A Level English: Shakespeare’s unusual and head spinning engrossment with ears in “Hamlet”

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Ears appear too many times throughout “Hamlet” to be a coincidence. Arguably, the imagery of ears is used by Shakespeare to illustrate the need to discover the truth in the “corrupt” and “rank” world. However, some critics have countered that they are vehicles for murder and for distortion of the truth.

It is much easier to analyse what Shakespeare is implying through the imagery of ears by analysing quotes separately, because in different places, a different effect is achieved.

For example, Laertes’ advice to Ophelia “If with too credent ear you list his songs…fear it, Ophelia” implies ears and ‘hearing’ are instruments by which one may be deceived, the repetition of “fear it” by Laertes serving to emphasise the reality of this threat. Indeed, the ghost claims that “the whole ear of Denmark” is “rankly abused”, emphasising the fact that in the “corrupted currents of this world” language is abused for the uses of manipulation and deception.

On the other hand, “Sit down awhile, and let us once again assail your ears” and “Speak, I am bound to hear” imply language is also a devise by which truth is revealed, but also, perhaps, the power of rumours and “whispers” (Claudius arguably sees them as a very real threat, explaining his motives in choosing to dispatch of Hamlet quickly and thus implying his position as king to be vulnerable).

Thus, you could cite some of this analysis on ‘ears’ in your exam if the question concerns themes such as deception, truth or surveillance. Feel free to mention any other themes or questions in which the motif of ears might be relevant in the comment section!

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