"Is 't night's predominance or the day's shame / That darkness does the face of Earth entomb / When living light should kiss it?" (Macbeth 2.4.9-11).¹ The reversal of night and day in William Shakespeare's Macbeth represents a reversal far more permanent and unnatural: that of a nation's hierarchy. When the title character makes the tragic decision to commit regicide and begin a dishonest ascent to kingship, the destruction of the natural order of Scotland commences, and this turn of events is reflected by the violent reaction of natural phenomena in the country. William Shakespeare, as an author contracted by King James I, sought to preserve a conservative monarchical system, promote the philosophy of the Divine Right of Kings, and please his patron through Macbeth: Pairing Macbeth's murder of Scotland's King Duncan with a series of unnatural events, Shakespeare illustrates to audiences the severity of such a crime and the displeasure of nature and God with its perpetrator. The use of violent natural imagery in Macbeth solidifies a monarch's place as the divinely appointed leader of a nation by displaying God's consternation with Macbeth, embodying the interruption of a nation's natural hierarchy, striking terror into the hearts of those disloyal to their monarch, and portraying the witches as supernatural forces of evil upon Earth.
In order to understand Macbeth's historical context, one must examine the political culture of the reign of King James I Stuart. James reigned over Scotland from 1567 to 1625 and England from 1603 to 1625, and was the first of a wave of monarchs claiming a divine right to rule (BBC). As the first ruler of a consolidated Kingdom of Great Britain, James issued public statements affirming his...
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...ial conservatism and makes for interesting analysis. Just as an eclipse darkens the sun, regicide creates a series of events that reverses the natural order of a divine right monarchy, and William Shakespeare effectively illustrates this idea through the use of natural imagery in Macbeth.
"BBC - History - Historic Figures: James I and VI (1566 - 1625)." BBC History. BBC, 2011. Web. 08 Apr. 2011.
Kreis, Steven. "James I, Speeches to Parliament (1609)." The History Guide. 12 May 2004. Web. 08 Apr. 2011.
McDonald, Russ. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: an Introduction with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. Print.
Shakespeare, William, and Sylan Barnet. Macbeth. New York: Signet Classics, 1998. Print.
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