The Great Chain of Being

Choose a character from a novel or play of recognized literary merit and write an essay in which you (a) briefly describe the standards of the fictional society in which the character exists and (b) show how the character is affected by and responds to those standards. In your essay do not merely summarize the plot.

In the play The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, there are many interesting characters that each fits differently into Danish culture. The Danes have many standards, as seen in this play. The character of Claudius, being born in Denmark, is able to act according to these standards as he knows them. The questions is not “to be or not to be,” but how does Claudius interact with Danish society?

The Danish state has a very rigid structure that they believe should never be altered. Denmark is a kingdom that is greatly affected by Christian values such as, “murder is wrong” and “do not sleep with another man’s wife.” As good Christians, they believe that if you break God’s laws you will be punished in hell or maybe purgatory. They are arranged in a hierarchy, a “Circle of Life”, no, wait, a Great Chain of Being. With this Great Chain of Being, the king is on the top as he is the human representative of God to the people. Below the king is royalty and following royalty there are nobility and scholars. At the bottom of this Chain are officers and servants. “Everything exists in a delicate balance,” to upset the Great Chain would be to plunge the nation into chaos. The system of the Danes is one that must be kept to with no exceptions or there will be serious consequences both during and after life.

Claudius views the Danish system as a way to get what he wants and because of this the warned effects take place. Claudius is affected by the Great Chain of Being because he realizes that to be at the top would mean he would get all the power and as a result of this, he ignores the rest of their values, such as one about murder and disturbing the Great Chain, and proceeds to kill the king. He gets to move up the social ladder as there is no king. There is some acknowledgement that these standards do exist as after Claudius kills his brother, he does hide it. At a point after his crime, Claudius does come to accept the standards of the Danish culture, even though it is partially where he attempts to atone for his sins. As is warned by the Great Chain of Being, Claudius usurping old Hamlet disturbs the natural order. Havoc is wreaked in Claudius’ life shown in the death of him, his wife, nephew, advisor, advisor’s son, step-son’s love interested and two subjects. To Claudius, the standards of the Danes is a buffet where he can pick and choose what he wants and how much of it where the only thing that really matters is getting to the top and making the system work for him.

The standards of Danish society are known by Claudius but they are only partially accepted. The awareness of these standards does cause Claudius to acknowledge them enough to get by with the Danes and feel a twinge of remorse. Overall Danish standards have a small positive impact on him and the thing they fear is caused by him.

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6 thoughts on “The Great Chain of Being

  1. Your writing was very clear, concise, and efficient. The point you were making was very evident and I found the message very strongly embedded in the text. A king is a symbol of power and security for its kingdom. He was a symbol of unity for the country, having vanquished the Norwegians and freed to the danes. There was a nationalistic sense the people had for old king Hamlet and as soon as his murder passed this unity faded. Claudius was not the same as the old king and the citizens could not accept that. This sudden murder created suspicion and havoc among the people, an uneasiness that manifested anarchy.
    I can see this alluding to Biblical times. During old king Hamlet’s reign the Lord was worshiped and Denmark were blessed with peace. Then after murder of Hamlet, Claudius as new king forgot the Lord and the blessings stopped and they were delivered into the hands of their enemies for their disobedience.

    For feedback I suggest that you go deeper into the matter of this piece. You did a great job with your evidence and mean in the essay but I think with a little more matter content, this essay can be even better.
    Great Job Boobu.

    1. Dear Lord Drysdale,
      As usual, you take what I write and see it in a that I did not see at first. Thank you for the feedback you have provided. As for the matter, as I was answering a question that is asking more about the characters than the ideas, I see this piece as mostly a mean. Thinking about it a matter would be interesting but I am not sure it would fit with this specific “prompt”.
      Sincerely, IB.

  2. Dear I.B,

    Thank you for this deep insight into the Danish culture and more specifically how it connects with Claudius. I have never before thought of Claudius this way and how he sees himself within the Danish culture and in relation to his religion. An area in which I enjoyed reading would have to be “They are arranged in a hierarchy, a “Circle of Life”, no, wait, a Great Chain of Being.”. This sentence seemed to break up the essay and made me smile, especially in connection to your featured image. Throughout your piece you brought a new lens upon the play to which I connected on a personal level especially with your religious references.
    For minor improvement I would love to see you reword a single sentence. “As is warned with the Great Chain of Being, as Claudius usurps old Hamlet disturbing the natural order, havoc is wreaked in his life with the death of him, his wife, nephew, advisor, advisor’s son, step-son’s love interested and two subjects.” This sentence feels as though it needs to be divided into two which will help your reads digest it easier.
    Thank you for this new light on the character of Claudius. I can’t wait to read more from you!

    Sincerely, Juleanna

    1. Dear Juleanna,
      Thank you for this comment. You did not only mention what you were talking about but you also explained it. The improvement you have requested is very needed in this piece. I will work on that right away.
      Sincerely, IB.

  3. Dear IB,

    First off, how are you doing. Anyways. This is a very interesting piece and I enjoyed reading it. I believe that you have brought in some well thought-out points and everything you have said had evidence behind it. I really liked how you wove in culture into your evidence as well, I thought it gave more insight and connected your piece together even more. I also really liked how you have used the Great Chain of Being. I thought that was very clever and it was very well done. Your personal connection was also very well done. Good job IB.
    If we refer back to the prompt, I believe that you have answered it backwards, where the prompt asks how society affects the character, and I believe you answered how the character affects society. I don’t know if that was your intention, but I recommend either changing the prompt, or you know, your answer. But please tell me if I have understood either the prompt or your response wrong.
    Can’t wait to read more!


    1. Dear Tiny Tina,
      I am well thank you, how are you? I appreciate you thinking that I thought out my post. To the prompt, it asks how the society affects the character and how the character responds to that. These are pretty similar and can be seen as a cause and effect sort of thing. I do acknowledge that I focussed on the responds a lot and what probably got you thinking that I got it backwards was how I said Claudius’ response was to mess up the Great Chain and that creates a bit a loop. I will get more for you to read just you wait.
      Sincerely, IB.

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