The Marxist Hamlet
In his article "'Funeral Bak'd Meats:' Carnival and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet," Michael D. Bristol mingles Marxism and Bakhtin's notion of double discoursed textuality into an unique reading of Shakespeare's drama as a struggle between opposing economic classes. Bristol opens with a two paragraph preface on Marxism, highlighting Marx's own abnegation of Marxism: "Marx is famous for the paradoxical claim that he was not a Marxist" (Bristol 348). While he acknowledges some of the flaws inherent in Marxist criticism, Bristol uses the introductory paragraphs to assert the "enormous importance" of "the theory of class consciousness and class struggle" which Marxist theory includes (349). Having prepared readers for a discourse whose foundation lies upon "the most fundamental idea in Marxism," Bristol recasts Hamlet as a class struggle.
A strange, mutli-faceted mingling pervades Bristol's argument, and, according to his thesis the drama of Hamlet as well. According to Bristol, two contrasting texts, two opposing social worlds, flow past one another in the drama, forming a strange suspension "of grief and of festive laughter" (350). This odd juxtaposition of opposites becomes the basis for Bristol's introduction of the carnivalesque. The echoes of Carnival within Hamlet, according to Bristol, ceaselessly evolve throughout the play until they reach their most perfect representation in the grave-diggers' scene of the fifth act. Bristol assigns Carnival a function that immensely strengthens his thesis: "Carnival opens up alternative possibilities for action and helps to facilitate creativity in the social sphere" (351). Bristol's discussion of Carnival expands in order to include the theories of Bakhtin. The second world of the drama, the core of Bristol's argument, finds its impetus within Bakhtin's association of Carnival with "a second culture, outside the world of official culture and political authority. . ." (353). Explaining the grotesque attributes of the carnivalesque, Bristol applies the parallel of Carnival to the Hamlet family and to the Hamlet drama, particularly in reference to "the enjoyment of food and sexuality" (353). All humanity, despite class assignment, exhibits the capacity to reproduce itself through food and sex, which become two of Bristol's most revealing metaphoric images. The "'uncrowning' of the world of official culture, geopolitical conflict, and royal intrigue" hinges upon a recognition that all human beings participate in the commonality of death, the omission of food and sex.
Tracing the carnivalesque through the drama, beginning with the funeral-marriage of Claudius and Gertrude, Bristol reveals Hamlet's rejection of Carnival and Cladius's manipulation of a carnival atmosphere. Here, Bristol, begins to discuss the "'funeral bak'd meats . . . [which] furnish[ed] the marriage tables'"...