Hamlet’s sledded poleaxe
U 9.130-2: Not for nothing was he a butcher's son, wielding the sledded poleaxe and spitting in his palms.
As Stephen holds forth in the library, regaling his captive audience with his biographical theory of Hamlet, he conflates bits of Shakespeare’s text with passages from the commentaries, demonstrating his wit and ability to construct an entertaining scholarly melange.
It is possible that Joyce found the butcher occupation in Aubrey’s Brief Lives, but he did have in his library another source, George Brandes’s William Shakespeare, A Critical Study:
His marriage enabled John Shakespeare to extend his business. He had large transactions in wool, and also dealt, as occasion offered, in corn and other commodities. Aubrey’s statement that he was a butcher seems to mean no more than that he himself fattened and killed the animals whose skins he used in his trade. But in those days the different occupations in a small English country town were not at all strictly discriminated; the man who produced the raw material would generally work it up as well. (p. 6)
And the assembled literati would no doubt be familiar with the textual conundrum posed by the variants “Polacks" and “poleaxe”: Hamlet the King either slaying the sled- (or sledge-)riding Polish soldiers or forcefully striking the icy field with his weapon.
The adjective “sledded”, however, may have been a puzzler to someone picturing a butcher’s axe, rather than a weapon, unless of course it passed unnoticed in Stephen’s verbal torrent.
Joycean scholars too – Gifford, for example - have not explicated the “sledded” part of the phrase, referring only to the “poleaxe”.
Nevertheless, we do know that Joyce (and presumably Stephen) read footnotes, often the more obscure the better, so it would not be totally improbable for Stephen to intend the meaning of “weighted” for a “sledded” butcher’s poleaxe.
Despite Verity’s caveat, weighted butcher axes did exist in Shakespeare’s time, as well as in Stephen’s, and the phrase “sledded poleaxe” found in some editions of Hamlet certainly suits Stephen’s rhetorical intentions.
It may also be worth noting that in “Cyclops”, “poleaxe” adds an additional ethnic identification to the Polish pianist, patriot and prime minister, Ignacy Jan Paderewski (with the traditional Polish honorific “Pan,”) and a Celtic touch in “Paddy,” the complex becoming Pan Poleaxe Paddyrisky (12.565).1
1 Puns on Paderewski’s name were not uncommon. "Later May recounts that her mother interrupted a concert by a famous Polish pianist, Ignacy Paderewski, to ask her, 'Phwat county in Ireland did Paddy Roosky come from?'" (The Irish 400 (1897), Vaudeville act by the Elinore Sisters quoted by M. Alison Kibler in: Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville, Chapel Hill: 1999, p. 103).
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