Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan (1923-1964) is often credited for saying, “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.” It’s not known when Behan said this, but television talk show host Jack Paar (1918-2004) wrote in 1961 that “I agreed with Brendan Behan, who told me a critic is like a eunuch in a harem—he’s in the midst of something exciting but he can take no part in it.” American director Eilia Kazan (1909-2003) called critics “eunuchs in a harem” in 1963, borrowing from Behan. American director Mike Nichols responded to critics of this film The Graduate and said in 1968, “Critics are like eunuchs watching a gangbang.”
Critics have long been compared to eunuchs, much before Brendan Behan. “Critics are the eunuchs who guard the harem of knowledge” was cited in 1856. “Critics are the eunuchs that guard the temple of the Muses” was said in 1896 to be from English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). “The Theatre ts like a Turkish seraglio; the critics are the eunuchs” was said in 1916 to be from Irish dramatist George Farquhar (1677-1707). American author Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) wrote in a 1925 letter, “God knows people who are paid to have attitudes toward things, professional critics, make me sick; camp following eunuchs of literature.”
Wikiquote: Brendan Behan
Brendan Francis Behan (9 February 1923 - 20 March 1964) was an Irish poet, short story writer, novelist and playwright who wrote in both Irish and English.
Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.
. As quoted in The Cynic’s Lexicon : A Dictionary of Amoral Advice (1984), by Jonathon Green, p. 20
Art and Nature at Home and Abroad
By George Walter Thornbury
London: Hurst and Blackett
Critics are the eunuchs who guard the harem of knowledge, they are the dragons of the Hesperides who watch the apple they may not eat, they surround Parnassus like so many bull terriers round a bean stack when the ferret has gone in and the rats are coming out, they are the geese who are always cackling that the Capitol is in danger, they are like wreckers, for they live on the spoils of noble vessels gone to pieces, and secretly pray for such calamities, they are learning’s nurses and get their living by laying out decently, in certain tinselly finery, dead authors.
April 1896, The Edinburgh Review, “English Letter-writing in the Nineteenth Century,” pg. 313:
And he (Coleridge—ed.) touches delicately upon the negative or barren side of the critical mind in his observation that the critics are the eunuchs that guard the temple of the Muses.
29 October 1916, New York (NY) Times, “Similes of the Stage” by Frank G. Wilstach, Society section, pg. X7:
George Farquhar, the wise and witty, proclaimed; “The Theatre ts like a Turkish seraglio; the critics are the eunuchs.”
American Cultural Criticism, Expatriate Variety
By Warren Susman
Dissertation: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Wisconsin--Madison
These American critics were lambasted in no uncertain terms, and it was in this review that Hemingway suggested that “critics are the eunuchs of literature.”
My Saber Is Bent
By Jack Paar
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
Time was when I agreed with Brendan Behan, who told me a critic is like a eunuch in a harem— he’s in the midst of something exciting but he can take no part in it.
25 April 1963, Boston (MA) Record American, Walter Winchell column, pg. 26, col. 1:
Then there’s Elia Kazan’s blast at drama critics (he called them eunuchs in a harem, etc.) just when Lincoln Center’s theater submits its first opus which is soon.
The Arrangement; a novel
By Elia Kazan
New York, NY: Stein and Day
That’s why she has to put down anything anyone accomplishes. It’s so easy to sneer. This is the age of the critics. Eunuchs in a harem. Thank you, Brendan Behan. Now there was a man!
18 February 1968, New York (NY) Times, “Who’s Afraid Of the Undergraduate?” by Leslie Aldridge, pg. D15:
Here are some of the things Nichols told them:
CRITICS: “Critics are like eunuchs watching a gangbang. They must truly be ignored. To be a literary critic or music critic you need some education. To be a film critic you need nothing, except ,to get into the movie.”
(Mike Nichols, director of the movie The Graduate—ed.)
22 October 1968, St. Albans (VT) Daily Messenger, “Everywhere” by Walter Winchell, pg. 3, col. 1:
Shubert Alley Sallies: Showmen who quarrel with critics are reminded what Ken Williams said about them. “Critics are like eunuchs. They know how it is done, they watch people doing it every night, but they can’t do it themselves.”
Being the Autobiography of Lady Gregory
By Lady Gregory
New York, NY: Macmillan
“Speaking of critics, he quoted a sentence from Coleridge, ‘Critics are the eunuchs at the door of the temples of the gods’.”
Criticizing the Critics
By John English
New York, NY: Hastings House
“Critics are the eunuchs of art; they talk about what they cannot do,” wrote Russian pianist Vladimir de Pachmann. Martin Bernheimer, chief music critic of the Los Angeles Times, is quick with a hoary rejoinder, “You don’t have to be able to lay an egg to know if you’ve been served a rotten one.”
Google News Archive
21 March 1981, The News and Courier (Charleston, SC), “Quotes From The Quotable” by Bob Talbert, pg. 24-D, col. 3:
ANTHONY NEWLEY, Criticizing critics on Mike Douglas’ show: “Critics are like eunuchs in a Harem. They know where it’s done and how it’s done, but they don’t know how to do it themselves.”
The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations
By Robert Andrews
New York, NY: Columbia University Press
God knows people who are paid to have attitudes toward things, professional critics, make me sick; camp following eunuchs of literature. They won’t even whore. They’re all virtuous and sterile. And how well meaning and high minded. But they’re all camp followers.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY (1899-1961), U.S. author. Letter. 23 May 1925, to Sherwood Anderson (published in Selected Letters, ed. by Carlos Baker, 1981).
The Quotable A**hole:
More than 1,200 Bitter Barbs, Cutting Comments, and Caustic Comebacks for Aspiring and Armchair A**holes Alike
By Eric Grzymkowski
Avon, MA: Adams Media
Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves. —Brendan Behan, Irish author