Poison and Persuasion: The Ear and its Implications in Shakespeare’s Hamlet College

Implicit in the schema of Hamlet lies the idea that an immoral world order has established itself, imposing political and social significance onto the once purely corporeal sense and function of ears and hearing. Although one must necessarily rely on the ear in order to learn the truth, the ear is also predisposed to faulty perception. Thus, the previously trustworthy sensory organ of the ear has become a zone fraught with danger and deception, subverted by the feudal figures of Claudius and Polonius to serve as both literal and metaphorical vehicles for murder and for the distortion of truth. In a system replete with deception and disguise from all sides, the listener emerges not only as the potential victim but also as the perpetrator of infiltration and dishonesty – in other words, a spy. This subversion can be observed not only in the pervasiveness of the language of aural assault but also in the construction of both parent-child and ruler-subject relationships, interactions necessarily contingent on inequitable auditory communication. Unaccustomed and still naïve to the pragmatically ruthless ways of the court (having just returned from his scholastic endeavors abroad), the insular and isolated Hamlet positions himself in...

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