What is the significance of the disruption of order in Shakespeare's Macbeth in Act Two?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The natural order of the universe is central to the play Macbeth, by William Shakespeare.

During Shakespeare's day—the Elizabethan era—people believed in the Great Chain of Being. It was like a ladder—it was a...

...hierarchical structure of all matter and life.

(A hierarchy is… "any system of persons or things ranked one above another.") This "chain" determined that everything had its place in the universe, by God's choice. At the top of the ladder was God. Directly beneath Him would have been the angels, and then the King…down to the peasants, and all the way at the bottom would be bugs, for instance. The idea of the "divine right monarch" comes from the age-old belief that God chose who would be king. If a man killed a king (or queen) he was committing a mortal sin, putting his will before than of God.

In Macbeth, this is what Macbeth does when he kills Duncan. He has disrupted the order of the universe, which is a theme in the play. Now that a man is on the throne who was not chosen by God, the universe will be unbalanced until it is fixed.

Shakespeare lists unnatural occurrences in Act Two, scene four; some time after Duncan's murder, Ross and the Old Man are speaking of unnatural events in nature. There has been an earthquake, an eclipse, Duncan's horses have gone mad and tried to eat each other, and the even a falcon was killed by the less powerful mousing owl. These are just a few of the strange things that happen because of the disruption of order in the universe due to Duncan's murder.

It is not until Macduff kills Macbeth, and Malcolm—the rightful heir—returns to the throne of Scotland that the world returns to normal.

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