While initially reading Hamlet, before methodology was even brought into play, I was intensely curious about the nature of Hamlet’s feelings toward Ophelia. Through the play, I kept feeling as if I was supposed to come up with an answer to whether he loved or did not love her, but by the finale, I was left utterly confused since Hamlet’s actions and words toward the poor girl contradicted themselves so many times. After reading Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” and learning how methodology can be used to analyze literature, a light bulb went off inside my head, followed by two more consecutive light bulbs (it got pretty bright in my brain for a while): maybe Hamlet does love Ophelia, but he acts cruelly toward her because he is a melancholic character exhibiting sadism toward those he loves. But wait! Maybe Hamlet is just using Ophelia to gain sadistic satisfaction to cope with his melancholy, and there is not love there at all. Or–maybe both ways are valid interpretations of Hamlet’s feelings, and the reason they both are valid is because Hamlet as a sadistic melancholic would treat Ophelia the same whether he loved her or not.
That journey ultimately became the claim I explored throughout my essay. It was a strange process, as I felt as though I could proceed with my claim right away, since I already knew in my head where there was evidence for Hamlet being sadistic, and evidence for the ambiguity of his feelings toward Ophelia. Therefore, I didn’t need to plan or outline to the extent I usually did, which was a relieving, but strangely terrifying, like riding a bike without training wheels for the first time.
Luckily, I had a few other tools in my box to help me feel more stable in the initial draft–my claim in-working also reinforced an idea I’d studied in another class: John Keats’ theory of negative capability, or the ability to be comfortable with unanswered questions, an idea Keats attributes to Shakespeare that I felt was working in Hamlet. That combined with some further independent research on the critical conversation surrounding Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia gave me a bit more footing in the early stages, and subsequently allowed me to build off the idea that while scholars may not be comfortable with Hamlet’s feelings being so ambiguous, with Freud’s methodological help, I could be.
From there, I proceeded with an abridged version of my usual process: I found my evidence, pored through the methodology to make sure I was understanding exactly what Freud was saying (since a similar issue led to a pitfall in a past essay) before I plunged straight in, and planned out what I wanted to say or prove in each paragraph. Then, in lieu of a normal outline, I summarized the points of each paragraph, sentence by sentence, just to get my ideas down and look at them all laid out without having to worry about making them sound professional. That allowed me to polish those notes into a clear, organized first draft.
At that point, I was somewhat unsure of how much sense my argument actually made, but I knew that organizationally, I had done a much more efficient job than usual, which I was proud of. This led to submission for a peer review, where I learned that–yes!–my ideas seemed clear enough, and the content and evidence felt, at least to her, like it belonged. It seemed I had finally mastered the paragraph-by-paragraph organizational structure required for this kind of writing, as the advice I was given was mostly on how to rearrange ideas on a sentence level–ordering ideas differently within my paragraphs, or splitting them in two paragraphs, or rewording ideas that were hard to comprehend. This also meant that I was effectively letting my original claim be the star of the show, which was quickly becoming my main goal in all of this semester’s papers. After all, for a creative writer like me, originality is everything.
In the end, the basic structure and content of my essay was not altered at all, and I felt as if for the most part, my paper was completely ready for a mentor’s eyes. Thus, without too much work, I completed and submitted my second draft.
My mentor review left me even more optimistic than it had in my previous essay. I was told that my work was ambitious, sophisticated, and had improved in organizational and argumentative coherency from previous papers. This was great to hear, as it was a sign that I was improving as an academic writer in a visible way. My adviser especially noted the way I used methodological sources, argumentative sources, and Keats’ philosophy all in conjunction with one another. The advice I was given was a lot of sentence-level advice, and some linguistic and organizational tactics to “take with a grain of salt,” as he put it. He noted that sometimes my language was unclear when identifying melancholy vs mourning, and that I should make clear my diagnosis of Hamlet as a result of his father’s death and not stray into any other motives. He also found that my argument veered a little off course at the end, where I went into Hamlet’s ambiguity moreso than his psychoanalytical diagnosis.
Fortunately for me, these were pretty basic fixes. I took care of the problematic sentences and word usage, and rearranged my final body paragraph to make it more of a continuation to my discussion of sadism instead of a tangent on hypocrisy. These changes only took about half an hour or so, and because they were pretty minor and subjective, I once more did not feel the need to submit for further feedback before coming up with my third draft–and adding its final version to my presentation portfolio, where this draft can also be seen. As I would consider this my most successful essay, complete with critical conversation and independent research components, it absolutely had to be presented as one of my final four essays.