Academic journal article Mythlore

"Enough about Whores": Sexual Characterization in a Song of Ice and Fire

Academic journal article Mythlore

"Enough about Whores": Sexual Characterization in a Song of Ice and Fire

Article excerpt

UPON ARRIVING IN KING'S LANDING in George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thornes, Eddard Stark faces an immediate headache. He must organize the Tournament of the Hand, an extravagance that strains the finances of the realm and the civil order of the capital. But, notes Petyr Baylish,

"Every inn in the city is full, and the whores are walking bow-legged and jingling with every step."

Lord Renly laughed. "We're fortunate my brother Stannis is not with us. Remember the time he proposed to outlaw brothels? The king asked him if perhaps he'd like to outlaw eating, shitting and breathing while he was at it. If truth be told, I of times wonder how Stannis got that ugly daughter of his. He goes to his marriage bed like a man marching to a battlefield, with a grim look in his eyes and a determination to do his duty." (A Game of Thrones [Game] 265)

The council laughs, except Stark, who concludes the meeting by wearily noting "I have heard quite enough about whores for one day" (266). Even at this early stage of Martin's story, readers could be forgiven for agreeing with him. References to sex, commercialised and otherwise, are an incessant feature of the text. Stannis in fact gets off rather lightly in terms of discussion of his sex life. Renly's is the basis of an entire subplot and almost everybody else has their sexual mores bared, at least briefly, for the reader's consideration. Even seven-year-old Bran Stark's innocence is signalled by his confused observation of Queen Cersei's infidelity (80). Other children are more precocious, something Cersei refuses to grasp:

"My son is too young to care about such things."

"You think so?" asked Tyrion. "He's thirteen, Cersei. The same age at which I married."

"You shamed us all with that sorry episode. Joffrey is made of finer stuff."

"So fine he had Ser Boros rip off Sansa's gown."

"He was angry with the girl."

"He was angry with the cook's boy who spilled the soup last night as well, but he didn't strip him naked."

"This was not a matter of some spilled soup--"

No, it was a matter of some pretty teats. (A Clash of Kings [Clash] 480)

Tyrion Lannister keeps the observation to himself, but he is only a focalizer for Martin's heterodiegetic narrative voice (Napolitano 36). This allows Martin to show him appreciating that his thirteen-year-old nephew is abusing his authority to satisfy his emerging curiosity about the female form--and also to remind readers that such insight stems partly from the Imp's own partiality to 'pretty teats.' The fact that Martin's subcreation includes an accepted slang term for the objectified female breast demonstrates that this focus on sex is entirely deliberate.

Such discourse has naturally attracted attention, particularly as it has found its way into the television adaptation. Shortly after the premiere of Game of Thrones, reviewer Myles McNutt coined the term sexposition to describe the supposed practice of the show's writers sweetening the pill of expository dialogue by pairing it with sexual imagery. Indeed the idea that this discourse is a marketing exercise, a gratuitous sop to unsophisticated audiences, is very much part of the reception of the series (Frankel 7-8). Entertainment Weekly has quoted Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, joking that the show's opening music should be embellished with a lyrical refrain: "Death and boobies, death and boobies, death and boobies." As the show's success has invigorated interest in Martin's books, his sexual discourse has become a focus of scholarly attention as well. Commenting on the prevalence of rape, incest, and martial abuse in this tale, Rosenberg has observed that Westerosi sex serves as a sort of moral litmus test--"it's sexual misconduct that signifies monstrosity" (17).

The purpose of this article is to use literary theory to demonstrate the extent and purpose of the theme Rosenberg identifies. …

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