How does nature appear to react to unnatural deeds in Macbeth?

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In Shakespeare's classic play Macbeth, nature appears to mimic the chaos on earth as Macbeth commits regicide by murdering King Duncan . This literary device is known as a pathetic fallacy, which is when the weather corresponds to human actions and reflects the emotions of the characters. On the...

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In Shakespeare's classic play Macbeth, nature appears to mimic the chaos on earth as Macbeth commits regicide by murdering King Duncan. This literary device is known as a pathetic fallacy, which is when the weather corresponds to human actions and reflects the emotions of the characters. On the night of King Duncan's murder, Banquo comments on the unusually dark sky by telling his son, "There’s husbandry in heaven; Their candles are all out" (Shakespeare, 2.1.5). The extremely dark sky creates an ominous, unforgiving atmosphere, which foreshadows Macbeth's brutal crime.

Following King Duncan's assassination, the Old Man and Ross discuss the strange, unnatural events that took place the previous night of the murder. Ross comments on the dark sky and violent storms while the Old Man mentions that he saw an owl attack a falcon. Ross responds by saying that Duncan's horses broke out of their stalls and the Old Man mentions that the horses ate each other. These bizarre, abnormal occurrences reflect the unnatural murder that took place. The owl attacking the falcon symbolically represents Macbeth murdering the king, and the strife between Duncan's horses represents the infighting that will take place in Scotland following his death. Overall, the unnatural occurrences and the intense weather act as ominous portents, which reflect the violent actions taking place in Scotland.

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In the Elizabethan time period, in which Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, there was an idea that if there was a disturbance of one realm (nature, government, etc.), then disturbances would follow in all realms. When Macbeth murders his king and friend Duncan, he commits an unnatural act. Nature follows by exhibiting several strange phenomena. 

After Duncan's murder, in act 2, scene 4, we learn of many of the other unnatural occurrences of the night. An old man tells Ross that an owl killed a falcon, which is strange because falcons are more powerful and higher on the food chain. This shows that nature is not acting according to its usual laws. Ross describes the way that darkness has continued to cloak the world despite the hour indicating it should be daytime. Most dramatically, we hear that Duncan's horses have revolted and broken out of their stable. What's more, they have eaten each other. This is an extremely strange and unnatural act, which can only be explained by the unnatural murder that Macbeth has just committed. 

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People in Shakespeare's day believed in a concept known as the Chain of Being, an idea in which all of live is connected with God at the top of the chain and nature at the bottom. The king is directly below God in this chain, and because the king is killed, the natural order is disturbed, so all of the Chain suffers, even nature.

Six strange events occur in nature in response to Duncan's murder. In Act 2, scene 3, Lennox tells us that chimneys are blown down from unusually strong winds, strange "screams of death" as well as the owl's cries are heard throughout the night, and there was an earthquake.  Later, in scene 4 in a conversation between Ross and the Old Man, we learn that an eclipse has occurred, an owl has killed a falcon, and Duncan's horses have gone wild, broken out of their stalls and eaten each other. All of these events are a direct result of the king's death.

For more information about the Chain of Being, check the first link below.

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