Love in the Time of Flies and Flea-Bites: Concepts of Sex and Romance in “Time Flies” and “The Flea” - Sex Essay Example

Love in the Time of Flies and Flea-Bites: Concepts of Sex and Romance in “Time Flies” and “The Flea”

            Sex, love, and romance have always been controversial themes for human beings - Love in the Time of Flies and Flea-Bites: Concepts of Sex and Romance in “Time Flies” and “The Flea” introduction. For one, while humans may share the biological need for sex with other species in the animal kingdom, it is not clear whether the tendency to attach emotions such as love to reproductive activities is also shared by animals. It is therefore not surprising to find literary works poking fun at romantic beliefs and standards through the use of allegories that mirror or project human behavior, attitudes, or concepts on insects and animals. This is shown, for instance, in the play “Time Flies” and in the poem “The Flea,” which tackle the intersecting themes of love and romance as mediated upon by social standards, gender, and time period.


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Playwright David Ives’ “Time Flies” is a play about mayflies May and Horace who meet at a party and upon coming in to the former’s home at the pond, discover they have just one day to live and it is up to them to discover how to live that life fully.  In the play, the characters of May and Horace are mayflies who behave and speak like two humans in the early stages of courtship: they have just met at a party and Horace decides to “fly” May back to her home where they make effort to get to know each other. While they are clearly attracted to each other, as shown by the constant temptation to kiss, the two hold back from fulfilling their apparent sexual desire for each other and engage in a prolonged exchange of seemingly trivial information. In the course of their conversations, they discover that both of their parents died at dawn, that they were born at almost the same time, and most likely are fated to suffer death at the same time. Thus, the title of the play alludes not only to the fact that time should not be wasted but is also a pun on the characters being flies racing against time. Likewise, it is a comic allegory of how human beings may act if they had the lifespan of mayflies who, unlike their human counterparts, are not burdened by the exigencies of courtship and the constraints of societal standards in romance but by the urgency of ensuring the propagation of their species.

In the same manner that Ives’ play depicts how societal expectations and codes of behavior govern the playing out of sexual relationships between the opposite sexes, Donne’s poem “The Flea” illustrates a similar theme of courtship, this time not for the pursuit of procreation and the continuation of the species, but focuses around the male aggressive behavior toward the female as he tries to convince her to have sex with him by cleverly using a flea which has bitten them both to allude to their in effect having had sex since their blood have mingled inside the flea’s body. In the ensuing scene, the woman kills the flea to counter the man’s argument and he shifts his point of argument to persuade her that giving herself to him would be as easy. Thus, the role of societal expectations on how the male and female should behave with regards to sex and romance are clear in this poem: the former plays out the aggressive role, changing tactics and employing means as necessary to get what he wants, while the latter is forced to defend her chastity from these attacks.

While Ives’ “Time Flies” echo dominant beliefs of romance precluding procreation, Donne’s poem subverts prevailing ideas of courtship and romantic love by alluding to sex as a simple “flea-bite.”  Likewise, the former shows a more modern time-frame which accounts for the active participation of its female character, May, in the build-up of sexual tension while in the latter, the object of the poet’s argumentative poem exhausts more of  her time batting off the sexual suggestions. The latter is also more straightforward in its depiction of sex as negotiated between two individuals who may or may not be in love while employs the typical elements required of romantic scenes where the mayflies are depicted to be enamoured or in love with each other as a prerequisite for sex.

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