On this day…11 November

On 11 November 1912 Joyce gave his first lecture on Hamlet.

This was the first of twelve lectures on Hamlet that Joyce gave at the Società di Minerva in Trieste. Though the lectures have been lost, it’s likely that Joyce recycled much of the material for the ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ episode and elsewhere in Ulysses.

The invitation to lecture at the Società di Minerva probably came from Joyce’s friend and pupil Nicolò Vidacovich, the Triestine lawyer. The Società di Minerva was a prestigious cultural organisation for which Joyce originally planned ten lectures on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but they proved so successful that he added another two.

The first lecture took place on Monday 11 November 1912 and was reported in Il Piccolo della Sera the next day. According to the Piccolo’s report, ‘Professor’ Joyce began by giving an account of the history of drama followed by a presentation on Elizabethan writers with a detailed account of Shakespeare’s life and character that gave particular attention to the period when Hamlet was written.

Another article in Il Piccolo della Sera, probably written by another friend of Joyce’s, Roberto Prezioso, followed the final lecture given in February 1913. The author noted that the ‘English colony’ had been thin on the ground during the lectures, and that the audience was primarily Italian, all the more complimentary since the lectures were given in English, not in Italian.

According to the Piccolo, Joyce’s skill in presenting the words, manners and dress of the Elizabethans turned what might otherwise have been dry lectures into something more like an informal chat, and the series of lectures proved to be of great interest to his audience. For this he was rewarded with prolonged applause.

There is a mention of these lectures in Giacomo Joyce – “I expound Shakespeare to docile Trieste…” – but probably more significantly, the lectures are likely to have provided some of the material about Shakespeare and particularly about Hamlet that pervades Joyce’s Ulysses.


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.

Quillian, William H: ‘Shakespeare in Trieste: Joyce’s 1912 “Hamlet” Lectures,’ in James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 12, no. 1/2, (Fall 1974 – Winter 1975), pp. 7-63.

— ‘“Composition of Place”: Joyce’s Notes on the English Drama,’ in James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 1 (Fall 1975), pp. 4-26.