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Hamlet Literary Theories

By miss03 May 05, 2013 1555 Words
Psychoanalytic Criticism
According to a popular Freudian theory, children are sexually attracted to their parent of the opposite sex. Most of the time, the child ends up getting into relationships with people that are reminiscent of their parent of the opposite sex. In Hamlet, the main character, Hamlet, seems to be following this Freudian theory. When Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, remarries after Hamlet’s father’s death, Hamlet is enraged and hates his stepfather. It seems as though Hamlet does not want anyone to love his mother because he wants to love her the most. He also does not want his mother to give any attention to his new stepfather because he wants all of his mother’s love, affection and attention to be on him. This situation is brought to light especially when Hamlet says to his mother, “Good night, but go not to mine uncle's bed” (Act 3, Scene 4). Hamlet was telling his mother good night but not to go in his uncle’s (now stepfather’s) bed. According to this theory, this is because Hamlet does not want his mother to have sexual relations with his stepfather because he wants his mother’s love and affection all to himself. Many believe that Hamlet’s unnatural love for mother is what gave him the incapability to love Ophelia properly. This resulted in Ophelia killing herself because she felt that Hamlet did not love her. He treated Ophelia very poorly and acted like a fool in front of her. Hamlet’s unnatural love for his mother stopped him from loving others.

Moral Criticism
In Hamlet, revenge is a very big theme. Hamlet seeks revenge for his father’s death which is against Christian teaching. At the beginning, Hamlet’s father appears as a ghost and orders Hamlet to get revenge by killing the new King Claudius (his murderer). Hamlet had to choose between following his father’s orders and going against the Christian ways and committing a sin or to dismiss his father’s ghost’s wishes and go with the Christian ways. At the time, Christianity and religion were very important in everyone’s lives. When Ophelia died, they contemplated not burying her in a catholic graveyard because she had taken her own life which is against Christian teaching and is a sin. If Hamlet kills Claudius, he himself will go to hell for committing the sin of murder. If he doesn’t, he risks his father going to hell. When Hamlet says, “This conscience does make cowards of us all, with the pale cast of thought, the enterprises of great pitch and moment with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action”, he is contemplating whether to kill or not to kill King Claudius. This shows that Hamlet does have a moral conscience and he knows that it is morally incorrect to kill someone. Although his conscience tries to convince him not to, Hamlet plots the murder of King Claudius but ends up killing Laertes’s father and Polonius. In the final scene, he finally kills King Claudius as well. This shows that although everyone may have a conscience; we may not listen to it and commit sins nevertheless.

Feminist Criticism
For hundreds of years, women have been treated poorly and have felt like they were less important than men. Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” portrays this problem in a perfect way. You see how the main character, Hamlet, treats his mother, Gertrude, and his love interest, Ophelia. Hamlet is very aggressive to his mother. At on point, he takes her to a private room to scold her. It’s like as if he was her parent instead of the other way around. In regards to Ophelia, Hamlet treats her very poorly. He often ignores her and at one point even acted insane around her. She felt that he does not love her and ended up killing herself. When hamlet says,” If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry. Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go. Farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell.” (Act3, Scene 1) he was telling Ophelia that she might as well be a nun because no man will marry her because they know what kind of monster she will turn them into. When he says that, he really hurt her feelings. She ended up killing herself because she felt that Hamlet did not truly lover her when he did indeed but failed to show that. Typically, Ophelia plays the role of the damsel in distress that needs someone to love her and pay attention to her. When hamlet failed to do so, she killed herself. At the same time, Gertrude plays the typical role of woman of power with no power. Although she is the queen, she has no say in who she marries or what happens in her own kingdom. She is there for no reason; she is useless. All in all, hamlet is a very anti-feminist play that portrays how women were treated during that time period.

Marxism Theory
One of the longest standing struggles that is still present nowadays is class struggle; the difference between the rich and poor to be exact. The Marxist criticism looks at class differences and how it affects everyone. In Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”, there is a constant class struggle. Not only between the characters, but also with the way the play was written to appeal to certain audiences. First off, Polonius treats Hamlet differently because he is of a higher class. Polonius even forced his sister to stop her relationship with Hamlet because he thought it would never work out because Hamlet is of a higher class. At the same time, Hamlet himself does not treat people differently because of their social class. He treats Rosencrantz and Guildenstern like any other person, even though they are of a lower class than he is. Hamlet even treats his mother badly which also goes against class structure. She is a queen and she is supposed to be treated with upmost respect but Hamlet does not seem to care. Even Hamlet’s friend Horatio tries to follow the class structure. When Horatio says, “The same my lord, and your poor servant ever” (Act 1, Scene 2), that shows that although Horatio and Hamlet are friends, he still considers himself Hamlet’s servant just because Hamlet is a prince and he is of a higher class. All the characters try to follow the class structure quota except for Hamlet. Looking at the way the play is written, Shakespeare set it up so that when peasant characters speak, their choice of words appeals to the peasants who are watching the plays. Also, when a member of a higher class is speaking, it is meant to appeal to people of higher class who are watching and peasants wouldn’t be able to understand a lot of the terminology. Shakespeare also made his play a certain way so that members of higher classes would speak in verse and the members of lower classes would speak in prose. Shakespeare is obviously for class separation and it is evident in this play precisely. Gender Roles

Gender roles are very controversial topics that have been around for centuries. Since hundreds of years ago, women were generally the people that stayed at home and looked after kids while the men would go out and make the income to support their families. These roles are still around currently but we are slowly moving on to equality between men and women. In Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”, the main characters have their gender roles that they stick to. The main character, Hamlet, is a very harsh, and angry man who suits the typical male role perfectly. He is dominant and he even treats his mother and love interest poorly which asserts his manhood. His stepfather carries similar traits of ambition and power. His stepfather is also the new king so his manly character traits suit the job well. On the other hand, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is a very superficial and pathetic woman which was the typical role of a woman at the time. Women were supposed to be weak and frail which caused the men to dominate the women. Gertrude had no say in who she got married to which is unfair to her especially because she is the queen and deserves to have even the slightest bit of power over her own life; but she does not. At that time, women were also supposed to seek the affection of men which is exactly where Ophelia fits in the play. Ophelia is Hamlet’s love interest in the play and she is desperate for Hamlet’s love. She plays the typical gender role of damsel in distress who needs love and attention from the man she loves. When Hamlet ignores her and acts insane around her, she realizes that he does not love her and ends up killing herself. Hamlet did in fact love her but failed to show her because it would create a soft spot that would make him less manly. Gender roles in this play were a big part of the characters’ lives and how they lived them out.

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