Compare power with himself Patrick – Obsession

Compare the ways in which both Shakespeare and Easton Ellis present the downfall of their protagonists due madness caused by their excessive ambition.

Intro – Both H and P are punished for their extensive ambition through being made mad.

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P1 – PRESENTATION of extensive ambition
Hamlet – Is it obsession to avenge his dead father or is it an obsession for power with himself
Patrick – Obsession with material which causes ambition for more.

P2 – Impact that obsessions have had on those around them. (Women).
Hamlet – Treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude
AP – Prostitutes and girlfriend

P3 – To what extent does punishment for ambition and obsession is done through madness.
Hamlet – descent to madness but by the end he regains purpose BUT is killed and that’s his punishment.
AP – Ambiguity. Is he punished? Is madness a punishment? Is the ambiguity punishment for the reader and society?


Obsession can be defined as ‘an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind’. Linking to this idea, Lillian Feder argues that ‘portrayals of madness (in literature) convey in symbolic form human being’s preoccupation with their own mental functioning’. This is the case in both ‘Hamlet’ and ‘American Psycho’, where Shakespeare and Easton Ellis use their protagonists to explore the effects that obsession towards their respective ambitions can have on an individual. Both Patrick Bateman and Hamlet have particular obsessions in their lives, which eventually lead them to madness. Although both are very different texts, one being a Jacobean play, and another a 20th century modern novel, the underlying themes of madness and ambition flowing through both allow the authors to make commentaries on their respective societies. Both authors pose a similar question. To what extent is obsessive ambition punished through madness? Like Feder states, madness is the ‘perpetual amorphous threat within’ – and for Shakespeare and Easton Ellis, it is a way of criticising obsession and excessive ambition, demonstrating the dangers they can have on society and individuals.


Firstly, in both Hamlet and American Psycho, Shakespeare and Easton Ellis present extensive ambition through the protagonists themselves. In ‘Hamlet’, Shakespeare purposely leaves Hamlet’s intentions ambiguous, and that is to reflect on his tragic flaw, indecisiveness, which leads him to his madness, and consequently his downfall. By showing his tentative persona, Shakespeare leaves Hamlet’s motives unclear, meaning that its unknown whether he aims to avenge his father or gain power for himself instead. Many people argue that in some sense, Shakespeare intended for Hamlet to be a politically ambitious and ruthless character. Hamlet is presented as machiavellian, a character that will do anything to make sure that ‘the ends justify the means’. As John Roe notes, ‘Machiavelli at no point advocates the practice of evil as acceptable in itself – despite what his many detractors then and now have said; he concedes, rather, that evil sometimes has to be used.’ Although Hamlet is not especially evil, he has to kill an elected monarch, thereby breaking the great chain of being. In order to avenge his father, Hamlet understands that ‘evil sometimes has to be used’, and thus highlights his extensive ambition to be an honourable son. For example, in Act 1.5 the ghost
M ACT 1.5 GHOST ORDERS HIM. PREPARING HIMSELF TO KILL BECAUSE HE NEEDS TO AVENGE HIS FATHER.The fact that he accepts the task of killing the king unveils his machiavellian characteristics and his sense of urgency to claim what is rightfully his. Through his growing ruthlessness, we can see his descent into the pursuit of power for himself rather than just avenging his father. Though indecisive, it’s true that Hamlet has a remarkable sense of judgment as well as being a massive strategist. To show this, Shakespeare structures a mise en abyme, thus highlighting the complexity of Hamlet’s intentions. His true ruthless nature is shown in the scene where Hamlet murders Polonius, an action that Gertrude describes as a ‘rash and bloody deed’. The adjective ‘rash’ is ironic as Hamlet in reality is a master schemer, however Gertrude claims that he has acted too hastily, since the murder of Polonius could not be intentional. In addition, the word ‘bloody’ connotes with danger and violence, suggesting that the extensive ambition that Hamlet is displaying is harmful – potentially foreshadowing his downfall through his descent to madness. For an extremely religious Jacobean audience especially, murder was seen as extremely unnatural, so this could also suggest the loss of morality in Hamlet’s mind. Like Bateman, and a true Machiavellian, Hamlet feels no remorse after Polonius’ death, his last words about him being, ‘Indeed this counselor is now most still, most secret, and most grave who was in life a foolish prating knave’. Shakespeare here uses a triplet to emphasise Hamlet’s loss of sympathy and it’s almost as if he’s giving himself Godly power, choosing who live and dies. The hubristic behaviour of Hamlet constructs the tragedy in a way that his downfall could b seen as a result of his hubris The lack of sympathy in his actions likens Hamlet to Patrick Pateman, and shows clearly how he ‘can’t always be virtuous and good’. As the play progresses, Hamlet seems to lose his mind slowly, and his once prominent goal of avenging his father turns into a search for power for himself. As Wilson quotes, ‘Ambition is like a choler, which in a humour that maketh men active, earnest, full of alacrity and stirring, if it be not stopped’. In Hamlet’s case, his excessive ambition only grows on and on, resulting in him being ‘active’ and ‘earnest’, however in a way that damages his own mind, leading to his hamartia. WITH AMBITION COMES HUBRIS- SHAKESPEARE CRITICIZE THOSE WHO HAVE EXCESSIVE AMBITION SHOWING ITS DAMAGING AND TRAGIC ENDING. Hamlet, once a determined prince trying to avenge his father, through his own ambition becomes disturbed with madness, losing track of his primary goal and seeks to claim what is rightfully his in a machiaeval manner. LINK TO AMERICAN PSYCHO

Similarly, in American Psycho, Easton Ellis presents Bateman as an extended metaphor for the late 80’s American society, using his obsession with being materialistic causing his extensive ambition for more. Through this metaphor, Easton Ellis criticises the decadent mindset of the society, which, similar to Hamlet always desires more power than they already possess. Like Irvine Welsh states, ‘Easton Ellis’s novel makes a comment on the ugliness of modern capitalism’. For example, Bateman is presented as an exaggerated character of the stereotypical Wall Street worker and he embodies all who fit into that category. Bateman’s constant references to the appearances of his coworkers, ‘Armstrong is wearing a four-button double-breasted chalk-striped spread-collar cotton shirt by Christian Dior..’ demonstrates the prominence of superficiality that is present in the modern culture. The listing of the clothing adds a mundane, almost draining effect when reading long passages and this demonstrates the audience’s frustration with Bateman’s obsession. In addition, Bateman’s materialistic obsession is seen causing his ambition for more. He is constantly comparing himself to those around him, ‘Armstrong just got back from the islands and as a very deep, very even tan, but so do I’. The notorious business card scene in the chapter ‘Pastels’ is were the audience first witness the disturbed persona of Bateman as a result of ambition leading to his eventual madness. Bateman reveals he feels a ‘brief spasm of jealousy’ and that he ‘clenches his fists’ when he sees Van Patten’s business card. The word ‘spasm’ as well as ‘clench’ unveils the physical difficulty Patrick experiences when compared to other around him and how his extensive ambition affects his mind and body. It could be argued that the symbolism of the business card embodies the appearance of individuals in society – and as Welsh adds, ‘the running metaphor is one of a culture succumbing to a materialist consumerism that destroys society by eradicating its human values in favour of an obsession with image.’ Bateman describes his coworkers card as being ‘magnificent’ and this adjective highly emphasises the value he places on materialistic objects that alter someone’s image. Furthermore, the almost satirical and exaggerated description of Bateman’s feeling about not being the best, ‘Suddenly the restaurant seems far away, hushed, the noise distant, a meaningless hum, compared to this card’ highlights Easton Ellis’ way of criticising a society obsessed with image, such as Bateman, and his exaggerated reaction could signify his slow descent into madness as a result of his ambition. It could be argued that like in ‘Hamlet’, with excessive ambition comes a hubristic persona, and P. Garrard argues that ‘The consequences of hubristic behaviour can be profound with dangerous consequences’. This ‘dangerous consequence’ in the case of both Bateman and Hamlet is their madness and disruption of their minds. Moreover, in ‘American Psycho’ the recurring symbolism of ‘Les Miserables’ highlights Bateman’s connection to popular culture and his wealthy status. Les Miserables premiered on Broadway in the late 80’s, and was a very difficult show to get tickets to, as they were both very popular and expensive. This, along with the glorification of ‘Dorsia’ is Easton Ellis’ way of criticizing the value placed on brands rather than human interaction. For example, Bateman’s secretary, Jean, suggests, ‘what about Dorsia?’ when going to dinner and Patrick feels ‘nervous’ and ‘trembling’. Like the business card chapter, he is again struck by physical anxiety about not being able to get a reservation which underline the extent of the fear he has about being left behind. Furthermore, Bateman’ list of rhetorical questions, ‘Do I really want to say no? Do I really want to say I can’t possibly get us in? Is that what I’m really prepared to do? Is that what I really want to do?’ shows the reader his self doubt about his status in the greedy higher society.This idea of ‘consumption’ that Easton Ellis poses, includes the material goods, fine dining, the best clothes and even cannibalistic consumption. Bateman describes the gory scene as ‘the fresh smell of blood cooking’ and body parts ‘lying rather delicately, on a china plate I bought at the Pottery Barn.’ By using the words ‘fresh’ and continuing to reference brands, ‘Pottery Barn’, Easton Ellis compares Bateman’s diligent materialism to the literal consumption of human flesh. This could be a metaphor for Bateman’s materialistic mind extensive ambition is eating away at Patrick’s own humanity, reducing everything around him to only price tags and brands, showing the sociopathic appetite of the capitalist consumer society that Easton Ellis, like Shakespeare in ‘Hamlet’, criticises.


Secondly, Shakespeare and Easton Ellis both present the downfall of their protagonists by revealing the impact that their relative obsessions have had on the characters around them, especially women. The only two female characters in the play, Ophelia and Gertrude, are both victimised by Hamlet. By presenting the impact that Hamlet’s obsession has had on these characters, Shakespeare could be showing the toxic aftermath of a person fuelled by extensive ambition – and how this affects him as well as others around him. Perhaps the most obvious character that is clearly impacted by Hamlet is Ophelia, who, ‘it would seem, wholly at the mercy of the male figures throughout her life, is certainly a victim figure’. Although it could be argued that Hamlet is not the only ‘male figure’ who affects Ophelia’s life course, he certainly is one of the most influential, as ‘we can imagine Hamlet’s story without Ophelia, but Ophelia literally has no story without Hamlet’. Seeking power and revenge creates a mental strain in Hamlet, who, as a result of his frustration, takes out his anger on Ophelia by treating her harshly. Hamlet tells Ophelia to ‘get thee to a nunnery’, assaulting her with a double entendre insult. In the Protestant Jacobean era, the noun ‘nunnery’ was a common euphemism for a brothel, and in his rage, Hamlet suggests that Ophelia is not as pure as she looks. On the other hand, Hamlet could also mean that Ophelia should go to a literal nunnery, when she would keep her purity and chastity without marrying – like his mother Gertrude who married his uncle. Either way, Hamlet decides he has a choice in Ophelia’s future, implying that she is inferior to him solely by being a woman, and must obey what he says. Lidz argues “that Hamlet’s attitude toward her reflects his disillusionment in his mother . . . to her, Hamlet’s inconstancy can only mean deceitfulness or madness”. The ambiguity of the reality of Hamlet’s madness negatively impacts Ophelia, and his obsession with gaining power affects the women around him. It’s clear to see Hamlet’s overall distrust in women, he tells Gertrude, ‘frailty, your name is woman’. Here, Hamlet generalises all womankind, the word ‘frailty’ having connotations with fragility and powerlessness – the complete opposite of what he is obsessed with being. In addition, Hamlet seems disgusted by the sexual appetite of women – often using derogatory terms to describe them. Hamlet describes not avenging his father as being cowardly and compares himself to a woman, “… Must like a whore unpack my heart with words and fall a-cursing like a very drab, a scullion!”. The listing of harsh slang such as ‘whore’ and ‘scullion’ expresses his hatred for women associated with sex, reducing himself to a female and thus showing his misogynistic attitudes towards women. Furthermore, he describes his mother with Claudius; ‘Why, she would hang on him as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on’. This ‘appetite’ that Hamlet describes is presented in a predatory, almost primitive manner as he states the appetite ‘feeds on’ something, in this case sex. This hyperbolic use of language and exaggerated imagery belittles women who were already seen as inferior in the Jacobean era, and criticises their sexual desires. ‘Hamlet, like other heroes, rages against women when he loses his place against the sun’. The eventual suicide of Ophelia and the death of Gertrude could be symbolic of the powerful impact that Hamlet’s descent into madness has had for female characters, ultimately making their lives much more tragic than Hamlets. Ophelia’s speech about her flowers are symbolic too, However, like Showalter adds, ‘Ophelia’s tragedy is subordinate to that of Hamlet’. Like Bateman, Hamlet takes out his anger on the female characters in the play, and his obsession impacting their lives as much as they do his.

Similar to Hamlet, as Bateman’s obsession with materialism and perfectionism grows, the more misogynistic his behaviours get. However, while it could be argued that in ‘Hamlet’, Hamlet still loves Ophelia to some extent, in ‘American Psycho’, Bateman’s mistreatment of women is completely desensitized and monotone. ‘He does not exactly hide the fact’that he is a murderer – in fact, he specifically states that he is ‘utterly insane’, and he likes to ‘dissect girls’. The sheer explicitness and detachment of Patrick’s first-person narrative of his murders emphasises the impact that his obsessions have on women especially. Throughout the novel, Patrick refers to women as ‘hardbodies’, pointing out their physical appearances in a crude fashion, ‘big tits’, ‘very hot’, ‘anorexic, alcoholic, uptight bitch’. The misogynistic tone of Bateman and his friends’ descriptions reveals the disrespect they show towards women and how they reduce them to only their external appearance. Unlike Hamlet, Patrick’s madness leads to physical abuse of multiple women rather than just emotional, and ‘in his madness he retreats to the savage environment and condition of the traditional wild man’. This idea of the ‘wild man’ that Feder states is seen through Patrick’s association of sex with violence. Every graphic sex



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