Gimlet sounded like poetry with Hamlet
U 15.3654-5: ZOE
(tragically) Hamlet, I am thy father’s gimlet!
and with Stephen’s unknowing repetition of the first of these two lines in the National Library of Ireland later that afternoon (U 9.170).1 Ian MacArthur adds that “[i]n Anglo-Irish slang, a gimlet is a half glass of whiskey”,2 which suggests that Zoe draws on the cognate sense of “spirit” or “spirits” as spirituous liquor - that is, as liquor produced by distillation - to play on a wilful and witty misreading implicit in the ghost’s original speech. Critics of a certain vintage doubt that Zoe could be capable of such humour3 or suggest that burlesque in the mouth of a prostitute is part of a concerted effort on Joyce’s part to degrade Shakespeare,4 but casting a wider intertextual net for this phrase brings in more than the anticipated Joycean–Shakespearean dyad.
The Oxford DNB entry for Tillotson (1905–69) records that the future professor of English at Birkbeck College began his schooling at “an elementary school in Glusburn, north Yorkshire (1910–18).”6
Roy Gottfried notes that “‘Gimlet’ looks like ‘Hamlet’”,7 and, looking further afield, one discovers that the apparently humorous confusion of “Gimlet” for “Hamlet” has an even longer history than “thy father’s gimlet”:
"Gimlet! Gimlet!" This is the playful rehearsal appellation for Hamlet. 8
- a history that extends to other media. Alan Young writes that Edwin Austin Abbey’s Play Scene in Hamlet, a late oil on canvas, was wickedly parodied in the pages of Punch shortly after its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1897.9
Edwin Austin Abbey, Play Scene in Hamlet (1897)
How much of this precise intertextual network was Joyce familiar with? Despite the Jims and J. J.s of John James Wright’s Merry, Merry Boys, likely very little.12 Rather, what is recovered here is only a sample of the wider circulation enjoyed by the “thy father’s gimlet” catchphrase and deliberate “Hamlet/Gimlet” confusion. If Joyce did not have access to these specific instances, he encountered the former phrase elsewhere in nineteenth- and twentieth-century print and oral culture. Indeed, it is not inconceivable that it was his familiarity with “Hamlet, I am thy father’s gimlet” and its erroneous address that prompted the particular character of Bloom’s and Stephen’s shared misquotation from the play, even if, as a source, the catchphrase was relegated to intra- and intertextual reiteration in one of the novel’s closing episodes. Shakespeare is “in everyone’s mouth,” Joyce writes in an early essay13 - mangled, travestied, and misquoted in forms that themselves repeat and proliferate.
1 See Matthew Creasy “Shakespeare Burlesque in Ulysses” in Essays in Criticism 55.2 (April 2005), p. 141 and “Manuscripts and Misquotations: Ulysses and Genetic Criticism” in Joyce Studies Annual (2007), p. 50; Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman, “Ulysses” Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s “Ulysses” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 159, 204, 511; Manuel Almagro Jiménez, “To Be and (or?) Not to Be: Joyce’s Rewriting of Shakespeare” in Papers on Joyce 2 (1996), p. 3; Sam Slote (ed.), “Annotations” in James Joyce, Ulysses (Richmond: Alma Classics, 2012), pp. 622, 642, 801; Weldon Thornton, Allusions in “Ulysses”; An Annotated List (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968), pp. 132, 163, 411; William B. Warner, “The Play of Fictions and Succession of Styles in Ulysses” in James Joyce Quarterly 15.1 (Fall 1977), p. 30.
2 Ian MacArthur, “Some Notes for Ulysses” in James Joyce Quarterly 41.3 (Spring 2004), p. 532.
3 William B. Warner, “The Play of Fictions and Succession of Styles in Ulysses” in James Joyce Quarterly 15.1 (Fall 1977), p. 30.
4 William Peery, “The Hamlet of Stephen Dedalus” in University of Texas Studies in English 31 (1952), p. 114.
5 Geoffrey Tillotson, “The First Time I Played Hamlet” in Listener (1957), 10 January p. 67.
6 Donald Hawes, “Tillotson, Geoffrey (1905–1969)” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, September 2012); www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/101274, accessed 1 December 2013.
7 Roy Gottfried, Joyce’s Iritis and the Irritated Text: The Dis-Lexic “Ulysses” (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1995), p. 113.
8 John J. Jennings, Theatrical and Circus Life; or, Secrets of the Stage, Green-room and Sawdust Arena (St. Louis: Sun Publishing Co., 1882), p. 232.
9 Alan R. Young, “Punch” and Shakespeare in the Victorian Era (Oxford; New York: Peter Lang, 2007), p. 303; Abbey, Edwin Austin, Play Scene in Hamlet (1897): John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.); Web (accessed 1 December 2013.
10 Internet Archive (accessed 1 December 2013).
11 Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (Dublin, 1771), vol. 1 pp. 79-80): Eighteenth Century Collections Online (Gale: accessed 1 December 2013).
12 J. J. Wright, “Mates.” Merry, Merry Boys (London: Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey & Co., 1888), pp. 38–49.
13 James Joyce, “The Study of Languages” in Kevin Barry (ed.) Occasional, Critical and Political Writing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 16.
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