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Transcript of Marxist Criticism:
An Analysis of Hamlet Using Marxist Theory
Ben Sheard, Hailey Parsons, Eliza Mendoza, Shebati Sengupta
An Introduction to Marxism
http://read-think-b4-u-write.blogspot.com/2012/02/marxist-literary-theory-made-easy.html (Comics 1 and 2)
http://shanna3.umwblogs.org/marx-engels/ (Marx and Engels drawing)
http://www.dvdizzy.com/images/a-c/ablblu-02.jpg (A Bug's Life 1)
http://pixartimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/A_Bugs_Life_Flik.jpg (A Bug's Life 2)
http://www.alicia-logic.com/capsimages/bl_053GoHome.jpg (A Bug's Life 3)
(Battle of Carnival and Lent)
Charles Schulz and those who post his work. (All Peanuts strips).
The History of Marxism
"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce."
What is Marxist (Literary) Criticism?
Karl Marx is considered the father of "Marxism" (early half of the 19th century, c. 1834
However, Marx did not consider himself to be a Marxist. He was a lit nerd, along with his peers.
He didn't think his thoughts could stand as a firm theory, let alone the basis for communism.
Marxism is not Communism. Communism took Marxism and tried to apply it to an imperfect world, thus, it ultimately failed. (Plus, you know, corrupt people.)
More on Marxist Theory:
There are two different distinctions between the bugs. Within the ant world, the worker ants are the proletariat. The royal line is the bourgeoisie. Flik presents the conflict of the proletariat; he's different from the other ants, an individual who rebels against the colonization of consciousness.
Within a greater scope, the grasshoppers are the bourgeois and the ants the proletariat.
The circus and the circus bugs, quite literally, represent the Carnival imagery associated with the proletariat, i.e. popular culture.
Consumerism and ambition cloud the unity between Flik and the circus bugs as the circus bugs believe that Flik is a talent agent and Flik believes that the circus bugs are warriors.
The ants and circus bugs, once divided due to class distinctions, are united by their drive against the bourgeois, the grasshoppers. Flik exposes the imperial nature of the grasshoppers, condemning them, rallying the colony for revolution (sound familiar?).
The death of the lead grasshopper, Hopper, represents a successful revolution and supposed unity among the ants and circus bugs as they united to achieve social change.
The ideologies of the story, however, may be contradictory as the gentle bourgeois of the ants is maintained. Is Flik's relationship with the new Queen (Atta) representative of progress towards positive social change or degenerative, that the proletariat cannot succeed in life without the bourgeois?
Example: A Bug's Life
Remember: capitalism, consumerism, imperialism, class distinctions... (i.e. what Marxists would condemn)
Does the work reinforce these ideologies?
Does the work critique them? (i.e. Does the work have a "Marxist agenda"?)
Does the work support Marxism while also supporting the above ideologies? Is the work ideologically conflicted?
How does the work reflect the socioeconomic conditions of the time, either of when it was written and/or the setting of the work?
How might the work be seen as a critique of religion? How does religion function in keeping character(s) from realizing and resisting socioeconomic oppression?
» the political and economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, later developed by their followers to form the basis for the theory and practice of communism.
» Central to Marxist theory is an explanation of social change in terms of economic factors, according to which the means of production provide the economic base, which influences or determines the political and ideological superstructure. Marx and Engels predicted the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the proletariat and the eventual attainment of a classless communist society
Marxism focuses on the socioeconomic classes
Economic conditions are called material circumstances and the political, social, and ideological conditions affected by these material circumstances are called historical situation.
Both the material and historical circumstances must be understood to analyze a Marxist piece
Marxist praxis (methodology) says that, “theoretical ideas can be judged to have value only in terms of their concrete applications…”)
In summary, that means praxis can only be understood in terms of their applicability to the real world
“Haves” are the bourgeoisie: control the natural, economic, and human resources. These people hold all the power.
“Have nots” are the proletariat: majority who live in standard conditions, and perform manual labor like mining, factory working, ditch digging, and railroad building
They basically do all the hard work nobody else wants to do and are inferior to the bourgeoisie
Marx thought that one day, the proletariat would finally come together and overthrow the bourgeoisie, although not many agree with him
Even More on Marxist Theory:
“What would Marxist critics say about the preceding chapter on psychoanalytic criticism?”
They would say that psychoanalysis distracts us from the “real forces that create human experience: the economic systems that structure human societies”
If a theory does not focus on the economics of human culture, they do not understand human culture.
Almost to the End...
Ideology is “the idea that all belief systems are products of cultural conditioning”
Undesirable ideologies demonstrate repressive political agendas, sexist ideology, capitalist ideology
What is the “American Dream”?
Is the “American Dream” the same for everybody?
Sometimes, even those who work hard don’t achieve the “American Dream”, so is it realistic?
What if your best is not good enough?
"Patriotism is an ideology that keeps poor people fighting wars against poor people from other countries”
“Religion…helps to keep the faithful poor satisfied with their lot in life, or at least tolerant of it, much as a tranquilizer might do”
The focus here is not religion, but what people do in the name of religion
Rugged Individualism, Consumerism
Worth-what are you getting in return? What is the worth of your object?
Are the worths equal?
Ok, just CARNIVAL now:
Carnival was basically the hot spot of pop culture, where the restraints of society could be ignored. Just imagine Mardi Gras.
Why on earth does this relate to Marxism? The proletariat! (In a more negative light)
Use of masks
In Carnival, a more equal setting, i.e. anyone can participate, anything can happen.
Carnival in Hamlet:
Play within the play
Drinking, leery Hamlet, guilty Claudius
Claudius-- well, the court-- in general
They all have masks!
Claudius as a happy, fun, hip,awesome king with good intentions
Hamlet with his grief/madness
Ophelia with aloof nature and madness
Gertrude as oh-so-innocent mother
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as friends of Hamlet
Carnival like scene with chaos, fencing for fun, and oh, yeah, the disastrous ending of everyone dying and revealing themselves
Questions a Marxist Might Ask
Examples from Hamlet
Hamlet stabs Polonius in when he discovers him hiding in on him and Gertrude’s conversation.
He stabs him and chants “How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!”(pg 102)
In this case a “rat” symbolizes a person of lower class.
When this rat intruded where he did not belong he was killed by someone of higher status
This relates to the marxist idea of staying within social boundaries and that people who desire to jump in social status become like rats where they should not belong and are eventually taken out.
Throughout the novel Polonius is seen as the egotistical figure who seeks importance and status, while coming from a rather normal background.
This is seen in the marxist world as improper and unattainable, and it led to his death.
The Death of Polonius
The Death of Ophelia
“ But long it could not be Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay To muddy death.”(pg 130-131)
In this scene Gertrude is describing the way Ophelia drowned.
Seen from a Marxist point of view “muddy death” could be a metaphor for the lower class because they are often represented as dirty and filthy.
Ophelia’s dress in this scene represents her front as an upper class woman.
The fact that her dress is the reason she drowned shows that she was no longer able to escape from her origins in lower class, that eventually led to her death.
Both her and her father represented as somewhat dirty in death, him a “rat”, and her “muddy death”, may represent both of their failures to escape the ideals of Marxism and staying in the same social class.
The Rage of Laertes
Laertes storms court demanding the return of his father to him.(pg : 120)
He comes with a whole group of proletariat’s who represent the lower class revolting against an unfair ruler and government.
Supports Marxist idea that it is inevitable that proletariat’s will overthrow the bourgeois eventually and that it is an inevitable part of society.
The unstable connections between Hamlet’s family started unease in the kingdom that led to revolt.
End of play further supports theory on replacement of government because government completely replaced.
This is only introduction of lower class in play, has significance in how little lower class should be involved in the matters of the upper class, and how everyone has their rightful place in society.
Ashes to Ashes
In the grave-diggers scene, the men declare Ophelia's burial to be occurring only because of her social class
Even after death, her social class affects the treatment she receives.
The Grand Scheme of Things
Hamlet=enlightened proletariat; wishes to change current social order, reveal bourgeois secrets, denounce imperialism under Claudius and Gertrude
Horatio/Rosencrantz & Guildenstern/others: unenlightened proletariat; unhappy, but doesn't wish for change
Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius: bourgeois; willing to sacrifice common people for their own agendas
Ophelia, Fortinbras, Laertes, King Claudius: Up to interpretation, leaning towards bourgeois with proletariat sympathies
Criticism and Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary Theory
By Terry Eagleton
Marxism and Literary Criticism
By Terry Eagleton