Political questions are typical of the Renaissance: it is due to the inheritance of rulers by divine right.

Malcolm, the oldest of Duncan”s sons, is declared heir to the throne and Prince of Cumberland. Like Richard III, Macbeth wants to disrupt the natural order of things.

At the end of Macbeth, just like in Richard III, the natural order is restored (“Hail, King of Scotland”) and the divine right is respected.

The feudal social organization is based on duty, loyalty, and allegiance to the King. All these virtues are violated by Macbeth.

Like disorder, treason is unnatural. A traitor is an unnatural subject. In II, 2 Macduff discovers the dead King and describes the deed as the “most sacrilegious murder” and the murderer as “a new Gorgon“. Killing a rightful monarch is an offense to order.

In II, 4, 5 we see that what happens on earth is closely linked to what happens in the “skies”. The events on earth (“sublunary”) are so horrible that an eclipse occurs, meaning that the sun dares not happen. The murder of a King is unnatural, horrible, and impossible to name.

The whole play is based on the contrast between true royalty and tyranny. Duncan is the good King and Macbeth is the Tyrant. The subjects love the good King but fear the tyrant like in V, 2, 19: “Nothing in love” .

In V, 3, Macbeth boasts himself to have a spy in each of his subjects” house. The tyrant used to have spies. Macbeth is unfair (like Richard III) and Justice is the main quality of a good ruler. The abuse of power is shown in Act V, sc3, v11.

Macbeth is gradually more and more lonely and less and less communicative. He fears himself, perhaps because if he has killed the King, he can be killed too.

What is a good ruler ?

This question is set everywhere in Shakespeare”s works (see The Tempest). A good ruler has to be the natural heir of the throne and needs culture, knowledge, and prudentia.

In Act IV, sc3, Malcolm is precocious and aware that “a good man can turn evil / A bad man can turn good”.

Malcolm is not as naive as his father. He will test Macduff, whom he thinks is one of Macbeth”s spies, by pretending to be totally awful. Malcolm recounts Cawdor”s death in I, 4. He is aware of Man”s nature and tells how Cawdor, a bad man, turned repentant.

Macbeth is compared to Satan because he is so valorous and close to the king that he thinks he can take his place. The central moral debate is how could Satan, so close to perfection, rebel against God.

The answer is plain: because of jealousy. Macbeth was Duncan”s favourite knight just like Satan was God”s favourite angel.

Malcolm has prudentia and has learnt to be aware of traitors. Macbeth is tempted and falls. Malcolm is even aware that fall is part of Human Nature.

It was the post-lapsarian period: everybody can fall and no one is innocent. The link between Macbeth and Satan resides in the name of Macbeth”s servant, Seyton.

It is very often an issue in Shakespeare’s plays. It deals with order and degree: each thing in the Universe has a place in a scale of things.

It is more than a political doctrine: it implies a metaphysical organization of the Universe, which is also linked with theology. We can”t find an exponent of this doctrine, it is everywhere at the back of people’s minds. It is a world picture in the collective unconscious consciousness.

Disorder is the equivalent of the original chaos (as opposed to cosmos). God sustains the world as ordered, holding everything into place: he did not create it once and for all.

Order is the means by which you can judge disorder. The notion of sin also intervenes, at several levels (in the Bible…) :

  1. Revolt of the Bad Angels with Satan
  2. Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden
  3. Murder of Abel by Cain

It constitutes frames of references for the Elizabethan. Sin is the reason for chaos and disorder. The ordering of the world is very complex and means a very specific organization. Every thing has a place, even the slightest one.

They conceived the world as a scale, an infinite ladder with infinite degrees: each thing is both superior and inferior to something else. It is a hierarchical order of things, known as “The Great Chain of Beings”.

One can notice that only Hell escapes this ladder.

Great Chain of Beings

Man has all the possibilities of the earthly existences (he forms a microcosm in the macrocosm of the Universe). The inanimate class nourishes the vegetative class that nourishes… and so on.

Man aspires to the spiritual class. It is very closely linked: the bottom of one class is connected with the top of another class. It is a system of infinite diversity and unity of the Universe.

There is a primate in each class :

  • Birds: eagle
  • Trees: oak
  • Elements: fire
  • Man: King
  • Stars: sun
  • Values: justice
  • Body: head

Man is close to animals in sensuality and to angels in understanding: he is a nodal. For the Elizabethan, man was really himself when he was social. That is why morals and politics were far more important at that time than science.

Man is between Matter and Nature. It is a source of internal conflict because he is always trying to bridge the cosmic gap (to reconcile) the angel and the beast within him.

Macbeth is representative of the human condition but Richard is definitely evil. This brings us to make the difference between being amoral and being immoral.

Someone who is amoral does not have a moral because he does not know what moral is. On the contrary, someone immoral knows exactly what is moral but chooses to turn his back on it. Richard is definitely immoral.

For the Elizabethans, Nature and Creation had done things for the best. That is why Richard accuses Nature and puts the blame on the Creation for being deformed. If he had accepted his rank in the order of things, he would have been alright.

The order of things -the Cosmos- is also based on a series of correspondences between the several levels of beings.

  • heavenly order: God
  • macrocosm: World, Nature (“sub-lunar level”)
  • the state: body politic
  • the body: body natural

Each element at a certain level has another correspondence in another level. In Richard III, Richard the Tyrant (state) is a cripple (body) and at the beginning, the King is sick because the State is sick. In Macbeth, there is an eclipse after Duncan’s death.

The question of evil

The main problem is the question of Evil. How can Evil be possible in a perfect world? Man yielded to the temptation of Evil and sinned. God allowed havoc as a punishment for man’s sins.

Man is the only creature who was given freedom of will and the choice of his own actions. He chose transgression and brought about Evil. Havoc happened because of man but it was also part of God’s plans. Everything is determined by God for the Elizabethans.

In the end, we realize that transgressors are always punished by God, whereas they were successful in the beginning.

In fact, this was not the Elizabethans” picture but the Middle Ages” one. In the 16th and 17th centuries, this world vision has already been questioned by several thinkers and especially by Machiavel, who believed neither in law and order nor in man’s basic goodness.

On one hand, man was capable of understanding what was good (Erected Wit) but on the other hand, there was evil temptation (Infected Will).

For Machiavel, man is basically prone to Evil and disorder is the natural state of man, not the exception. Man is not idealistic but completely cynical.

Machiavel said that through will and determination, man could reach power. The success story of Richard is the mere illustration of The Prince.

Richard’s role is that of the Scourge of God. From the start, he is determined by God but does not realize it.

In the end, machiavellian success is always part of God’s success. See the Wheel of Fortune, ruled by Providence and therefore by God.

Biography

Brooke’s poems were very famous and influential. His War Sonnets, published in 1915, caught very well the mood of the time.

He was born in 1887 in a very wealthy family and was educated at Rugby School and at King’s college, Cambridge.

He was said to be strikingly handsome and the unfair reasons why he was considered a popular war poet was because of both his 5 poems dealing with war and his appearance.

In fact, Brooke’s experience of war was very limited and he was not a war poet in the sense S. Sassoon was. Yet, he had a strong symbolic role: he was a great and beautiful warrior turned into a myth.

Speaking of Brooke, Yeats said he was “the most handsome man in Britain” and Frances Cornford that he was “a young Apollo, with golden hair”.

Churchill himself paid him an homage in 1926 in an article entitled “Obituary”: there is a strong emphasis on Brooke’s romantic death (he died of a fever in 1915) and the construction of the heroic figure. His early death was symbolic of the death of a whole generation of dedicated English youth.

Brooke’s poetry at once reflected the mood of the time. He became a hero for those who needed heroes and that is at the detriment of his poetry.

He was wrongly considered as a war poet: he was a leading figure of the Georgian Movement, a pre-war poet. The most famous poems from War Sonnets are “The Dead” and “The Soldier”.

“The Soldier”, tradition both in its sonnet form and its idealistic patriotic mood, represents the last significant expression of an attitude that could not survive the horrors of trench warfare.

His followers expressed bitterness, irony, a sense of disillusion, loss of values, and had a great literary influence in the postwar period.