Elizabethans believed that disturbances in nature foretell and accompany disturbances in human affairs, as exemplfied in Shakespeare's Hamlet Act 1, Scene 1. What is this belief called?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 1, Horatio describes the night before the death of Julius Caesar thus:


and the moist star,

Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands

Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.

And even the like precurse of feared event


This exemplifies the notion that what happens in the heavens is intimately connected with important events on earth. There are several different terms used to discuss this belief. First, the "science" of predicting human events by examining the stars and other heavenly phenomena was systematized as astrology. Next, the notion that all of Creation is linked in an interdependent hierarchal order is known as the "great chain of being". The concept that similars act upon or reflect similars is known as "the law of sympathy."

A really good resource for understanding this is Tillyard's book, The Elizabethan World Picture.