— A deathsman of the soul Robert Greene called him, Stephen said. Not for nothing was he a butcher's son, wielding the sledded poleaxe and spitting in his palms. Nine lives are taken off for his father's one. Our Father who art in purgatory. Khaki Hamlets don't hesitate to shoot. The bloodboltered shambles in act five is a forecast of the concentration camp sung by Mr Swinburne.
Cranly, I his mute orderly, following battles from afar.
Whelps and dams of murderous foes whom none But we had spared . . .
Between the Saxon smile and yankee yawp. The devil and the deep sea.
— He will have it that Hamlet is a ghoststory, John Eglinton said for Mr Best's behoof. Like the fat boy in Pickwick he wants to make our flesh creep.
List! List! O List!
My flesh hears him: creeping, hears.
If thou didst ever . . .
— What is a ghost? Stephen said with tingling energy. One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners. Elizabethan London lay as far from Stratford as corrupt Paris lies from virgin Dublin. Who is the ghost from limbo patrum, returning to the world that has forgotten him? Who is King Hamlet?
John Eglinton shifted his spare body, leaning back to judge.
— It is this hour of a day in mid June, Stephen said, begging with a swift glance their hearing. The flag is up on the playhouse by the bankside. The bear Sackerson growls in the pit near it, Paris garden. Canvasclimbers who sailed with Drake chew their sausages among the groundlings.
Local colour. Work in all you know. Make them accomplices.
— Shakespeare has left the huguenot's house in Silver street and walks by the swanmews along the riverbank. But he does not stay to feed the pen chivying her game of cygnets towards the rushes. The swan of Avon has other thoughts.
Composition of place. Ignatius Loyola, make haste to help me!
— 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. He speaks the words to Burbage, the young player who stands before him beyond the rack of cerecloth, calling him by a name:
Hamlet, I am thy father's spirit,
bidding him list. To a son he speaks, the son of his soul, the prince, young Hamlet and to the son of his body, Hamnet Shakespeare, who has died in Stratford that his namesake may live for ever.
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?
— But this prying into the family life of a great man, Russell began impatiently.
Art thou there, truepenny?
— Interesting only to the parish clerk. I mean, we have the plays. I mean when we read the poetry of King Lear what is it to us how the poet lived? As for living our servants can do that for us, Villiers de l'Isle has said. Peeping and prying into greenroom gossip of the day, the poet's drinking, the poet's debts. We have King Lear: and it is immortal.
Mr Best's face, appealed to, agreed.
Flow over them with your waves and with your waters, Mananaan, Mananaan MacLir . . .
How now, sirrah, that pound he lent you when you were hungry?
Marry, I wanted it.
Take thou this noble.
Go to! You spent most of it in Georgina Johnson's bed, clergyman's daughter. Agenbite of inwit.
Do you intend to pay it back?
Well . . . No.
I paid my way. I paid my way.
Steady on. He's from beyant Boyne water. The northeast corner. You owe it.
Wait. Five months. Molecules all change. I am other I now. Other I got pound.
But I, entelechy, form of forms, am I by memory because under everchanging forms.
I that sinned and prayed and fasted.
A child Conmee saved from pandies.
I, I and I. I.
— Do you mean to fly in the face of the tradition of three centuries? John Eglinton's carping voice asked. Her ghost at least has been laid for ever. She died, for literature at least, before she was born.
— She died, Stephen retorted, sixtyseven years after she was born. She saw him into and out of the world. She took his first embraces. She bore his children and she laid pennies on his eyes to keep his eyelids closed when he lay on his deathbed.
Mother's deathbed. Candle. The sheeted mirror. Who brought me into this world lies there, bronzelidded, under few cheap flowers. Liliata rutilantium.
I wept alone.
John Eglinton looked in the tangled glowworm of his lamp.
— The world believes that Shakespeare made a mistake, he said, and got out of it as quickly and as best he could.
— Bosh! Stephen said rudely. A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.
Portals of discovery opened to let in the quaker librarian, softcreakfooted, bald, eared and assiduous.
— A shrew, John Eglinton said shrewdly, is not a useful portal of discovery, one should imagine. What useful discovery did Socrates learn from Xanthippe?
— Dialectic, Stephen answered: and from his mother how to bring thoughts into the world. What he learnt from his other wife Myrto (absit nomen!), Socratididion's Epipsychidion, no man, not a woman, will ever know. But neither the midwife's lore nor the caudlelectures saved him from the archons of Sinn Fein and their naggin of hemlock.
— But Ann Hathaway? Mr Best's quiet voice said forgetfully. Yes, we seem to be forgetting her as Shakespeare himself forgot her.
His look went from brooder's beard to carper's skull, to remind, to chide them not unkindly, then to the baldpink lollard costard, guiltless though maligned.