A concept that thrives much in Neo-Marxism is the idea that ideologies are ever evolving and dynamic, not static as Marx had originally believed (Vézina et al. 34). When an ideology cannot properly subjugate the subject anymore, it changes its ways, redefining itself to serve its purpose. This concept is developed considerably in Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the relationship between Hamlet and Claudius.
Claudius can be perceived as the dominant ideology or hegemony that controls Hamlet. This mechanism of control starts with Claudius taking over as Denmark’s king and Hamlet’s step-father. The control specifically starts with Claudius convincing Hamlet to stay in Denmark. For if he stays closer, Claudius can impose his ideology and power on him much easier. Hamlet’s resistance to Claudius is obvious from the start when the only reason behind his staying is his mother’s request.
Apart from the ideology of Claudius clouding over him, Hamlet’s father’s ghost is a controlling ideology in his life as well. It seems like he is being controlled by his father and the father figures in his life (even Polonius), and we will see how these ideologies clash later on. They all control him, and monitor his moves, so much so that he starts to see Denmark as a prison; a place in which he cannot be freed from ideologies, always interpolated as Althusser explains and surveilled by them (40).
When Hamlet starts to gain awareness of how Claudius gained his power in the first place, he gets the upper hand, understanding the ideology, and he starts resisting and leaving the sphere of Claudius’s control and ideology. To counter this resistance, Claudius’s ideology redefines itself when he decides to send Hamlet to England. Despite what Claudius says, this decision is not coming from a place of worry for Hamlet’s well-being, since it is because he is agitated by this resistance, further commenting on how madness in great minds is dangerous, and should, therefore, be kept in check from afar.
Hamlet, in the process of taking revenge from Claudius, refuses to kill Claudius, losing his chance of being free from ideology once and for all. He finds Claudius praying on his knees, and thinks if he were to kill Claudius now, he would be sending him to heaven. In this case, Hamlet is being controlled by another ideology, religion. It is interesting how different ideologies in this specific scene are protecting and guarding each other.
Hamlet’s desire to leave the restraints of ideology grows more and more, and it is at its height in his well-known soliloquy in Act III. This desire leads him to resist and rebel against ideology, one of the ways of which is acting “mad”, especially with the purpose of revealing contradictions within the dominant ideology; this is where he corners Claudius and his ideology, making him feel much guilt through theater which he believes is a true mirror of nature and reality. This only makes Claudius more adamant to remove Hamlet from the narrative as he has gone too far; this time, redefining his ways again, he plots Hamlet’s murder. He manipulates Laertes to kill Hamlet while ensuring there is no way that Hamlet stays alive and outside ideology.
Claudius does not involve himself in this plan. Instead, he uses his tools, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet resists him once again when he causes the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Claudius’s plan to be the puppet master once more and murder Hamlet backfires when he causes the demise of his own wife. Hamlet, being angered, finally gives Claudius a literal taste of his own medicine in his so-called mouse trap. By killing Claudius, Hamlet is now outside of all the ideologies controlling him; he avenged his father and destroyed Claudius.
Despite this, Hamlet ends up dying at the hands of ideology, because it seems like no one can live outside the unrelenting and restraining hands of ideology. If ideology is going down, it will take you, the subject, with it. Hamlet dies, and he can only cling to the hope of his story being told one day when he asks Horatio to do so.
Althusser, Louis. Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation). ۱۹۷۱.
Vézina, Valérie, et al. Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction. PDF, 2021.