Light and Darkness in Macbeth

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William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" is an ominous tale that illustrates the danger in violating the Great Chain of Being, the hierarchy of things in God's ordered universe. The Chain ranked all of creation and human society as well. It ranked kings above nobles and nobles above the poor. When Macbeth murdered King Duncan and assumed the throne, the Chain was violated... chaos resulted. The atmosphere of the play symbolized this resulting turmoil. Specifically, light and shadow were used to exemplify the unnatural chaos and ominous tone of the work. This essay will explore the role of light and the role of darkness as it relates to the chaos resulting from the violation of the Great Chain of Being.

Light is a common symbol for good tidings and order, so it is with Shakespeare's "Macbeth". At the announcement of his successor, his son, King Duncan said, "Which honor must not unaccompanied invest him [The Prince of Cumberland, King Duncan's son and successor to the throne] only, but signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine / on all deservers" (Shakespeare 189). King Duncan pledged his throne to his son as would be compatible with the Great Chain of Being. The light that was mentioned suggests that all was right with the world; the Great Chain of Being was in proper order. The idea that light signifies the natural order of things is enforced when the nobleman Ross says, "And yet dark night strangles the traveling lamp [the sun]" (Shakespeare 206). The sun is the symbol of the Great Chain of Being and God's order in harmony because it is the source of all natural light. Macbeth's act of regicide disturbed the natural order of things and so subdued the sun.

In "Macbeth", light is a symbol of harmony and order, but darkness is just the opposite. Darkness is the chaos and evil that results from a broken Great Chain of Being. Macbeth sent Scotland into turmoil and dark night when he murdered King Duncan. In response to the announcement of the Prince of...
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