King James and the Great Chain of Being in Macbeth

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MaryAlice Peng
Mrs. Frindell

Honors English, 3rd period

December 2, 2010

King James and the Great Chain of Being in Macbeth

Upon the death of beloved Queen Elizabeth in England, her cousin James I was announced the new king of England. As a Catholic from the rival nation Scotland, King James I was inherently distrusted by his Anglican subjects, and his guarded, haughty personality only further decreased his popularity (Matthew). King James was also known for his strong belief in the Divine Right of Kings, in which the king is second only to God (Matthew). However, his greatest disadvantage was that he was previously Catholic; the English were never truly confident in his conversion to the Anglican Church (Matthew). Skeptical, they guessed that he was still loyal to Catholic beliefs, such as the Great Chain of Being. Ultimately religious dissent turned to outright rebellion with the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, fueling James’ paranoia (Matthew). At the same time, Shakespeare was busy writing his newest play “Macbeth” and sought to win the approval of the new, highly suspicious monarch (Macbeth). Throughout the play, Shakespeare demonstrates the consequences of disrupting the Great Chain of Being in order to follow the beliefs of King James I.

In the beginning, Macbeth lived quite the charmed life as he obediently followed the Great Chain of Being. As a noble and a captain in the army, Macbeth did his duty without complaint for “the service and the loyalty I owe [to the king] in doing it pays itself” (1.4.25-26). In the Great Chain of Being, Macbeth was below the king and therefore it was his obligation to serve him, whether it was in combat or politics. In fact, he excelled at his task to lead the army to victory, pleasing King Duncan greatly. The entire nation of Scotland had heard of his great achievements at war and even Banquo noted that Duncan “hath been in unusual pleasure, and sent forth great largess to your offices” (2.1.16-17). Macbeth is...
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