fin de Partie) 7, 153, 155, Borgese, Giuseppe Antonio 129–30
156, 157, 158, 162, 175, 176, 184, Bosch, Hieronymus 179
190, 195 Bradley, A. C. 2, 108
‘Expelled, The’ (L’Expulsé) 162 Bradley, F. H. 81
Film 188–9, 192, 194 Brandes, Georg 2, 24
Fin de partie see Endgame Brecht, Bertolt 120, 187
‘First Love’ (Premier Amour) 162, 171, Brook, Peter 2, 156–7
177, 194, 196 Brooke, Nicholas 184
Footfalls 99, 166, 168, 182 Browning, Robert 139, 140
For to end yet again 176 Bruno of Nola 17–18
Happy Days 72, 157, 163, 175–6, Büchner, Georg 169–70
184–5, 190 Bucknell, Katherine 106, 111
Krapp’s Last Tape 162, 168, 181–2, Budgen, Frank 30
196–7 Burbage, Richard 52
Malone Dies (Malone meurt) 152 Burnand, F. C. 49
Mercier et Camier 162 Byron, Lord George Gordon 12, 105,
Molloy 167–8, 174, 187, 194, 196 106, 109, 137
More Pricks Than Kicks 151, 178
Murphy 151, 172 Calderón de la Barca, Pedro 102
Not I 163, 166, 184 Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da
Ohio Impromptu 166 183–5, 186, 188
Play 163, 174, 186, 192 Caspari, Carlheinz 164
Quad 160 Caudwell, Christopher 124
Rockaby 164 Celan, Paul 151, 169–70, 172, 173, 197
Rough for Theatre II 181 Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de 16
That Time 166, 184 Chaplin, Charlie 67
‘Three Dialogues’ 153, 166–7, 168, 172 Chapman, George 66–7
Unnamable, The (L’Innommable) 152, Cheng, Vincent John 41, 45
194 Claudel, Paul 4
Waiting for Godot (En attendant Godot) Clubb, Louise 163
7, 152, 152, 155, 156, 157, 158–9, Coghill, Neville 143
163, 164, 165, 166, 170, 172, Cohn, Ruby 155–6
173–5, 182, 189, 190, 192 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 74, 86, 107
Watt 150 Collett, Anthony 118
Worstward Ho 155, 190, 196 Collins, Wilkie 71
Beckett, William Frank 154 Congreve, William 19
Beethoven, Ludwig van 32 Connolly, Albrecht 12
Benjamin, Walter 102 Connor, James 54
Bion, W. R. 154 Corcoran, Neil 8, 60–1, 73, 108, 127, 144
Bishop, John 35 Cosgrave, Vincent 30
Blackburn, Thomas H. 108 Craig, George 151
Blake, William 5 Cusack, Cyril 157
Index 223

Dante Alighieri 3, 12, 15, 28, 49, 65, 71, ‘Marina’ 98, 101
103, 105, 108, 119–20, 123, 130, ‘Metaphysical Poets, The’ 109
131, 149, 178, 179–80, 186, 192 Murder in the Cathedral 99, 122
Dark, Richard 110 ‘Ode’ 62
Davie, Donald 99 ‘Philip Massinger’ 78–9
Dawson, Anthony B. 192 ‘Poetry and Drama’ 64, 87
Descartes, René 177 ‘Portrait of a Lady’ 77, 78, 79
Devlin, William 122, 123 ‘Possibility of a Poetic Drama, The’
Dickens, Charles 4, 71, 94 117
van Doren, Mark 130 Prufrock and Other Observations 58, 59,
Dostoevsky, Fyodor 149 65, 75, 78, 89
Douglas, John Sholto (Marquis of ‘Reflections on Vers Libre’ 88–9, 90
Queensberry) 33 ‘Rhetoric and Poetic Drama’ 75
Dowden, Edward 2, 24, 27–8, 32, 38 Sacred Wood, The 61, 64, 81, 82, 119
Dujardin, Eduard 30 ‘Shakespeare and the Stoicism of
Duthuit, Georges 153, 158–9, 166–8, Seneca’ 7, 62, 64
172, 182, 196 Selected Essays 64
‘Sweeney Agonistes’ 67
Einstein, Albert 193 To Criticize the Critic 64
Eliot, Charlotte 73–4 ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’
Eliot, George 154 90–1
Eliot, T. S. 1–9, 11, 57–104, 107, 109, ‘Unfinished Poems’ 62
111, 115, 117–18, 119, 120, 122–3, Waste Land, The 6, 70, 78, 90, 91–4,
127, 135, 148, 188 96–7, 110–11, 115, 120, 188
‘Animula’ 73–4 Empson, William 61–2, 69, 83, 92, 132
Ara Vos Prec 62 Esslin, Martin 156, 168
‘Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein Esty, Jed 116
with a Cigar’ 67–8 Everett, Barbara 85
‘Burnt Norton’ 98–9
‘Coriolan’ 62, 79–80, 122–3 Flaubert, Gustave 30, 132
‘Development of Shakespeare’s Ford, John 64
Verse, The’ 2, 60, 61, 67, 69, 72, Foucault, Michel 33
96, 97, 98 Foy, Eddie 76
‘Dryden the Dramatist’ 65–6, 68 Freud, Sigmund 4, 11, 26, 32, 33, 34,
‘East Coker’ 75, 97, 98, 100, 101, 37, 47, 48, 154, 155
102 Frost, Robert 126
Elizabethan Essays 64 Froula, Christine 36
Family Reunion, The 89–90 Frye, Northrop 174, 193
Four Quartets 75, 98–103, 135 Fuller, John 114, 129, 131, 132
‘Gerontion’ 205n. 22
‘Hamlet and His Problems’ 7, 64 Garber, Marjorie 154, 158
‘Journey of the Magi’ 62 Garrett, John 120, 121
Knowledge and Experience in the Geulincx, Arnold 149
Philosophy of F. H. Bradley 81, 82 Gide, André 149
‘Little Gidding’ 99, 101, 102–3 Gilbert, W. S. 23–4
‘Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Girard, René 30
The’ 58, 59, 65, 75, 77 Glasheen, Adaline 38
224 Index

Goebbels, Joseph 123 Finnegans Wake 3, 5, 6, 10–11, 12, 17,

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 3, 15, 28, 35–56, 157
63, 105, 107, 130, 149, 179 ‘Ireland: Island of Saints and Sages’
Golden Treasury, The see Palgrave, F. T. 18–19
Gollancz, Israel 2–3 Pomes Pennyeach 10
Goncharov, Ivan 162 Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, A
Graves, Robert 110 5, 11, 12–17, 47
Gray, Thomas 72 Stephen Hero 12–17
Greene, Robert 40 Ulysses 5, 10, 12, 15, 17–35, 38, 41,
Gregory, Lady 45 44, 46, 51, 54, 157
Griffiths, Eric 69, 72 Work-in-Progress 36, 52, 54, 151
Gunn, Michael 43–4 Joyce, Nora 10, 30
Joyce, Stanislaus 16–17
H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) 9
Hall, Peter 2 Kafka, Franz 150
Halpern, Richard 4 Kant, Immanuel 149
Hardy, Thomas 4, 118 Kaun, Axel 158
Harris, Frank 11, 20, 24 Keaton, Buster 188
Hathaway, Ann 20–2, 26, 30, 35, 39, 45 Keats, John 73, 126, 151
Hayward, John 102, 103 Kenner, Hugh 55
Hegel, G. W. F. 34 Kermode, Frank 88
Heisenberg, Werner 193 Kirsch, Arthur 106, 108, 134, 145
Hill, Adams Sherman 75 Kitcher, Philip 11
Hill, Leslie 174 Knight, G. Wilson 5, 133, 136, 148
Hill’s Rhetoric see Hill, Adams Sherman Knights, L. C. 192
Hinkley, Eleanor 93 Knowlson, James 151–2
Hitler, Adolf 79–80, 125 Kock, Paul de 30
Hynes, Samuel 124 Kott, Jan 2, 150, 153–4, 156, 158, 173
Kyd, Thomas 64, 90
Ibsen, Hendrik 6, 12, 15–17, 159
Isherwood, Christopher 118–19, 122–3 Lacan, Jacques 163, 172
Laforgue, Jules 4, 58, 93
James, Henry 3, 7, 79, 99, 139–42 Lamb, Charles 63
Jim the Penman see Saward, James Landon, Helen 183–4
Townsend Langland, William 105
Johnson, Samuel 36, 48, 128, 149 Lawrence, D. H. 3–4, 40
Jolas, Eugene 52 Lawrence, T. E. 106, 122
Jones, David 3 Lee, Sidney 2, 24
Jones, Ernest 47–8, 53 Lewis, C. S. 126
Jonson, Ben 5, 13, 14, 61, 65, 79, 90 Lewis, Wyndham 83–4, 121
Josipovici, Gabriel 165, 190–2 Looney, J. Thomas 54
Joyce, James 1–9, 10–56, 79, 105, 108,
149, 151, 154 MacGowran, Jack 157
Cat and the Devil, The 203n. 87 MacGreevy, Thomas 153, 154, 155, 187
‘Drama and Life’ 15–16 MacNeice, Louis 120
Dubliners 5, 29 Madden, Justice D. H. 24
Exiles 10, 29–30 Mallarmé, Stéphane 4
Index 225

Mann, Elisabeth 129 Resnais, Alain 157

Marivaux, Pierre de 90 Richardson, Ralph 164
Marlowe, Christopher 60, 97, 161 Ricks, Christopher 64, 65–6, 69, 151
Marston, John 89, 90 Roberts, Peter 156
Massine, Léonide 67 Ross, Ciaran 154
Massinger, Philip 78–9 Ross, Robert 24
Masson, André 167 Rosset, Barney 164
Mayer, Elizabeth 131 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 125
McDiarmid, Lucy 143 Rudmose-Brown, Thomas 152
Melville, Herman 125, 162 Russell, George see Æ
Mendelson, Edward 106, 119, 123
Middleton, Thomas 64, 94, 95 Sade, Marquis de 149, 179
Milton, John 42, 63, 74, 108, 109 Saussure, Ferdinand de 193
Moore, George 29 Saward, James Townsend (Jim the
Morris, William 5 Penman) 39
Mulgan, John 124 Saxo Grammaticus 23
Murry, John Middleton 130 Schopenhauer, Arthur 149
Mussolini, Benito 79–80 Schutte, William M. 24, 28
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofksy 30
Nabokov, Vladimir 151 Sellar, W. C. 110
Naumann, Hans 150 Seneca 7, 62, 66–7, 85, 90
Nelson, Admiral Horatio 63 Shakespeare, Edmund 20, 25, 26, 30
Newton, Sir Isaac 63, 114, 180 Shakespeare, Gilbert 20, 25
North, Sir Thomas 66, 70, 92, 163, 191 Shakespeare, Hamnet 20, 22, 25, 26
Nuttall, A. D. 112, 164, 168, 171, 187–8, Shakespeare, Richard 20, 25, 26
192, 196 Shakespeare, William,
Antony and Cleopatra 6, 48, 61, 66–71,
O’Casey, Sean 152 75, 91–2, 96, 102, 121, 135, 144–5,
Orgel, Stephen 163 147–8, 153–4, 170–5, 185, 186, 193
As You Like It 41–2, 142–3, 144, 151,
Palgrave, F. T. (Palgrave’s Golden 182
Treasury) 74 Coriolanus 1, 25, 26, 61, 62, 122, 151,
Palmer, Mrs Bandman 32 186–9, 191–2, 194
Pancoast, Henry S. 74 Cymbeline 61, 110, 133, 175, 182–5, 186
Parnell, Charles Stuart 45 Hamlet 2, 3–4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 16,
Pearse, Padraic 13–14 17–29, 32, 34–5, 38, 39, 40, 41,
Peele, George 126, 127 43, 44, 45, 47–8, 49, 50, 52, 53,
Pertile, Lino 179 55, 57–8, 61, 64, 75, 76, 80, 84–5,
Plato 32, 108 86–7, 89, 98, 101, 102–3, 107,
Plumb, Charles 110–11 121, 122, 123, 126, 127, 128, 133,
Pope, Alexander 105, 109 142, 151, 154, 155, 157, 162, 175,
Proust, Marcel 45, 149, 194, 196 176–7, 179, 180, 191, 192
1 Henry IV 3, 58, 107, 138, 170
Rabaté, Jean-Michel 33, 176 2 Henry IV 3, 58, 68–9, 107, 138, 170
Racine, Jean 149, 152, 153–4, 185 Henry V 2–3, 116, 118, 151, 170
Raleigh, Sir Walter 113 3 Henry VI 137
Rastelli, Enrico 67 King John 25, 26, 97–8
226 Index

King Lear 5, 7, 10, 20, 63, 69, 80, 91, Spenser, Edmund 5
98, 115, 120, 121, 132, 133–4, 135, Staël, Nicholas de 158–9
142, 145, 147, 153, 155–6, 161 Stein, Gertrude 106
Love’s Labour’s Lost 72, 98 Steiner, George 179
Macbeth 6, 10–11, 16, 38, 42, 43, 44, Sweeney, James Johnson 51
49–51, 74, 151, 176, 184, 187 Synge, John Millington 18, 149, 152
Measure for Measure 14, 119, 163,
177–8, 83–4, 98, 102, 125, 137 Talfourd, Francis 49
Merchant of Venice, The 9, 17, 146, Taylor, Gary 110
147, 151 Tennyson, Lord Alfred 63, 69
Merry Wives of Windsor, The 44, 170 Tolstoy, Leo 130
Midsummer Night’s Dream, A 6, 28, 38, Tourneur, Cyril 64
51, 81, 118, 129, 151 Trench, W. F. 151
Othello 8, 11, 12, 14, 20, 31, 35, 49, Twain, Mark 43, 75–6
59, 61, 62, 73, 74, 137, 138, 143,
147, 160, 165, 185 Valente, Joseph 32, 33
Pericles 25, 61, 133 Valéry, Paul 4
Richard II 3, 113–14, 126, 145, 157 van Velde, Bram 159, 166–8
Richard III 20, 41, 44, 122, 137, 151, Vico, Giambattista 41
157 Vining, Edward P. 32
Romeo and Juliet 7, 21, 26, 86, 98, 151, Virgil 12, 179
175, 193 Voltaire 16, 23
Sonnets 20–2, 24, 30–1, 108, 127,
131–2, 137, 148 Wallace, Nathan 27
Taming of the Shrew, The 162 Waugh, Evelyn 114
Tempest, The 3, 6, 7, 9, 23, 25, 28, 43, Webster, John 64, 90, 94, 95, 96, 120
49, 61, 70, 74, 78, 94–6, 99–101, Weininger, Otto 32
106, 111–15, 123, 124, 126–8, Wellesley, Arthur (Duke of Wellington)
131–43, 145–7, 170 63
Timon of Athens 17, 124 Wiener, Norbert 80
Titus Andronicus 179 Wilcox, Ella Wheeler 109
Troilus and Cressida 163, 192–6 Wilde, Oscar 14, 17, 19, 24–5, 32–3, 53,
Twelfth Night 14, 58, 77–8, 151, 175, 140–1
185 Wills, W. G. 42
Two Gentlemen of Verona, The 3, 28 Wilson, John Dover 23, 132
Venus and Adonis 10, 21, 33 Wittgenstein, Ludwig 79–80, 84, 193
Winter’s Tale, The 23, 25, 106, 133, Woolf, Virginia 8–9, 110, 118
143, 144, 160–1, 163–7 Wordsworth, William 86, 97, 116, 125
Shaw, George Bernard 6, 24
Sheridan, Mark 42 Yeatman, R. J. 110
Sidney, Sir Philip 163 Yeats, W. B. 3, 5, 8, 14, 18, 45, 54, 63,
Smith, Stan 143 127, 128, 131, 152
Sophocles 80, 154, 192 Young, Charles L. 39
Spender, Stephen 113, 124 Young, Jordan 157