Haines has been trying to get Stephen’s Hamlet theory out of him, but Stephen isn’t interested in telling it, and Mulligan is running interference, trying to get at least a pint out of the deal.
Haines’ wants to prove his intellectual mettle with Stephen. He’s eager to show that he knows something about Hamlet, that he can even quote a line or two. [Elsinore is the castle where the action happens in Shakespeare’s play].
Back in December, when these pages were first posted, we got an email from a reader reminding us that we had left out a line of internal dialog here at this point. Just after Haines says “that beetles o’er his base into the sea,” the next line is “Buck Mulligan turned suddenly for an instant towards Stephen but did not speak.” We don’t really use this, but the reader felt it was a critical moment, because it showed (he felt) Mulligan having a flash of anxiety about Stephen killing himself. I was skeptical — I thought it more likely that Mulligan was having a flash of anxiety about Stephen further ridiculing the meal ticket Haines. But upon looking at the context of the “beetles o’er his base” quotation, I can see the possibility of the reading.
See this Hamlet vid. [The relevant line comes up around 2:50]
In any event, when Stephen sees himself in “dusty mourning” next to their “gay attires,” he’s clearly thinking of himself as Hamlet. Whether his two companions are Horatio and Marcellus or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern… that’s another question.