The start of this paper was essentially the end of the semester–I was winded, defeated, and ready to be done. However, I didn’t want this to show in my portfolio; I still wanted to write one final, creatively-thought-through essay I was proud of. In the post-structural critique category, we took a look at both gender critique and something called deconstruction (which, in the case of Roland Barthes, deals with the infinite uses of language and the necessary removal of consideration for the author when analyzing their work). Thankfully, while I didn’t much understand or care for Barthes’ deconstruction, I already knew a lot about gender theory, and so reading Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble was easy for me to make sense of, and easy for me to wrap my head around. In fact, I was already very familiar with her proposed deconstruction of the unnecessary gender binary created by society.
Thus, it was no stretch at all to see how Butler’s ideas of gender applied to Hamlet, since Hamlet himself often acts outside of the expected “male” identity, which I noticed resulted in frequent attacks on the “womanly” sexuality of Ophelia and Gertrude. I was sure there was a link there, and so I kept digging around in the play and in my brain until I decided to explore a possible solution that I thought was pretty unique–that Hamlet, after being criticized for his vulnerability in mourning for his dead father, seeks to reestablish that he is a “man” by exposing the “woman-ness” of Gertrude and Ophelia, effectively separating himself from them. I found it sad that Hamlet’s society is so convinced men are worth more than women to the point where men feel the need to validate themselves by putting down the femininity in and around them, but I thought the claim had more than enough ground to stand on.
Planning this essay was a little strange–I had used a lot of the same scenes before, but I was re-purposing them and looking at them through an entirely different lens. I suppose that is the inevitable effect of three methodology papers in a row. But since Butler’s methodology seemed to deal with psychology as well as post-structural theory, I often got a little confused when outlining, realizing I was oftentimes trying to psychoanalyze Hamlet again, which was only part of what I wanted to do. It didn’t help that I wanted to bring in Janet Adelman’s psychoanalysis of Hamlet in relation to Gertrude as a way to contribute to scholarly conversation–I mean, obviously, it was helpful in developing my ideas, but it sometimes made me feel as though I was working on my fourth paper all over again. Perhaps not a bad thing, but it shook me a bit in the beginning.
But no matter what, I made sure that my analysis was rooted in gender theory before everything else. After getting over my psychological problems (pun intended), I actually sped through the initial outlining and drafting process, just wanting to be done–not my brightest moment in theory, but at this point in the semester, I had a methodology process that worked well for me and I knew I could get it done quickly and with a decent amount of clarity. My organization of scenes was pretty straightforward and grouped into a “Gertrude” section and an “Ophelia” section, my tools made sense to me, and before long, I was chugging away at the text to prove how Hamlet couldn’t reach his own goal of being seen as a “man,” so he attempted to make his masculinity more believable in his eyes–unfortunately, by tearing down the women around him.
In hindsight, this paper probably wasn’t my best work, since I was mentally exhausted, but it had come out smoothly and I felt relatively comfortable with it at the end of the first draft nevertheless. I knew there were many more directions I could have taken it, which had me feeling uncertain, but I reminded myself I didn’t have to tackle everything all at once, so long as I focused on one bright, original claim. This paper already felt better than my Marxist critique anyway, and since both of those papers used mostly the same process and the same skill set, I felt as if I had improved my grasp of the methodological world.
I even went back a week or so after my first draft (yeah, I get my papers done way too early, I know) and made some extra edits to this one on a sentence level, since I knew my last essay had gotten a lot of comment on how unnecessarily dense my prose and sentence structure is. So, I went through this one and tried to untangle the language so that it made more sense and projected my claim more clearly, and after doing that, I already felt better. I know my complicated diction will always remain a problem for me, but for my last paper, I really wanted to clear some of that up before the reviewing stages.
With that, I had my first draft ready to go, and I charged into the final stages hoping I had hit the home stretch of this class. My peer review went extraordinarily well, as my peer believed my content all made sense and my passages were chosen well. She did suggest that I consider the other male perspectives of gender in the play, especially in relation to Gertrude and Ophelia–I thought it was an awesome idea in theory, but my paper already felt pretty long and complex and I didn’t want to complicate my ideas further. My peer also gave me a few notes on my language usage (surprise, surprise) and advised me further to tone down my vocabulary and sentence length. It’s just not in my nature to write simply, I guess! But I tried to wrangle my sentences even further for my next draft, going back through my paper two or three more times and fixing complicated language and confusions to allow my argument to better shine through.
Hopefully, I thought, my paper made even more sense after that–it still felt like I was missing something, but I was hoping my professor might be able to help me figure that out so that I could turn this paper into something portfolio-worthy. With one last victory dance, for I was submitting my final paper to grade, my second draft was complete.
Thankfully, my extra revising on the first and second drafts paid off, and my professor in his review finally left out the one criticism I had been getting from day one–at last, my work wasn’t too complicated or wordy, and he only found one sentence that needed to be reworked! Maybe it wasn’t a victory on the skills we had been learning about methodology, but it was still a victory for me nonetheless. I knew going into this round of drafting that there wouldn’t be time to submit for another set of comments from him, as there were very few class days left in the semester, so I was pleased when this essay didn’t seem to have run into any major troubles.
However, my professor did manage to hit the nail on the head and figure out what I was missing, at least in my opinion: he suggested I not only consider Hamlet’s actions according to Judith Butler’s gender methodology, but how that affects his moral position. After all, Butler’s entire point is that disrupting traditional gender roles is a good thing–and so if Hamlet goes out of his way to keep them in place, does that make him an oppressor refusing to let harmful gender roles die, a victim of gendered expectations for men, or a fool for subscribing to the fiction of the gender binary in the first place? Adding an analysis of that question into my close readings (my answer being “all of the above”) gave my paper the extra fervor it needed, and I was incredibly grateful for the suggestion.
It was also noted to me that my discussion of Janet Adelman was a little too drawn-out and framed as being very similar to the point I was making, and so I made sure in my revisions to correct that. This resulted in me removing Adelman’s individual paragraph and instead mentioning her in passing as a way to introduce Butler. My professor’s last piece of advice was to consider how gendered behavior is often reinforced and surveilled by other men in the play, and to perhaps bring in Polonius and Laertes and how they dictate others’ gendered behavior, namely Ophelia’s. I could definitely see how that would make for an interesting sub-claim and benefit me in my use of Butler’s methodology, but I really wanted this essay to focus on the effects of the gendered society on Hamlet specifically–how his actions and self-perception are influenced by the fabricated gender binary. Bringing in Polonius and Laertes would add another long section to the essay that might distract from the point I was trying to make about Hamlet, even if it would offer a look at the play’s gender politics on a larger scale. I think, if I were writing a slightly different essay less focused on Hamlet’s own gender insecurities and place in the gender culture, I would love to explore Polonius and Laertes in relation to Butler, but it didn’t feel right to me for this one.
Either way, for my third draft, I clarified some of my ideas, offered insight into Hamlet’s position as both oppressor and victim, and was pleased at how much more well-crafted my paper seemed in light of my peer’s and professor’s advice. Since I was so interested in this topic to begin with, revising it felt much more natural than it would have if I would have attempted to revise my Marxist essay. It also felt like more of an original social commentary that could be applicable outside of Hamlet and Hamlet, which made me more excited to have an audience for it. Therefore, it was this gender critique that I decided deserved the last spot in my presentation portfolio, where it can also be found. In my opinion, this paper was the perfect way to finish up a long and rewarding series of processes.