Marxist/New Historicist Critique

For the fifth essay, we had the choice of using Marxist or New Historicist critique to analyze the social structures in Hamlet; both of these theories examine the role literature plays in the creation and maintenance of oppressive societal structures.

Marxism and Foucauldian critique kind of messed me up a little, because they both almost state that your actions aren’t really your own; either people are watching you so you behave as they expect you to or you behave in ways that benefit oppressive societal structures because of your beliefs. I found both of these theories rather hard to process, but I was more confident about Marxist theory, so it seemed like the obvious choice to analyze Hamlet. Using Marxist theory and Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” I was able to see why characters in the play react so strangely to suicide and death.

Althusser’s work helped me to understand that ideological state apparatuses function through ideology, while repressive state apparatuses function through violence, but both keep the unequal social order in place. Essentially, Althusser argues that your beliefs help to keep people oppressed, which is really sad to think about.

I was interested in religion’s influence on the characters’ behaviors, especially concerning death and the afterlife. I did create an outline, but it is rather brief compared to the previous two outlines. This was a basis for my first draft.

After the first draft, my essay was peer reviewed, which led me to my second draft to be submitted for grading. Then, I received feedback from my professor.

From these comments, I added in the concept of “interpellation” to enhance my reading of Hamlet and its social structures, in addition to making my close readings more concise in my third draft.

We once again had another opportunity to have a peer look at our essay, providing more feedback. From this feedback, I was able to elaborate more on Althusser and clarify the connection between my close readings and the thesis, leading to my fourth draft.

With this unit, I learned more from the theory than from actually writing. What we do sometimes benefits oppressive societal structures. Now I am more aware of how my actions do that. I am not sure if it is better to know, of if ignorance truly is bliss, but at least I can use this theory to analyze Hamlet, right? We’ll go with that.

A more detailed explanation of this essay can be found here.