Dr. Kate Liu
Literary Criticism II
21 Mar. 2000
Marxist interpretations on Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, and
Shakespeare's King Lear and Macbeth.
I. Marxists' theory of ideology account for literature.
A. "Marxists explanations of literature's relationship with ideology are highly 'reductive.'"
B. For Louis Althusser, "literature gives us a sense of what it is like to exist within a particular ideology, and produces thus sense of 'lived' ideology because literary form is capable of showing us the nature of ideology with a sort of aesthetic detachment."
C. Literary forms are themselves expressions of class ideologies (154).
D. Pierre Macherey suggests that literature can "show the incoherence of ideology."
II. Defoe's Moll Flanders is considered as the expression of bourgeois ideology.
A. "Weber thesis" about the connections between capitalism and the "Protestant ethic" suggests that "Calvin's 'inward' ethical attitude, which saw the individual life as a 'labour' for a deferred end, also resembled capitalist ideology (155).
B. Defoe's identity as both an entrepreneur and a religious dissenter affects the Puritan/capitalist ideological "melange" (Moll's double perspective in her narration: her indulgence and lament of her "wicked" life.) of his novel.
C. "The incoherence and contradictions are suppressed in ideology's 'imaginary' representations"(156).
D. Moll Flanders suggests that the new and ruthless capitalists of the times resemble in their values the criminal underworld of the day.
E. The paradoxical and contradictory nature is a direct effect of the ideology Defoe produces in his text.
F. The use of retrospective narration works upon the ideological material of Puritan and entrepreneurial discourse (157).
III. Marxist reading of King Lear: An overt polemic play in favor of the ruling aristocratic group and a denunciation of the new groups.
A. History backgrounds
1. King Lear is situated at the juncture between the old feudal form and the emerging capitalist form of society."
2. The "inflation of honors" and the rising of a new group of landless noble created a new class who believed in dissent whereas the old in obedience (55).
B. King Lear is a tragedy of a transitional economy.
1. "The first scene of the play can be read as evoking a world of feudal forms and customs"(56).
2. "Cordelia's rebellion represents an attempt to reassert the appropriately aristocratic ideal of fealty. It should be a matter of recognized custom, not market exchange."
3. Cordelia's marriage suggests that in the new social system, one's value came to depend on external valuation, or "price"(57).
4. Linked to Goneril and Regan by the word "prosper," the most representative member of the new class is Edmund (58).
5. Edgar and Kent are embodiments of appropriate feudal attitudes: trust and fealty.
6. "The tragedy is as much a crisis of aristocratic privilege as it is the expression of a personal fault"(59).
C. "The ideological work of the play consists of evoking disaster and then healing it".
1. "The first step in restoration is to reaccredit the grounding of the aristocratic ideology in a cosmological or natural scheme that lends it legitimacy"(60).
2. King Lear condemns Edmund and associates him with both the new rationalism and the new prosperity while also depicts a flawed feudal society.
3. Edgar's ascension in the end represents a reinstatement of the feudal mechanism (61).
4. In "humanizing" the king, Shakespeare welds together the two contending poles of monarchical authority and individual subjectivity and expands the subjective self-reflection (62).
IV. Macbeth is a play about evil "between the violence which the state considers legitimate and that which it does not"(275).
A. History backgrounds
1. In sixteenth century Europe, the development was from Feudalism to the Absolutism State.
2. The Absolutism ideology was said to be "natural" and ordained by "God"; it was good and disruption of it "evil".
3. King James tried to protect the Absolutist State by asserting an utter distinction between "a lawful good King" and "an usurping Tyrant"(278).
4. In Buchanan's view sovereignty derives from and remains with the people; the king who exercise power against their will is a tyrant and should be deposed (281).
B. Jamesian reading of Macbeth
1. The split between legitimacy and actual power is a potential malfunction in the developing Absolutist State.
2. Macbeth's killing of Mcdonwald-"a rebel" (I. Ii. 10) can be treat as "good" violence when it is in the service of the prevailing disposition of power; however, when it disrupts them it is evil (276).
3. Macbeth's contact with supernatural powers suggests that his violence is wholly bad.
4. "Absolutist ideology declared that even tyrannical monarchs must not be resisted, yet Macbeth could hardly allowed to be triumph (280).
C. Buchananian reading of the play
1. The final position of Macduff suggests that Macbeth is a murderer and an oppressive ruler, but he is one version of the Absolutist ruler, not the polar opposite (283).
2. Macduff's killing of Macbeth suggests that the Absolutist monarch is an ideological strategy.
3. The play insists on complete divine control of all human events.
4. There may be considerable overlap between the qualities of the tyrant and the true king.
C. Macbeth allows two different interpretations.
1. The Buchanan disturbance is in the play.
2. Buchanan disturbance is a consequence of the writer's skepticism about Jamesian ideological strategies and his concern with current political issues.
3. We may assume that the Buchanan disturbance is part of the response of some among the play's initial audiences.
D. Macbeth can either be regarded as attempting to render coherent and persuasive the ideology of the Absolutist State and designed for the king (279), or to expose, rather than promote, State ideologies (289).
1. In the criticism of Moll Flanders, is the historical survey of the relationship between the author's and the text's prevailing ideologies necessarily dialectical?
2. Marxist critics make a division between the "overt" (surface) and "covert" (hidden) content of a text and then relate them together. Should all the conflicts in King Lear be considered as a tragedy of social confliction rather than a personal one?
3. Macbeth can be interpreted in two oppositional ways. Both ways to interpret the play seem to be the subversion of the other. Which way do you think it more easily to be revealed in the play?