The Great Chain Of Being In Hamlet

1373 words - 5 pages

The main concept of the Great Chain of Being is that every existing thing in the universe has its “place” in an outlined hierarchical order. Where it is placed depends on the amount of spirit and importance in society it has. The chain commences at God and progresses downward to angelic beings, kings, princes, nobles, regular humans, animals, plants, and many other objects of nature. According to this theory, all existing things have their specific function in the universe, and causing any kind of disorder on the higher links of this chain courts disaster. In Hamlet, Shakespeare dwells on the idea of a disheveled natural social order which restrains human beings’ ability to live peacefully. The society presented in this play is a society of chaos and anarchy that has no light at the end of the tunnel indicating recuperation. The Great Chain of Being is brutally distraught in Hamlet, and until the very end, there is never a point where it is truly serene.
From the very beginning of the play, it is very obvious that there is some sort of social disarrangement occurring in Denmark. The most consequential state of confusion in Hamlet is the death of Old Hamlet. The king falls almost directly underneath God in the Great Chain of Being. With the original king removed from the hierarchy, God and other angelic beings are disconnected from their control over the people, thus ensuing chaos. At the beginning, when Claudius says, “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death The memory be green, and that it us befitted To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom To be contracted in one brow of woe” (Shakespeare 1.2.1-4), and “Now follows, that you know, young Fortinbras, Holding a weak supposal of our worth, Or thinking by our late dear brother’s death Our state to be disjoint and out of frame, Colleagued with this dream of his advantage, He hath not fail’d to pester us with message” (Shakespeare 1.2.17-22), he makes it clear that the Great Chain has been shattered, all due to old Hamlet’s death. Fortinbras is threatening Denmark with vicious attack; the throne is stolen from its rightful owner; incest is being committed on the throne, and Denmark is being viewed as an appallingly weak monarchy. As the disturbance of the Great Chain of Being begins, it only shows signs of getting worse. The fact that Old Hamlet and Claudius are royal opposites does not help anything either. Old Hamlet is known as “a ‘majestical’ king and a great soldier”, and Claudius is known as “a smiling, creeping, serpent” (Wilson 58,44), while Old Hamlet’s “wisdom and human understanding” is contrasted with the depravities of Claudius, “murderer and usurper” (States 94,98). These profound divergences between Old Hamlet and Claudius are certainly dooming for Denmark’s Great Chain as they induce calamity.
Speaking of the disaster-prone Denmark that is presented in this play, Hamlet, the beloved main character, is a magnificent representation of the dysfunction that lies among...

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