Archetypal Criticism





Archetypal Criticism

Archetypal criticism examines similarities between symbols, characters, behavior or images that are universal among different cultures. An archetype is a distinctive example of a person, an action, or any other thing. The study of archetypical criticism in works of literature provokes profound reaction from the reader as they can see that there exist many similarities among people from diverse cultures and backgrounds (Brizee et al). To explore this theory, this paper shall examine the renowned tragic play of ‘Hamlet’ as well as the film

Hamlet is a play that revolves around a young man by the same name. His mother is Queen Gertrude who is married to the current King of Denmark, Claudius. Hamlet father is the previous king who died before Claudius took over. The interesting thing is that Claudius not only took over his brother’s kingdom but also went ahead to marry the dead man’s wife. Hamlet is livid at this state of affairs and he is determined to find out exactly who killed his father. He thinks that King Claudius had a hand in the death, and that the Queen might have aided him in the devious plot (Jing 469). Hamlet embarks on a journey to find his father’s killer throughout the play. He devises a plan to make his mother admit to her guilt in all this.

Hamlet is an archetypal character for many reasons. First, he seeks revenge for the wrongful death of his father. He is the hero out to avenge his father and mete out a similar punishment on the man who killed him. At the beginning of the play, the late king’s ghost appears to Hamlet. It is normal for a child to feel angry when their parent is killed, especially when a member of their family is responsible. They will usually stop at nothing to prove this. The play follows Hamlet’s effort to find proof of King Claudius involvement in his brother’s death.

While Hamlet is seen as the hero in the story, King Claudius can be described to be the villain. King Claudius is an archetype that is found in most stories. From Hamlet’s convictions, the reader is led to believe that Claudius killed his late brother in order to take over the kingdom and become king himself. Claudius even went ahead to marry his brother’s wife which many consider to be incestuous. Hamlet is furious with his mother for getting into Claudius’ bed even before his father’s body is cold in its grave. Claudius is angry with Hamlet and seeks ways to destroy him.

Queen Gertrude is another archetypal character in the play. She appears to be a helpless woman who is only interested in maintaining the status quo (Butterworth 429). She is happy to remain queen and this makes her blind to the faults of her current husband. She does not pause to think that her husband may have killed his brother to take over his kingdom as well as his family. Queen Gertrude helps us to understand Hamlet’s frustrations and anger towards his mother whom he sees to have betrayed his dead father in her incestuous marriage.

An archetypal situation that can be seen in ‘Hamlet’ is the death of Hamlet’s father and consequent taking of over of Claudius. This is a common occurrence in some cultures where when a man dies, his family especially brothers step in to make sure that the late man’s father is well taken care of. They step in to make sure that the children do not lack a father figure. King Claudius however may have taken this too far by marrying his late brother’s wife. Many would consider this an act of incest. Hamlet detests his uncle. The marriage is one of the many reasons that hamlet is enraged with his mother. This situation gives insight into what motivates Hamlet in his convictions that Claudius killed his father and his resulting efforts to prove this.

A second archetypal situation in the play ‘Hamlet’ is Queen Gertrude’s marriage to King Claudius. Gertrude is made out to be a meek and submissive wife who does not like to think too critically of issues. Claudius asks her to find out the cause of Hamlet’s anger and she does not stop for a moment to think that his father’s death is the cause. Hamlet never had the chance to grieve before his mother went ahead to marry his uncle. Gertrude appears to be only concerned with her wellbeing and gives in to her husband’s every demand without question.

There are also archetypal symbols in the play. The first of this is the appearance of the ghost of the dead King to Hamlet. This is a sign of the difficult times that are to come for Hamlet and also for the Kingdom of Denmark. The ghost appears during foggy and frigid weather which is also another symbol. It shows that Hamlet’s feelings about is father’s death are hazy and the circumstances surrounding the King’s death are quite unclear. This helps the reader to understand the turmoil that Hamlet finds himself in after his father dies. Ophelia distributed flowers to strangers after her father is murdered by Hamlet (Butterworth 429). The flowers are an archetypal symbol that indicates the difficult time she is going through; they are a sign of remembrance for her father.

The film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ has been rated as one of the best movies of all time. The movie makes for an enthralling and absorbing watch. It is the story of Andy Dufresne, a man convicted of killing his wife and her lover. He protests that he is innocent but he is sentenced to a jail term as evidence points in his direction. In prison, he meets an inmate known as Red who will turn out to be his friend and mentor. The film follows Andy’s time in prison to his surprising escape. The film contains archetypal characters, situations and symbols.

The first and most obvious archetypal character in the film is Andy Dufresne. Andy was a high ranking banker at a relatively young age and married to a lovely woman. He film opens with Andy on trial for the murder of his wife and lover. Andy is a scorned man whose wife had scorned and shamed him. He killed her and her lover in revenge. Watching the trial, it is quite possible that he was the killer but the audience can relate to Andy’s actions. Andy persevered through his stay in prison and becomes the warden’s personal advisor (Taskinen). The warden was involved in money laundering scheme and Andy helped him hide the money when in reality Andy hid the money even from the warden himself. Andy is a perfect picture of making the best out of dire circumstances. He spent years digging a tunnel through which he would escape and persisted through many other hardships in prison. Andy’s character is the backbone of the film’s storyline which follows his time in prison and eventual escape.

Red was one of the inmates in Shawshank prison. Red was a mentor to many of the prison’s inmates and became friend to Andy. In a typical situation, Red is one of those people who have a solution even to the most impossible of circumstances. He used to smuggle in all sorts of contraband for the inmates and got Andy a tiny hammer with which he dug a tunnel and escaped (Fiddler 201). He was the person that everyone in the prison looked to, possibly because of the many years he had spent locked up.

One of the archetypal situations in the film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is the act of Andy killing his wife and her lover. It is atypical reaction of what anyone would do in case they were hurt by someone they loved and trusted. While many people may not go to the extent of murder, they will seek revenge and in Andy’s case that revenge was murder. The wife’s betrayal can be considered to be archetypal of many other people who have affairs even though they are married. This is a situation that has been existence since time immemorial not just in marriage but in families, friendships, businesses among others. Andy’s escape from prison can also be deemed archetypal; it was the result of hard work and sheer cunning. The whole film is a buildup to the event of Andy’s escape and the Warden’s death (Taskinen). The warden’s death is symbolic of punishment of his wrongdoings.

The small rock hammer that Red brings Andy is an archetypal symbol. It signifies Andy’s hard work that led to his freedom. The hammer itself was quite tiny and to anyone, it was hardly suited to the task of digging a tunnel through the ground. However, he managed the seemingly impossible task after many years. It represents Andy’s determination to find a way out of Shawshank prison (Fiddler 194). For him, it was a symbol of freedom. Another archetypal symbol in the film is Mexico. After he escapes, Andy plans to go to Mexico for a beginning. For him, Mexico signifies a fresh start after the many years in prison.

The second archetypal symbols in the film are the film Gila and the music that Andy plays from the warden’s office. The men are deprived of any form of art in the prison and an opportunity for them to watch a film or listen to music is quite rare. Their enthusiasm shows us just how the prison had deprived them even of the most basic things that people take for granted. A mere film and song elicited such a reaction from the prison inmates.

The archetypal criticism of works of literature and films give the audience deeper insight and understanding into the intended message of the creators of the work (Brizee et al). The play Hamlet is a tragedy that has archetypal characters in Hamlet himself, his mother Queen Gertrude and King Claudius. Some archetypal situations are the king’s death and Claudius’ marriage to Gertrude. Archetypal symbols are the ghost and Ophelia’s flowers. The film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ has archetypal characters in Andy and Red, archetypal situations in the murder of Andy’s wife and Andy’s escape from prison. Archetypal symbols are the rock hammer and the film, Gilda.

Despite the fact that ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ are set in very different eras in time and the characters are very different, archetypal criticism allows the reader to identify with the different characters, symbols and situations in both works of arts. This shows that there are many similarities across cultures, situations, people and even regions that are evident in different works of art.

Works Cited

Brizee, Allen, et al. “Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism.” The Purdue OWL, Purdue U Writing Lab 2 (2018).

Butterworth, Jo. “Hamlet, The Ballet.” The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Dance (2019): 429.

Fiddler, Michael. “Projecting the prison: The depiction of the uncanny in The Shawshank Redemption.” Crime, Media, Culture 3.2 (2007): 192-206.

Jing, H. E. “Same Plight, Different Struggle: A Comparison of Female Protagonists in Hamlet and “The Yellow Wallpaper”.” Journal of Literature and Art Studies 6.5 (2016): 468-472.

Taskinen, Meri Tuuli. “Representations of 1990s American Prison System: Close Reading of the Film The Shawshank Redemption.” (2018).