Elizabethans believed in the divine order of nature– the great chain of being. There was a natural harmony in the universe, where everything had a specific place and rank in order of their perceived significance and “spiritual” nature. However, the occurrence of an unnatural act would upset this harmony and set off a ‘chain reaction’ of discord and chaos. Through presenting ‘natural’ actions (such as grieving) as unreasonable, and vice versa, the result is that Shakespeare sets up an atmosphere of discord and imbalance, climaxing in Claudius’ confession of his “rank” offence (the murder of his brother and one of ‘God’s annointed’). The time is thus shown very much to be “out of joint”.
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