Richard III

Of Usurpers and Shrews: A Travesty Against the Great Chain of Being

Shakespeare’s Richard III and The Taming of the Shrew both teach audiences a lesson about "the great chain of being" -- by showing Richard and Kate’s refusal to accept the doctrine of passive obedience and the consequences that follow. In Richard’s case he is unwilling to accept the rule of his brother the King. In Kate’s case she is unwilling to accept the rule of the “King” of her household, her husband Petruchio. By the conclusion of The Taming of the Shrew Kate has realized the folly of her ways and conformed her behavior to the proper code. Richard’s inability to change his ways is what leads to his downfall. This is why The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy and Richard III is a history sometimes classified as tragedy. While the plays are drastically different they both have something to say about the great chain of being and the doctrine of passive obedience that supports it.

The great chain of being is a philosophical theory about the structure and order of the universe. Under this theory everything in the universe from rocks to animals to men to God himself has a place in the natural order of things. According to the great chain of being “God had created the universe according to a system of hierarchies…and...

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