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Goldman, 1
Emma Goldman
Mr. Silver
9. Aug. 2021
Unit 4 Activity 3 Marxist Analysis
A Marxist analysis of Hamlet Act 4 Scene 3 emphasizes the characters’ preoccupation
with maintaining and, on occasion, increasing their social status and political power. The story is
told solely from the perspective of the upper class. When the play is set, Demark is ruled by an
elective monarchy (York Notes); hence, power remains tied to the throne. Before he killed the
previous King and married Queen Gertrude, Claudius had less political might than his brother
the King. Once in possession of the throne, Claudius does everything he can to retain it.
Evidence of his power can be seen, for example, in his ability to command Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern as well as Hamlet. When the scene opens, for example, Claudius is receiving
information from them; owing to his power and their desire for upward social mobility, they
happily do his bidding, and spy on their erstwhile friend, Hamlet. Claudius again displays his
power when he states that Hamlet will be sent to England; the latter obeys without question.
Finally, at the end of the scene, Claudius likewise underscores the power he accrues as King of
Denmark when he comments on the fact that England will agree to kill Hamlet when he arrives
because, at the time, England was a vassal state.
Power likewise informs Claudius’s fear of killing Hamlet himself; he recognizes that his
nephew is “loved by the distracted multitude” (4.3.220). Although power rests with the throne, in
an elected monarchy, in contrast to a hereditary monarchy, the proletariat can play a role in who
assumes the throne; thus, the lower class is not entirely ignored or devalued. Desperate to
Goldman, 2
maintain good relations with his subjects--what Marx would have termed “the proletariat,”
(Dino) Claudius ensures that someone else will murder his rival for the people’s affection. As the
son of the former King and step-son of the reigning King, Claudius, Hamlet also enjoys
tremendous power. Although he conceals Polonius’s body, he does not hide the fact that he
murdered him, likely because he knows that as the Prince of Denmark, he is virtually
Hamlet wittingly or unwittingly (depending whether one views him as sane or mad) tries
to overcome his uncle’s power over him by taunting Claudius about the limits of human power.
He insists that humans, even kings, are food for worms:“We fat ourselves for maggots,” and he
explicitly invokes the inevitable loss of kingly power when he goes on to state, “Your fat kind
and your lean beggar is but variable service--two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end”
(4.3.222). In essence, he forces Claudius to realize that death is a great leveler and when humans
lie in the grave, they are no longer powerful subjects, but, instead, objects to be consumed by
insects. Despite Hamlet’s verbal attacks on Claudies, the play does not question the distribution
of power.
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Works Cited
Felluga, Dino. "Terms Used by Marxism." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Date of last
update, which you can find on the home page. Purdue U. Date you accessed the site.
Publishing, Balberry. “Hamlet: As &amp; a2 York Notes.” Themes Politics and Power Hamlet:
AS &amp; A2,
Shakespeare, William, and John C. Crowther. No Fear Shakespeare: Hamlet. SparkNotes, 2003.