Looking with ears, hearing with eyes: Shakespeare and the ear of the early modern

Mark Robson
University of Nottingham

Robson, Mark. "Looking with ears, hearing with eyes: Shakespeare and the ear of the early modern." Early Modern Literary Studies 7.1/Special Issue 8 (May, 2001): 10.1-23<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/07-1/robsears.htm>.

1. Where is an ear? Is an ear part of the inside or the outside of a body, and how can we distinguish its own inside and outside surfaces? Where is the ear of an era, the ear of the early modern? And what of the ear of Shakespeare? Such quibbling might seem of little consequence, serving to irritate rather than illuminate, and yet irritation is sometimes productive. It is the foreign body that puts the body to work.[1]

2. These questions resonate in the context of the various debates within early modern studies on the body, on orality and aurality, on speech and writing, on the voice and the gaze. In particular, these questions have a special pertinence in the context of recent calls for an attention to sense, and to the senses, and the proposal that such attention might best come through a phenomenological approach. For it seems clear that phenomenology quickly embeds itself within a visuality that supplants and supplements orality. In other words, the eye and the ear change places, but without ever being able to eliminate the residue of the one in the other, like a foreign body, continuing to work like the grit within the oyster shell.


3. In Shakespeare’s works, the ear is treated with an ambivalence that cannot be simply idiomatic. One of the most famous invocations of the ear is, of course, Antony’s "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!" (3.2.65) in Julius Caesar.[2] Antony’s rhetorical display is one of the clearest examples of persuasion as force, and stands against seemingly more naive alternative views in Shakespeare’s works, such as that expressed in Othello by Brabantio: "words are words; I never yet did hear / That the bruis’d heart was pierced through the ear." (1.3.216-19).[3] The irony of Brabantio’s lack of insight is that Desdemona is indeed won over by Othello’s stories, and the play, which is more frequently read through Othello’s desire for "ocular proof", is full of references to the ear. At 1.3.377, Iago suggests that he will "abuse Othello’s ear" and the editor of the Cambridge edition glosses "abuse" as "deceive". But is it that simple? Might it not rather be that Iago is simply going to exploit the openness of Othello’s ear, an image reinforced by his later claim that he will "pour this pestilence into his ear" (2.3.323). Anthony’s recognition of the power of speech is closer to Augustine’s sense of the ear as the route to the heart: "Whisper in my heart, I am here to save you. Speak so that I may hear your words. My heart has ears ready to listen to you, Lord. Open them and whisper in my heart, I am here to save you." [4] Yet the ear, unlike the eye, is always open, always ready to receive, and can only be "closed" with difficulty. Thus there is always the possibility of the call, but this call cannot be screened; to decide whether or not to "listen" to a speech, one must already have heard it. Any pestilence will already have been incorporated. The difficulty arising is analogous to the problems of interpretation posed by a statement such as "Do not read this sentence." One can only obey its prescription after having broken the law that it attempts to institute.

4. Equally, this problem about the spatial definition of the ear finds its way into critical texts. Thus Jonathan Bate, in a discussion of Olivier’s film of Hamlet, finds himself saying: "At the very centre of the play is Hamlet’s lacerating confrontation with his mother in her bedchamber. In this iconic moment, Hamlet is forcing Gertrude back on to the bed; he seems on the verge of piercing not just her ear but her body." [5] Not just her ear but her body. What notion of the ear is Bate working with here, if he is able to distinguish the ear from the body? This might appear to be a mistake on Bate’s part, but I would like to suggest that it is rather a symptomatic example of the difficulties which surround (without lying "outside") the ear.

5. Part of the fascination with the ear and hearing stems from a clear connection between the ear and the tongue, emphasised by the fact that one can hear oneself speak in a way that one cannot see oneself seeing, cannot taste oneself tasting, and so on. This link between a form of self-awareness and the voice makes hearing an intimate sense. But although this has led to a privileging of the ear and the tongue over other organs, there are indications in the literary texts of the early modern period that suggest we be cautious about endorsing this privilege. Adopting another perspective, over thirty years ago Jacques Derrida suggested that: "Hearing oneself speak is not the inwardness of an inside that is closed in upon itself; it is the irreducible openness in the inside; it is the eye and the world within speech." [6] At the time, Derrida was attempting to account for the familiar association of speech with a sense of intimacy and interiority, and for the privilege of this sense over others within a philosophical tradition which culminates (without ending) in phenomenology. Of particular interest here is the movement from hearing to "the eye and the world within speech." Rupturing any sense of the self-enclosed relay from tongue to ear, Derrida counts self-overhearing as an indication of the continuity of speech and world that refuses to be closed off as an expression of "self." It is not that there is not a world elsewhere, it is that it refuses to remain safely "over there", outside the body. It is worth restating here, however, that those who read statements such as this, as well as Derrida’s by now infamous "il n’y a pas de hors-texte" ["there is no outside-text"], as a gesture of textual idealism are clearly wrong.[7]

6. In part why I choose to cite Derrida here is that in two recent works of pertinence to our discussion, there has been a suggestion that phenomenology might provide a way to think through questions of the senses.[8] I think that such a movement is to be welcomed, but I also think that we should be clear about the trajectories that such phenomenological investigations might take. Western philosophy, it is sometimes argued, is the history of a sustained movement from the sensual to the supersensual. [9] Thinking, in this tradition, is not something that can be equated with sensing, or at least not with the actions of or impressions received by the senses. This is the difference between making sense and sensuality. This movement then from the physical to the metaphysical has a long and elevated history, even if that history now appears to be under a certain amount of stress. Bruce Smith’s recent work has offered an alternative to this separation of the realm of the senses from early modern textuality, emphasising the embodiedness of readers and audiences in an aural world. Smith’s work raises some important questions relevant to the debates on textuality and performativity in the early modern period. Yet there are ways in which certain early modern texts, and the ones chosen here are simply emblematic of a much wider (perhaps even interminable) project, might intervene in these debates. What I would like to offer here is merely an indication of a sense of unease that arises about the movement away from ‘philosophy’ and back to the embodied reader or audience member.

7. That philosophy need not be abandoned in our return to a concern for the senses is ably demonstrated by Jonathan Rée’s wonderful I See A Voice. While I might not fully endorse all that this book contains, there is a short passage which I think is instructive in opening up the significance of these questions. Noting the privilege afforded to voice (even by those most apparently keen to attack that privilege), Rée suggests that there are four basic "delusions" that govern the arguments around voice: "first, that the voice is intrinsically connected with the existence of a self-identical soul, spirit, or inward subjectivity; second, that experience must ultimately be analysed into the distinct contributions made by the various bodily senses; third, that hearing is specifically concerned with time, and vision with space; and fourth, that language has two fundamentally different forms: audible speech which occupies time but not space, and visible writing which occupies space but not time." [10] As Rée suggests, such delusions do not evaporate simply because they can be recognised, the only way to approach them is through treating the world as phenomenon rather than object.

8. There is only space here to indicate trajectories for future work, but I think that the readings that I am proposing can act as exemplary figures for the larger debates onto which they open. My central point will be that much of the work on the orality of early modern English literature (and this also includes certain of the questions about performance with regard to dramatic texts) repeats a very familiar opposition of speech and writing that the texts that are purportedly being read complicate. The confusion of the senses that my title indicates acts as a marker of a difficulty that has to be attended to by early modern criticism.


9. It is commonly accepted, I think, that early modern England was a predominantly oral culture. Many critical examples of this belief might be cited, but for now I would like to call upon only a couple of textual witnesses. The first is from Robert Weimann’s well-known article on Hamlet, in which he claims that: "Even when deeply indebted to the humanist poetics of inscribed language, these [Shakespeare’s] plays remained close to a culture of voices, a civilization of oral signs and practical privileges where blindness itself (and the unliterary spectator) could be told to ‘look with thine ears’." [11] In this quotation from King Lear, Weimann demonstrates the practical privileges that he gives to the spoken over the written (and this forms part of his critical argument in his essay).

10. The second text is Robert S. Miola’s recent Shakespeare’s Reading in which, as part of a discussion of early modern reading practices and the education which formed them, he states that:

Students acquired extraordinary sensitivity to language, especially to its sound. The practice of reading aloud and of reciting verse developed acute inner ears that could appreciate sonic effects which are lost on moderns. … Elizabethan aural sensitivity led to delight in wordplay of all kinds, repartee, double entendre, puns, and quibbles.[12]

Both critics suggest that the emphasis on orality and the aural is a fundamental part of audience response and thus conditions the way in which texts are written (and read). Both imply that this should also, then, inform modern critical readings. Where Weimann stresses a connection to (and distance from) traditional forms of mimesis, Miola rightly points to the role of "wordplay of all kinds," which cannot adequately be subsumed under the heading of mimesis at all. It is worth pausing for a moment, since a question poses itself here. How do they know that this was an oral culture? The senses of the activity of ear and voice come from texts which are primarily perceived through the eye.

11. I have no desire to deny the strength of orality within early modern culture, but I do wish to complicate a model which seems all too easily to privilege the spoken over the written. It is by following Miola’s lead here that I think we can begin to elaborate the relationship of oratio to ratio, and also to recognise that not all early modern texts support the notion of a happily oral culture. In the rush to embrace oral culture, what these texts have to say about orality must not be overlooked. What is being offered here, then, cannot be thought of as a thematic reading. Neither can a concern with the ear and the eye be taken simply as a reading of particular metaphors, however powerfully conceived.

12. Among Shakespeare’s texts, Hamlet and Venus and Adonis thematise the problems posed by orality in clear ways, but also in ways which exceed thematisation.[13] Equally, whilst Hamlet, as a dramatic text, fits neatly into the performance context of Shakespeare’s work in which a concentration on speech over writing is familiar, Venus and Adonis leads us more firmly into the territory indicated by Miola, since this narrative poem also displays a preoccupation with the oral and the aural. Venus and Adonis is furthermore a key text because it is, of course, the first that was published with Shakespeare’s name on the title page. It seems to be a good place, therefore, to begin to think about the relationship of orality to the written (or the visual) in his work. By a happy coincidence (which is not to be thought of as an accident) we might wish to think about this as a modality of the tympan, since the tympan (or tympanum) denotes both the membrane which separates and communicates between the inner and outer ear, and is also the name given to part of the mechanics of the printing press (and especially the hand press). That it is also the name for a drum should lead us to think about rhythm and the beat of Shakespeare’s verse, which leads to considerations of metrics (as in a recent article by George T. Wright) and repetition or reproduction. [14] This might help us to draw together (sonic) rhyme and the "eye-rhyme."

13. Eye rhyme presents its own problems, however. The writer of the entry on rhyme in the The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics points to the fascinating etymological and conceptual genealogy which links rhythm to rhyme, especially around 1600 (at which point we find the word "rythme," which is supposed to have been pronounced in the same way as "rime"). Eye rhyme is the very axis along which the relationship of the aural to the visual in poetry can be measured, but its identification is always a matter of privileging one over the other. Thus the Princeton Encyclopedia is forced to concede that:

Genuine cases of eye rhyme raise the issue of the relations of sound to spelling in language and poetry – notice, for example, that spelling differences in aural rhyme are invisible, whereas spelling similarities in eye rhyme are opaque; they are the marked form. Rhyme is by definition sound-correspondence, but insofar as spelling is meant to denote sound, we must both ignore it and – when necessary – pay attention to it … In this, eye rhyme points up the very question of the aural and (or versus) the visual modes of poetry. [15]

Much hinges on that opening "genuine," since it is the question of being able to determine what may or may not be a genuine case of eye rhyme that is at stake. The oral mode of rhyme involves privileging the eye over the ear, in that the ear cannot distinguish between two words which are spelt differently (flaws/floors), whereas in visual rhyme, conversely, similarities in the written forms of words emerge which the ear would not detect (though/plough/rough/ought). Yet in a period in which spelling is far from conventionalised, and in which pronunciation can produce effects not detectable by the modern ear, we must be cautious in identifying eye rhyme at all (if we accept that eye rhyme in strictu sensu cannot be picked up aurally as rhyme). Stephen Booth, in his voluminously-annotated edition of the Sonnets, makes a revealing comment which is germane to our discussion here:

the evidence of Elizabethan puns and rhymes is not definitive, but the words we spell "her," "here," "hear," "hair," "hare," "heir," and – since initial h was ordinarily silent in common words – "ear" and "air," all apparently sounded enough alike to be confusable. [16]

14. In another context, it would be necessary to trace all of the connections which a comment such as this one suggests, for these linkages seem to be more than just sonic coincidences. [17] And certain of these examples, including "hear" and "ear," are related to the perception of sound itself. Further, there is no doubt something to be made in the context of a reading of Hamlet of this connection between "ear", "air" and "heir." One place that we might look for some of this consonance would be to the Dedication (to the Ear-l of Southampton) of Venus and Adonis:

But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest.

The strongest sense of "ear" in this quotation is plough or till. Poetic invention is linked to notions of organic and sexual productivity but also to incision or penetration, marking a conventional notion of the paternal, disseminatory writer. The ear here is seen to be productive, but the play upon "heir" and "ear" offers another possible resonance, since it is hard to avoid thinking of Hamlet. The openness of the ear can be viewed as an asset to those who wish to persuade, but it can also be seen as a threat, since it may be penetrated for good or ill, as the comment from Iago cited above suggests. Rhetoric is persuasion but also force, and the unease that this recognition causes is part of the Classical inheritance. A figure for this is the relationship of sound to wound, which occurs as a rhyme in Venus and Adonis. This relationship expands through the poem, echoed in songs which delight and destroy (the nurse’s song as opposed to mermaid’s or siren’s song).

15. Sound/wound: is this a full sonic rhyme or an eye rhyme? If it is a full sonic rhyme then it seems to be part of a more general connective web (it is also used in Lucrece), but if it is instead a visual rhyme, then this implies (since this is a rhyme on sound) that the potential for wounding through the ear is one that the ear itself may not be able to detect. [18] Here wounding is, perhaps against expectations, produced by a visual consonance (and the mixed metaphor here is deliberate).

16. Another way of linking the non-dramatic to the dramatic verse would be to turn to Sonnet 23. In elaborating the relationship of ear to eye, we find that Weimann’s citation of Lear might be reversed:

O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more expressed.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ;
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.
(ll. 9-14)

This sonnet begins with the persona of the "unperfect actor on the stage" and the theatrical metaphors are continued as the poem progresses in "books," which might allude to the dramatic script, and the "dumb presagers," perhaps a reference to staged dumb shows. [19] Of course "books" as a reading has been queried, with some editors preferring "looks." In either case the emphasis is on a distinction between the visual and the aural, but in both cases it is deflated by the suggestion that one must learn to "hear with eyes." As Vendler suggests, "Silent reading carried in Shakespeare’s day a powerful reminiscence of oral reading (to oneself or an audience), and the number of auditory puns in the Sonnets testifies to Shakespeare’s own ever-active ear, trained, of course, by his constant writing for oral delivery on the stage." [20] Yet surely it cannot be simply that the ear is writing here? Our evidence for the oral nature of this text is given in and as the written word, and it is in this sense that the text demands that we hear with eyes if we are to appreciate its orality. The ear called up by this poem is then the product of a knowledge which can only be attained through the eye.

17. Acting as an idea is also linked to the senses in Hamlet. The metaphor of acting brings together the force of rhetoric with the force of the visual image in such a way that the boundaries between the two faculties become blurred, and this is revealed in Hamlet through the use of the word "cleave", which itself exhibits a violent sense. Cleave can mean both to part or divide, to pierce or penetrate, and to adhere or cling to, but it is clearly the first cluster of meanings that concerns Hamlet here.

Ham. He would drown the stage with tears,
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.

But what does it mean to cleave an ear, however general? Hamlet’s advice to the players repeats the criticism: "O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise." (3.2.8-12) Cleaving as splitting is again emphasised, but we are no nearer to sensing what it means (its sense). Editors of these speeches such as Harold Jenkins, G. R. Hibbard and Philip Edwards seem to think that they are self-evident, and offer no explanation of what it might mean to cleave or split an ear. [21] Is this a puncturing, in which the ear is itself penetrated, or is it rather a splitting off from something else (reason, the body, the other senses, and so on)? Might Jonathan Bate’s sense of the ear as separate from the body be implied here? Intriguingly, the sense that this might be a shared ear offers the prospect of a body politic which might be dismembered through the voice of the actor.


18. In a characteristically provocative statement which comes in the final lines of his essay "Shakespeare’s Ear," the late Joel Fineman suggests that "for Shakespeare it is specifically the ear that is the organ of the text, of the specifically typographic text." [22] Fineman, of course, was regrettably unable to make good his proposal that this could be proven through a reading that would begin with Sonnet 46. But the idea that the ear could function as a privileged organ which has an intimate connection to typography is a fascinating one, and intimacy is one of the things that Fineman stresses most clearly, particularly in his reading of the "salacious ear that both covers and discovers the genitals of Queen Elizabeth" in the Rainbow Portrait (229). This "exceptionally pornographic ear" (228) reinforces Fineman’s reading, in his earlier Shakespeare’s Perjured Eye, of a fetishistic erotics, in which the vulva-like ear figures and disfigures an equally fetishistic principle of sovereign power, which is also to be found in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. It is worth noting that the pornographic, fetishistic quality of the ear can only be seen, not heard.

19. One further element must also be added to this before we can proceed, and that is Fineman’s characterisation of the ear, drawn in large part from a poem on hearing from John Davies’ Nosce Teipsum which he sees as feeding into the iconography of the painting. In Davies’ poem, the ear functions as an organ of delay and deferral, indeed Fineman makes the familiar connection between this organ and Derrida’s notion of differance, and its labyrinthine convolutions allow its identification with "temporal distension and dilation." (230) Fineman’s argument is suggestive for several reasons. Firstly, it allows us to trace a connection between textuality, sexuality and sovereignty that raises some of the more obvious problems facing certain historicisms. [23] The notion of temporal dilation that the figure of the ear allows to be seen troubles any sense of linear, progressive temporality, but we should also be aware of the spatial dimension here (that is so clearly a part of the invocation of differance). Fineman’s emphasis on the typographic (visual) significance of the ear again helps to reinvigorate the sense that I am trying to assert here of the necessary (indeed ineluctable) interpenetration of eye and ear.

20. In Hamlet, of course, we see perhaps the clearest thematisation of the problems of the ear in Shakespeare’s works. Iago’s pestilence is literalised in the murder plot, but also becomes a metaphorical refrain for other characters, and their insight into the workings of language as persuasion is recurrently undercut by their own statements or actions. Thus Laertes warns Ophelia that she must "weigh what loss your honour may sustain / If with too credent ear you list his [Hamlet’s] songs, / Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open / To his unmaster’d importunity." (1.3.29-32). We see Laertes himself receive advice from his father, who suggests: "Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice". (1.3.68) But this turns out to be (characteristically) bad advice, and in fact prepares the way for the tragic denouement. Upon his return following Polonius’s murder, Claudius recognises that this openness to speech makes Laertes a potential threat, since he:

Feeds on this wonder, keeps himself in clouds,
And wants not buzzers to infect his ear
With pestilent speeches of his father’s death,
Wherein necessity, of matter beggar’d,
Will nothing stick our person to arraign
In ear and ear.

Again the emphasis is on speech as a form of infection, as a pestilence that enters through the opening of the ear. In the next lines, Claudius goes on to equate this series of accusations against him with a "murd’ring piece" which brings him "superfluous death." The focus upon the power of discourse is maintained even once Claudius has regained control. Having persuaded him to take part in his plot to kill Hamlet, Claudius suggests that Laertes has heard "with a knowing ear". (4.7.3)

21. The idea that words may threaten and perform as weapons is enfolded within the text in several places, as well as appearing elsewhere in Shakespeare’s work. Thus Hamlet’s suggestion "I will speak daggers to her [Gertrude], but use none." (3.2.387) proves effective, and Gertrude begs:

O speak to me no more.
These words like daggers enter in my ears.
No more, sweet Hamlet.
(3.4.94-6) [24]

What Gertrude fantasises here is, of course, a parodic repetition of the death of her former husband, although she cannot experience it as such, since the repetition is an unconscious one on her part and therefore it is precisely as experience that this event remains unavailable to her. In the Ghost’s relation of the murder, there is a shuttling between literal and metaphorical ears which mimics the literal and metaphorical royal bodies. The Ghost is aware of the power of narrative, warning Hamlet that a more disturbing story yet might be told but that "this eternal blazon must not be / To ears of flesh and blood" (1.5.21-2). The blazon again inserts this figure of dismemberment into a discourse on ears. Neither Hamlet nor the audience hear this tale. The use of the word blazon of course heralds the interplay between memory and (dis)figuration that runs throughout the Ghost’s speeches, yet the fable of the murder is also a narration that begins with an invocation to attend to hearing:

Ghost Now, Hamlet, hear.
’Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me – so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abus’d …

Hamlet’s ear is called for, but so is the ear of the state of Denmark. If the body of the country may be "abus’d" through speech, then the poison which kills the king cannot be limited to a literal interpretation. The metaphorical permeability of the social body is indicated through the literal penetration of the individual body. This inability to limit the effects of the treacherous words is also related to the ear’s openness, since it is through "the porches" of Claudius’s ears that the poison enters, to course through the "natural gates and alleys of the body" (1.5.59-67). The public sense of the gates and alleys marks the capacity for the inwardness of the body to be entered like an ill-defended city. Hamlet, however, is aware that the call for him to listen is itself leading him into the same dilemma, and this lies behind his initial suspicion that the Ghost might be a "goblin" sent to lead him into damnation (1.4.40). [25]


22. An indication of where all of this speculation about the senses might lead can become apparent through a brief consideration of a non-dramatic text such as Venus and Adonis, since there is a less obvious implication of this text in the oral culture of theatrical performance, although the oral, rhetorical training of the writer and reader remains. The sensuality of the poem is readily acknowledged, but we must also note the sense of its senses. [26] Like Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, its central scene is an attempted seduction, and this sets up a structure of mirroring between the seduction of one character by another and the seduction of the reader by the text. There are many invocations of the power of voices to persuade and to undo, disseminating the connection of sounding and wounding throughout the text into figures such as the mermaid’s voice. While the attempt to seduce Adonis by Venus is the most obvious aspect of persuasion in the poem, Venus also argues for the disruption of the senses caused by Adonis:

"What, canst thou talk?" quoth she, "hast thou a tongue?
O would thou hadst not, or I had no hearing!
Thy mermaid’s voice hath done me double wrong;
I had my load before, now press’d with bearing:
Melodious discord, heavenly tune harsh-sounding,
Ears’ deep sweet music, and heart’s deep sore wounding!

There is no defence against Adonis’s voice other than deafness, and his voice penetrates to her heart. But it is not hearing alone that is the problem, and she continues:

"Had I no eyes but ears, my ears would love
That inward beauty and invisible;
Or were I deaf, thy outward parts would move
Each part in me that were but sensible:
Though neither eyes nor ears, to hear nor see,
Yet should I be in love by touching thee."

Venus asserts then a kind of synaesthesia, in which one sense replaces and compensates for another, but each leads to the same conclusion, that she will love Adonis. Rather than different senses giving access to different experiences or forms of knowledge, all lead to the same end: love. The problem of the location of beauty, of inside and outside, is sidestepped. With it goes the problem of which sense to use in the perception of beauty. While I have focused on the relationship between the aural and the visual, it would be wise to note the further step in Venus’s speech; from eye to ear, from ear to touch. But behind this it is also possible to render this differently; from sight to blindness, blindness to hearing, hearing to deafness, and from deafness to touch. One sense activates another, but only at the cost of its own deprivation.

23. Venus’s rhetorical display, in which she attempts to argue her way into Adonis’s affections, parallels Shakespeare’s desire to persuade and seduce the reader. Like the character within the poem, the ear of the reader is open to penetration, to another form of productive "earing." Yet again, such a penetration of the heart comes through the ear, as in Augustine, but for the reader this is enacted through the eye. Only if the text is given a voice does the reader as listener occupy the position of Adonis. From this we might argue that the text phenomenalizes the figure of the reader as listener in order to assert the figure of a speaking, lyric voice. [27] It is not, perhaps, that sound creates a wound, but that the appearance of the wound renders the voice visible. If there is a wound, then there will have been a voice. If there is a seduction, then there will have been a rhetoric of persuasion. One way of thinking about this is to reread the death of Adonis in terms of the connection between language and temporal and spatial delay. It is from a final wounding that Adonis dies, but it is only at the moment of this death that many of the former speeches are activated in their performative, prophetic dimension. For a modern reader to recognise this wound, it is necessary to look with ears, and to hear with eyes; to look both to a phenomenology of the acoustic world of the early modern period, and to the phenomenalization of "the eye and the world within speech."



I would like to thank Peter Howarth, Peter Stockwell and, particularly, Matthew Steggle for allowing me to talk to them about ears, and for letting me believe that I wasn’t entirely ridiculous for doing so. Not everyone was as generous.

1. On the critical significance of the foreign body, see Nicholas Royle, After Derrida (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1995) Ch. 7.

2. References are to Shakespeare, Julius Caesar ed. Marvin Spevack (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988).

3. References are to Shakespeare, Othello ed. Norman Sanders (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984).

4. Augustine, Confessions trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961) 24.

5. Jonathan Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare (London: Picador, 1997) 262.

6. Jacques Derrida, La voix et le phénomène (Paris: PUF, 1967) 96; Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. trans. David B. Allison (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1973) 86.

7. "Il n’y a pas de hors-texte" is, of course, to be found in several places in Derrida’s Of Grammatology, most obviously as the "axial proposition" of the section entitled (in the translation) "The Exorbitant. Question of Method." See De la grammatologie (Paris: Minuit, 1967) 227; Of Grammatology trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976) 158ff. As well as the discussions cited above, see also Derrida’s "Tympan," Margins of Philosophy. trans. Alan Bass (Sussex: Harvester P, 1982); The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation. trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Schocken Books, 1985); and "Heidegger’s Ear: Philopolemology (Geschlecht IV)." John P. Leavey, Jr., trans. Reading Heidegger: Commemorations ed. John Sallis (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1993) 163-218. The latter is a reading of Martin Heidegger’s The Principle of Reason trans. Reginald Lilly (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1991 [1996]) Lecture 6. Translation of Der Satz vom Grund (Pfullingen: Verlag Gunther Neske, 1957). For an intriguing, if less positive, reading of Derrida, see Martin Jay’s Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought. (Berkeley and London: U of California P, 1993).

8. This suggestion underpins both Bruce Smith’s The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-Factor (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1999) and Jonathan Rée’s I See a Voice: A Philosophical History of Language, Deafness and the Senses (London: Flamingo, 2000). Rée’s title is, of course, a quotation of Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I am indebted to his work for several passages in this essay. An interesting collection of essays which address some of these issues in a different manner is David Hillman and Carla Mazzio, eds. The Body in Parts: Fantasies of Corporeality in Early Modern Europe (New York and London: Routledge, 1997). I am grateful to Karen Britland for bringing this to my attention.

9. This has recently been discussed in Kaja Silverman’s World Spectators (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000).

10. Rée, 6.

11. Weimann. "Mimesis in Hamlet." Shakespeare and the Question of Theory ed. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman (London and New York: Methuen, 1985) 275-91, 276.

12. Miola, Shakespeare’s Reading, Oxford Shakespeare Topics (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000) 2-3. I do not propose to follow this line of wordplay here, but an indication of the territory can be discerned in Mahood’s Shakespeare’s Wordplay (London: Methuen, 1957), and in Patricia Parker’s recent work, including Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1996).

13. All quotations will be from the Arden editions: Hamlet ed. Harold Jenkins, Arden Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1982); "Venus and Adonis." The Poems ed. F. T. Prince, Arden Shakespeare (1960; London: Routledge, 1990).

14. Wright. "Hearing Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse." A Companion to Shakespeare ed. David Scott Kastan (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999).

15. The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics ed. Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993) 399.

16. Shakespeare, Sonnets ed. Stephen Booth (New Haven and London: Yale, 1977) 170.

17. Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass examine the heir/hair/air homonym in Macbeth in their "The Materiality of the Text," Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (1993): 255-83. See Parker, 297.

18. "Lucrece." The Poems ed. F. T. Prince, Arden Shakespeare (1960; London: Routledge, 1990). ll. 1464/6.

19. See Booth, 172.

20. Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard UP, 1999) 137.

21. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet ed. Harold Jenkins, Arden Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1982); Hamlet ed. Philip Edwards (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985); Hamlet ed. G. R. Hibbard (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987).

22. Fineman, "Shakespeare’s Ear." The Subjectivity Effect in Western Literary Tradition: Toward the Release of Shakespeare’s Will (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1991) 222-31. 231. Further citations are referenced in the text. With more space, it would be necessary to trace Fineman’s essay with much more care than I am doing here, as well as to engage with its fascinating development in Ned Lukacher’s work. See Primal Scenes: Literature, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1986); and Daemonic Figures: Shakespeare and the Question of Conscience (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1994).

23. On some of the relationships here to gender in particular, see Philippa Berry, Shakespeare’s Feminine Endings: Disfiguring death in the tragedies (London and New York: Routledge, 1999) Ch. 3.

24. This notion of the dagger thrust into the ear is also fantasised in a literal manner by Hamlet in Branagh’s film version in which, in a neat folding of the revenge plot back upon itself, we see Claudius’s ear pierced through the grille of the confessional box. Kenneth Branagh, Hamlet by William Shakespeare: Screenplay, Introduction and Film Diary (London: Chatto & Windus, 1996), 102.

25. Hamlet also returns to the matter of the senses when he speaks to Gertrude in the closet scene, attempting to find a reason for her transferral of affections from his father to his uncle (3.4.71-81).

26. For a nuanced reading of the poem in terms of visuality, see Catherine Belsey, "Love as Trompe-l’oeil: Taxonomies of Desire in Venus and Adonis." Shakespeare Quarterly 46 (1995): 257-76.

27. On the phenomenalization of the lyric voice, please permit me to refer you to Mark Robson, "Swansongs: Reading voice in the poetry of Lady Hester Pulter." English Manuscript Studies, 1100-1700 9 (2000): 238-56.

Works cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2001-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).