Poisoned Through the Ear: The Power of the Spoken Word in Hamlet

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The court of Denmark is full of hungry ears, listening for news of the king’s death, how he died, scandalous gossip of the newly wedded Claudius and Gertrude, eavesdropping on conversations, catching whispered secrets, and sometimes lies. Such open ears in the court offer easy access for words, truthful or not, to slither into the mind and sake seed inside unsuspecting listeners. In fact, spoken words in Hamlet are apt to find their way into unguarded ears and have great effects upon characters in the play. Shakespeare uses prominent imagery of ears to illustrate words’ powerful influence on the actions and emotions of a person. From early in the play, ears come to attain a special significance as a gateway to the human psyche and a means of affecting it. Imagery of war is used frequently in regards to ears in the first act of the play, as if ears are something to be attacked. As Bernardo tries to convince the skeptical Horatio of the existence of the ghost he says “And let us once again assail your ears/That are so fortified against our story/What we have two nights seen” (Act 1 Sn. 1). The metaphor here of Horatio’s ears being “fortified” speaks to his tendency to be a skeptic, one who will not let words easily pass into his ear and therefore convince him of something. This metaphor also illustrates words themselves to hold power similar to weapons since the ear would be “assailed” by whatever words Bernardo had for Horatio. This idea is furthered when Horatio explains that he has left Wittenberg because of his “truant disposition” (Act 2 Sn. 1) and Hamlet replies saying “I would not hear your enemy say so/Nor shall you do mine ear that violence” (Act 2 Sn. 1). Horatio’s words are described as “violent” with the ability to ... ... middle of paper ... ...s that the entire premise of his kingship is essentially built on lies (words) because so many ears are willing to hear the poison that he doles out. Much of Hamlet’s plot can be traced to the effect of spoken words and Shakespeare uses imagery of ears at such definitive moments to reveal words’ effect on characters. Perhaps it is meant to comment on humanities willingness to believe anything that enters its ears, or perhaps it is just a characteristic of the people in the play. Regardless, words carry with them significant (and sometimes poisonous) consequences to the listener in Hamlet, and those with too trusting ears often find themselves deceived. Works Cited Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. 9th Ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. Print

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