You Learned From Who That Ears Are What Now?

Reading The Idiot by Elif Batuman, and this odd sentence went flying past:

I knew from Shakespeare class that ears were sexual.

Ears, you say?

I’m sorry, what?  I love that I’ve been doing this for almost thirteen years now and I can still find new things to talk about.  I’ve definitely never heard the argument made that Shakespeare sexualized ears, nor can I immediately think of any examples where this might be the case.  (Checks Sonnet 130 just in case … eyes, lips, hair, cheeks….nope.)

All that comes to mind is, “Lend me your ears!” which makes me imagine an audience shouting back, “We’re using them right now, give us five minutes!”

But seriously folks.  Have I overlooked something obvious? What could the author possibly be talking about?



3 thoughts on “You Learned From Who That Ears Are What Now?

  1. In _The Sound of Shakespeare_ By Wes Folkerth, there is some discussion of ears and sexual imagry. He cites “Othello” and “Antony and Cleopatra”
    Antony and Cleopatra Act II scene 5

    That time,–O times!–
    I laugh’d him out of patience; and that night
    I laugh’d him into patience; and next morn,
    Ere the ninth hour, I drunk him to his bed;
    Then put my tires and mantles on him, whilst
    I wore his sword Philippan.
    Enter a Messenger
    O, from Italy
    Ram thou thy fruitful tidings in mine ears,
    That long time have been barren.

    And in Othello Act I scene 3, 145-150 contains the following reference to ears:

    Would Desdemona seriously incline:
    But still the house-affairs would draw her thence:
    Which ever as she could with haste dispatch,
    She’ld come again, and with a greedy ear
    Devour up my discourse: which I observing,
    Took once a pliant hour, and found good means
    To draw from her a prayer of earnest heart
    That I would all my pilgrimage dilate,
    Whereof by parcels she had something heard,
    But not intentively: I did consent,
    And often did beguile her of her tears,
    When I did speak of some distressful stroke
    That my youth suffer’d. My story being done,
    She gave me for my pains a world of sighs:

    Elsewhere, someone has probably made something of Bottom’s ears in A Midsummer Night’s Dream–no doubt, a Freudian interpretation.

    1. If the Cleopatra and Othello references you cite are intended to be sexual, it’s going over my head. The Bottom one is interesting, and I’m kind of annoyed with myself for not thinking of that. I’ve seen many productions that show Titania playing with Bottom’s long ears. If we are assuming that ears were in fact something to be sexualized for Shakespeare, I’m sure this would have been the perfect opportunity to do so.

      1. I know what you mean.
        In the book, I had to read it several times before I see anything even remotely sexual.
        The comments by Wes Folkerth read much like a PhD thesis trying desperately to wring one new interpretation out of a much harvested field.
        I’m sure even Fellini would have found the sexual ear references a stretch.

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