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Shakespeare, Kingship, And The Chain Of Being In Macbeth

961 words - 4 pages

Shakespeare, Kingship, and the Chain of Being in Macbeth

Shakespeare's play "Macbeth" is largely based upon the theme of
kingship. "Macbeth" was written for James the 1st, who would have been
interested in kingship and believed in the "chain of being" and the
"divine right" of kings. The "chain of being" is the belief that
everything is connected like a chain, and is affected by anything
above it. God was believed to be at the top of the chain, and the King
was believed to be the highest on earth. The "divine right" was the
belief that rightful kings were put there by God, and should not be
removed. Shakespeare represents these with the prosperity when Duncan
is king and the unnaturalness and evil, which is present when Macbeth
becomes king by evil means. This is emphasised because James the 1st
traced his ancestors to Banquo, whose descendents were the rightful
kings of Scotland. The theme of kingship may also have been cautionary
to anyone plotting to kill James, as Macbeth was written the year
after the famous "Gunpowder Plot".

At the beginning of the play, Duncan is the rightful king of Scotland,
there by his "divine right". In his first appearance, King Duncan
performs two of the basic duties of a king, punishing the bad and
rewarding the good. Upon learning of the treachery of the Thane of
Cawdor and the heroism of Macbeth, he says, "No more that Thane of
Cawdor shall deceive our bosom interest: go pronounce his present
death, and with his former title greet Macbeth." The chain of being is
intact, and Duncan is showing good kingship by punishing the Thane of
Cawdor for treason and rewarding Macbeth for his bravery.

When Macbeth murders Duncan, the chain of being is broken. As soon as
it is done Lady Macbeth says, "I heard the owl scream and the crickets
cry". Also, in the morning, Lennox says, "the night has been
unruly…Lamentings heard I'th'air, strange screams of death… Some say,
the earth Was feverous and did shake". Nature itself has been
disturbed, as the King is the highest thing on earth in the chain of
being, so when his place is broken then everything below him is
disturbed. Shakespeare reinforces the fact that kingship is given to
the king by God, when Macduff says, "Most sacrilegious murder hath
broke ope The Lords anointed temple". Even when Macbeth is trying to
excuse his murder of the kings guards, he described...

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