The Elizabethan Chain of Being in Shakespeare's Macbeth

The collective minds of people in England during the time of Shakespeare struggled to explain the unexplainable; they struggled to understand randomness and human nature. They believed that from the beginning of time a certain cosmic order had emerged. This order was expressed in the Elizabethan Chain of Being. When something or someone stepped out of place it would send the universe into total chaos. There would not be mere confusion, as the modern definition would imply, it would send the cosmos into a downward spiral destroying all life unless this natural order was restored. "We lose some of the immensity of Elizabethan tragedy, the irony of its comedy and the insult of its raillery," (Elizabethan World Order; Cynthia Fuhrman) because this mindset is unknown to modern readers. Shakespeare uses the element of Elizabethan chaos to emphasize the tragedy of Macbeth.

Shakespeare carefully illustrates the violation of the Elizabethan Chain of Being through symbolism in nature that runs parallel to events in the play. The common thread is the chaotic element. The witches' opening line " Fair is foul and foul is fair" (Act I, Scene I, line 12) summarizes the plot before it is even laid out. Shakespeare...

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