Initially, this Marxist critique was the most difficult paper for me to conceptualize, as I was completely unfamiliar with the methodology of Althusser or Foucault, and at a loss for how I was going to apply either of them to anything Hamlet-related. That’s when I remembered a resource we had in this class–the ability to go onto the sample portfolios and check out what past classmates had accomplished. And so I perused the Marxist papers in the sample portfolios to see if something in their work would inspire a new idea of my own. And that’s exactly what happened: one of the students in his work on Althusser made a brief reference to Fortinbras as Hamlet’s parallel within the play, and that intrigued me and finally put my gears in motion. I wanted to follow up on that reference, and expand it, as it gave me a question about the play I hadn’t previously considered, that is, “why is Fortinbras able to take the throne of Denmark so easily, when he’s in the same situation as Hamlet (in terms of being a young prince wanting revenge for their father’s murder) and Hamlet fails so abysmally?
That’s when I finally figured out how to incorporate my methodology–I would use Althusser’s idea of oppressive and ideological state apparatuses to explain how Hamlet was deterred from his murderous and political goal of taking down King Claudius by the familial, cultural, and religious binds put on him by society, allowing Fortinbras, who relies on oppressive rather than ideological means, to swoop in and steal the throne. (If you think that’s confusing, try actually reading Althusser!)
Once I decided to explore that, I set about making my outline, determined to say something unique among all this technical garble. I actually outlined my introduction last, which is strange for me, but it felt right this time, as I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say until I had thoroughly outlined my body paragraphs and figured out how the evidence for Hamlet and Fortinbras fit together and came to a conclusion. It actually felt nice not to just save a thesis for last, but to save the entire introduction for last; it didn’t pressure me into thinking about exactly what question I wanted to answer, and let me research and find evidence for my topic first. In the long run, I’m not sure it saved me much time or brain energy to do it that way, but it’s something I will consider for every essay I write in my career from here on out, as it was a much more organic way of thinking than my usual process.
Then came the meat of the essay drafting–turning the outline into a paper. For all the trouble it had caused me conceptually, actually drafting this paper came easier to me than it had all semester long, which was fantastic. Once I had decided on passages for my close readings and what I wanted to say about them, it was more a matter of hammering out words and making my ideas into sentences that sounded professional than anything else. By now, I knew what I wanted to accomplish in each of these papers (make a sophisticated and creative claim and focus upon its originality against the work of theorists and literary scholars) and I could follow the same process that had worked so well the last few papers. The Marxist critique came about smoothly, and before long, I had a decent draft–I hoped it was a sign of good planning and an understanding of my materials that made it such an easy process.
No matter what it was, I submitted my first draft for peer review and hoped for the best. The resulting peer review was helpful in letting me know my ideas and execution was on track and made sense, and I had made good use of the methodology provided to me. Most of the peer reviewer’s concerns were on a sentence level, and the two real suggestions she posed to me were the danger of referencing a second methodology in one of my paragraphs, and that although Fortinbras takes up a large portion of my introduction, he only gets one body paragraph of analysis.
For the first issue, since I had used Bristol as an argumentative source about Hamlet and not Bakhtin’s methodological source on Carnival, I decided to leave it be and see if my professor thought it was a problem. I didn’t anticipate that it was, as I wanted to employ Bristol as a way to engage in the critical conversation, and only mentioned Bakhtin as being a source of inspiration for Bristol. As for the Fortinbras issue, I was frustrated, because I really did want to write more about him, but I had already analyzed the two scenes he was in, and there wasn’t much more to say. And of course, I still wanted a large focus to be on the parallel and contrast between him and Hamlet, so I didn’t want to remove his significance just because there wasn’t as much to analyze. And so, I edited my introduction to note that Fortinbras didn’t have too much available to analyze, but he is still an important and fundamental part of what I wanted to say about Hamlet.
Hoping my professor would be on the same page as me, I turned in my second draft and waited. When I received his review, I was pleased with the praise, but a little frustrated with how many problem areas the piece still had, as well as frustrated that my own and my peer reviewer’s concerns were validated. My use of Bristol was too lengthy and not exactly taking my paper in a direction that was helpful, my use of Fortinbras was misplaced and crammed together–and my professor found a whole host of little issues I hadn’t noticed before. Some of these issues were that I was misusing Althusser by attempting to segregate his ISAs into different forces upon Hamlet instead of one ideological force, my sentences often were confusing and overstated (surprise, surprise; that’s never going to be a problem I catch on the first round of revision), and things generally were very close to gelling together, but not quite.
Since by this point I had already written the first draft of the final paper, I heavily debated whether or not to try and fix this paper up for my last presentation portfolio spot, or whether to wait until my professor had taken a look at my gender critique to decide which piece better demonstrated my effectiveness at untangling a methodological method. I ultimately figured I’d take a gamble–I was much more intrigued by the concepts I explored in my sixth essay, my gender critique, and even if that draft ended up needing more work than this social critique, I was more willing to work hard at it, since it was a topic I enjoyed instead of an economical theory I had little to no interest in. My gender critique was also more original in its claim, saying something entirely new about Hamlet instead of just filing him into the categories of Althusser’s ISAs. Plus, since both of these last two papers arguably demonstrated the exact same skill set and a very similar process, it was always going to come down to one or the other anyway.
With that, I decided to bow out of this paper, and save up my last, frazzled-by-the-upcoming-exam-week energy sources to perfect my gender methodology instead. I can’t really say whether or not it would have been worth it to go another round with this essay, but with my time constraints and excitement about my final paper, it is a choice I would make again for the sake of my portfolio as a whole.