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Summary: Marxist Theory and Social Class Theory Through the Hamlet Play

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In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, He is the Prince of Denmark but does not act entirely like a superior to those around him. Hamlet’s best friend, Horatio, is not directly referred to having any position and while his love interest, Ophelia, a daughter of a lord, is still distinctly lower class to Hamlet. Despite the class difference, Hamlet sees these people as peers rather than talking down to them. The idea of preying on a lower class, wanting to be treated equal and the same, and lastly Hamlet is repressed along with the lower-class by societal structures reflects Marxist theory and social class theory.

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To start, Marxist theory is shown by Claudius heavily preying on the lower class. Marx believed social relations were directly affected by society’s relation to material objects. The relation may not be entirely clear, but fetishes of money are fictional values that work to mask social inequalities. Marx explicitly is demonstrating a division between the human thoughts and the products that they create. The way I see this being important in Hamlet is that each character has a unique identity, but particular characters such as Claudius overlook those around him by leveraging his physical commodities.

In this quote shows The commodities that the upper-class or people of power in Hamlet demonstrate directly prey on of those below them. Claudius clearly speaks about the lower class as below him and does respect their leniency with Hamlet. The obvious gap here is also interesting as the public is siding with Hamlet, who would likely be considered to be of the upper class, preying on those below him. Claudius speaks on his frustration regarding the common people siding with Laertes, showing his continued disregard for the opinion of the masses. These are examples of how Claudius uses his position of power to control the masses as he attempts to strategically use these opinions to prey on people in lower classes.

Second, the idea that Hamlet is just trying to be treated equally is easily shown through Marxist theory. Marx further develops his thoughts on commodities of production, seeing clear divisions economically in society.In this quote, Hamlet makes a direct point to reinforce Horatio as his equal. As prince of Denmark, Hamlet does not need to do this, but he seems to wholeheartedly want to be treated on a similar level with a lower-class. While Horatio is by no means of extreme poverty or anything of the sort, he still clearly is not royalty. Shakespeare makes a point not to define any position for him or give the background that demonstrates him to be upper-class. This being considered, Hamlet still cannot fully express the feelings of people below him in class as his upbringing never fully allows him to embrace a lower-class identity. Hamlet just wants to be seen as equal, which he shows through not fully understanding and realizing his class, which is why he believes he is equal even having power.

Lastly, Louis Althusser provides additional ideas in Marxist theory that explain how Hamlet is repressed along with the lower-class by societal structures. Althusser’s RSAs and ISAs are essential in framing Hamlet’s repression.ISAs organically form in societies as material institutions that support rituals and practices to keep society in line.

This quote Claudius is a product of his own history and continues to hold a position of power that allows him to control those around him.Claudius frames his shipping off of Hamlet in a slightly positive manner, but ultimately this devolves into a murder plot. While he claims that he ships Hamlet in order to keep him safe from persecution, he is doing so primarily because he does not want Hamlet to hurt his image. ISAs are naturally a bit more subtle, but also important to understand the societal dynamics of Hamlet. No scene embodies several of these ISAs more clearly than Ophelia’s burial, which is an ISA in itself. Hamlet shows a bit of disregard for the gravediggers saying, “Why does he suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel and will not tell him of his action of battery?”. While Hamlet talks down to these men, he is a product of the subtle class division that he does not actively enforce. Another ISA in this scene is burial in the context of Christianity. The gravediggers laugh at the thought that if they had killed themselves they would not receive a proper burial and even the priest objects to it. Hamlet does not understand this either. While Hamlet continues to associate and speak to the people around him as peers, ISAs and RSAs ensure that Hamlet never stoops below his designated class.

Marxist theory and social class theory are shown through The idea of preying off a lower class, Wanting to be treated equal and the same, and lastly, Hamlet is repressed along with the lower-class. Hamlet both reinforces many examples of Marxist theory but also challenges the reader to look deeper into how Hamlet acts unexpectedly. 

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