"Unnatural deeds/ Do breed unnatural troubles." How does the destruction of the natural order become one of the main themes in the play Macbeth?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Macduff discovers Duncan's body and Macbeth has gone to see it for himself, Macbeth says,

Here lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with his golden blood,
And his gashed stabs looked like a breach in nature
For ruin's wasteful entrance [...]. (2.3.130-133)

Macbeth's simile, comparing Duncan's stab wounds to wounds to nature itself, demonstrates how Duncan's murder is perceived. It is unnatural, certainly, because he was killed by a man who was his friend, relative, host, and subject. Further, people during Shakespeare's time believed that their monarchs were chosen by God, and so committing regicide was not only an act of treason but blasphemy, as well. Macbeth has not only moved against his country but his God as well, and this is unnatural. His descriptions of Duncan's wounds seem to convey his acknowledgement of this.

Now that Macbeth has upset the natural order of the world by murdering the king, nature will seem to rebel against him. It is as though nature would reveal the murderer. At the Macbeths' dinner, the one attended by Banquo's ghost, Macbeth says,

It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood.
Stones have been known to move, and trees to
Augurs and understood relations have
By maggot pies and choughs and rooks brought
The secret'st man of blood. (3.4.151-157)

In other words, he says that the dead will seek their revenge. And in order to reveal a murderer's identity, stones will move and trees will talk; predictions and signs revealed by birds can point to even the most careful murderer. In short, nature will point him out.

Lots of other unnatural things occur as a result of the crime Macbeth has committed against nature. Shortly after the murder, an old man tells the Thane of Ross that

On Tuesday last
A falcon, tow'ring in her pride of place,
Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed. (2.4.14-16)

Falcons were often associated with monarchs and owls with witchcraft. Therefore, it is telling that a reversal of the natural order occurred using these birds (just as Macbeth says is possible). The falcon ought to overpower the small owl. However, if the falcon represents Duncan, and the owl represents either Macbeth, driven by witchcraft, or even the Weird Sisters, we understand the sign as echoing what has already occurred.

Further, Ross tells the old man that

Duncan's horses [...]
Turned wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out
Contending 'gainst obedience, as they would
Make war with mankind. (2.4.18-22)

The old man says that he's heard that the horses did "eat each / other" (2.4.23-24). This unnatural event echoes the fact that those who were once loyal to Duncan now all seem to turn on one another and doubt each other. Malcolm and Donalbain have fled, because they know that someone their father trusted has murdered him and will likely come next for them, and there is evidently some distrust of Macbeth (since Macduff does not attend his coronation and Banquo soon reveals some suspicion as well).

There are many such examples of how nature seems to respond to the way in which Macbeth has breached the natural order of the world, including his wife's inability to sleep peacefully (which, if you'll recall was one of Macbeth's own concerns immediately after the murder).

misstemple1261 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The destruction of the natural world in Macbeth shows how Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan upset the entire natural order. It was not merely a political act, but rather a blow to the entire structure and organization of Macbeth’s world. For example, our quote “Unnatural deeds/ Do breed unnatural troubles” is said by the Doctor in Act Five, Scene One. In this scene, he quickly describes Scotland’s  horrifically altered state, one in which “Foul whisp’rings are abroad” (5.1.49). These unnatural troubles echo the Old Man’s news in Act 2, Scene 4, shortly after Macbeth kills Duncan. The Old Man tells Ross:

“On Tuesday last,

A falcon, tow'ring in her pride of place,

Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed.” (2.4. 12-14.)

Ross replies by describing how Duncan’s horses wildly attacked one another, another example of the natural order run amok.

The Old Man sums it up by saying, “'Tis unnatural,/ Even like the deed that’s done” (2.4.11-12.) The doctor has the same opinion; he explains that  these foul rumors and unnatural troubles are the consequences of unnatural deeds. Of course, readers of Macbeth know that Macbeth viewed the murder of King Duncan as an unnatural deed that betrayed the god-given divine right of kings as well as the longstanding rules of hospitality.

In Shakespeare’s time, people believed that each individual aspect of creation, whether a King or an owl, had its own place in creation, and that if this specific order was disrupted even slightly, chaos would result. This concept was referred to as the "Great Chain of Being."

Shakespeare develops this theme throughout the entirety of Macbeth. Macbeth’s first line, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” (1.3.39), hints at the theme of disturbance and uncertainty. Lady Macbeth’s bloodlust and her desire to take on a man’s role clearly show a particularly potent role reversal during a time when gender stereotypes were more entrenched.