On this day…10 February

10 February 1913 Joyce gave the last of twelve lectures on Hamlet.

In 1912 Joyce was invited to give a series of lectures to a prestigious cultural association in Trieste, the Società di Minerva. The invitation was probably organised by Triestine lawyer Nicolò Vidacovich, a friend and pupil of Joyce’s. Joyce proposed a series of ten lectures on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The first lecture took place on Monday 11 November and was reported in Il Piccolo della Sera the next day: “In his lecture Professor Joyce began with a concise exposition of the origins of the drama, passed on to a colourful presentation of the writers in the age of Elizabeth, and finally outlined the character and life of Shakespeare with particular attention to the psychological moment when he wrote Hamlet. Warm and prolonged applause greeted the speaker at the end of his learned and graceful talk.”

Originally supposed to give only ten lectures, Joyce extended it to twelve because they were so successful, and the final lecture took place on 10 February 1913. Again, an account of this lecture also appeared in the Piccolo, probably written by Roberto Prezioso. The article noted that the “English colony” was thin on the ground during the lectures and complimented the steady attendance of the Italian audience.

“His original and slightly bizarre talent,” the article went on, “changed the nature of his commentary, which might otherwise have been dry, into attractive ‘causeries.’ The words, the manners, and the dress of the Elizabethans stirred the lecturer to literary and historical recollections which proved of keen interest to an audience which had been his for so many hours.” He was rewarded with “warm and prolonged applause which was certainly meant to invite him to repeat this novel and highly successful experiment of lecturing in English to an Italian audience.”

Joyce comments on these lectures in Giacomo Joyce – “I expound Shakespeare to docile Trieste…” but probably more significant, the lectures are likely to have provided some of the thought about Shakespeare and particularly about Hamlet that pervades Joyce’s Ulysses. Unfortunately, his lectures on Hamlet are not extant.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Giacomo Joyce, with an Introduction and Notes by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1984.

McCourt, John: The Years of Bloom – James Joyce in Trieste, 1904-1920, Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2001.