In Macbeth, give one simple example of the Elizabethan Chain of Being.
The Great Chain of Being was a theological theory first posited in Medieval England. The theory, which was inspired by earlier ideas from classical philosophers like Plato, held that every element on earth, from angels to animals to rocks, had a specific place in a hierarchy designed by God. God was, understandably, at the top of this hierarchy, while humanity was most commonly divided into kings, princes, nobility and commoners. This ecclesiastical conception of the world found expression in many literary works during the Elizabethan Golden Age, most notably pervading many plays by William Shakespeare.
The Great Chain of Being in Macbeth is irrevocably broken when the eponymous character, at the urging of Lady Macbeth, murders Duncan, his rightful king, in cold blood. With this act of regicide, Macbeth attempts to usurp the natural order of the world and move up the chain of being past prince Malcolm and king Duncan to become ruler of Scotland. Of course, in the tragic acts that follow the murder, Shakespeare condemns Macbeth's actions by highlighting how he is driven to madness by the guilt of his sacrilegious act and paranoia that any one of allies or enemies may attempt to seize power for themselves. The Chain of Being is not restored until the final scene of the play when Macduff kills Macbeth and returns the crown of Scotland to Malcolm, the rightful heir.
The Great Chain of Being held that in a properly ordered world, a king ruled his subjects; if the throne was usurped, as it was in Macbeth when Duncan was murdered, disturbances would be seen in the natural world.
The natural world is indeed disturbed in the play. Here are several examples:
- Act II, Scene 3: Duncan has been murdered, and before his body is discovered, Lennox tells Macbeth that chimneys have been blown down, a bird cried all through the night, and there were earth tremors.
- Act II Scene 4: Ross notes to an old man that though it is day, it is dark as night. The old man responds that an owl has killed a falcon. Ross adds that Duncan's well-trained horses broke out of their stalls and turned against their handlers. The old man says, "'Tis said they eat each other." Ross confirms it, saying that he saw it happen.
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A king in the Great Chain of Being is said to had connection to God, so when he is murdered in Macbeth, and the princes flee, the balance of royal hiearchy is unstable. Therefore affecting the Great Chain of Being. When Macbeth becomes King its broken, because he is a noble and a noble was said to be unable to become king. The break in the great chain of being is broken and causes chaos (personal, family, society, supernatural, nature and environment).