The period between 1500 and 1700 is known as an Early Modern Period, it is considered to be the period between the Middle Ages and Contemporary world. It was the most significant period in the development of the Western Europe culture, in particular such countries as England, German, France and Spain.
There were great changes in all spheres of human life: cultural, political, religious and scientific. The period is characterized by the growing secularism, development of the social and economic life. The period is characterized by contradictions between secular and religious power, the process that shaped the political and cultural life in Europe and became the most distinctive feature of the European society.
Thus, there were two parallel lives in Europe: secular and sacred that influenced on other spheres of social development. The examples of the social changes can be found in a famous work by William Shakespeare Macbeth. In this essay, we will put a parallel between the work and distinctive features of the European society.
So, the major features of the Early Middle Period between 1500 and 1700 include the growth of the bourgeoisie that developed relations with monarchs, changes in the family network.
A particular feature of the Western Europe society was the decrease of the person’s status and change of the women’s status with was closely related to the husband’s work, moreover, many young women had to work to get endowment. The average age of people who got married rose because of the rise of education (young men had to finish their education) and young couples wanted to be independent of their families.
Education became one of the prime necessities for men, consequently, the importance of schools and other educational establishments was exaggerated. Among the political events we can distinguish the following ones: German wars of religion, the conflict of king and parliament in England, War of Spain succession, etc.
There were great changes in the religious life that was dependent on politics. For example, the defeat of the Roman Catholic Religion by Spain and France and a very significant episode in the English history when king Henry VIII declared himself a leader of the Church in order to get divorce.
Let us explore how religious reformation in the European society influenced on the future development of it.
One of the greatest events in the field of religion and culture was the Protestant Reformation that greatly changed the attitudes to religion and politics, “In the second decade of the sixteenth century, the Christian church experienced the first in a series of religious divisions along geographic lines. The sequence of splits, beginning in the Holy Roman Empire and spreading to the whole of Europe by the end of the century, transformed the relationship of the reformed churches with state, society, and the individual” (Ferraro n. pg.).
Two names mark this period, Martin Luther and John Calvin. The practices of indulgence were introduced into society. One could pay money and “reserve” place in the Haven. Thus, Church became dependant on government and higher layers of the society. The one who had money was “innocent” and the one who was poor was considered to be a “sinner”. Family and social lives were directed by the Catholic doctrines. There even were special rules of child’s upbringing.
New family suggested that husband was a head of the family but all family responsibilities were divided between man and woman, it concerned a question of decision making and elevated the status of wife. We can find the example of this change in Macbeth when his wife, Lady Macbeth takes an active part in her husband’s activities. However, she is already not a classical obedient wife and has her own decisions to the problem. She is strong and independent woman who manipulates her husband.
Thus, the change of relations between genders that occurred in the European society is reflected in the work. Shakespeare writes that she is a woman with a male soul, “undaunted mettle should compose / Nothing but males” (Shakespeare 75). However, we still notice that woman did not have full independence and she had to use other means to express her power. In Macbeth, she uses manipulation.
The Protestant Reforms were not accepted by many people and they provoked a big number of wars of religion. The attempts to establish the power were made by church and could be observed in wars like French War of Religion and the English Civil War and a famous Glorious Revolution.
These were the wars that are characterized by the conflicts between the “official” religions and new religions. The core idea of every war was the struggle for power and political dominance. In general, the church was more powerful then the king of the country and it was a basis for the conflicts and wars.
The dominant position of religion influenced on the transformation of the traditional way of thinking. Christian beliefs and folk traditions were mixed and resulted in the formation of the “European vision of the natural world”. People believed in the supernatural powers and, in fact, were afraid of them. A terrible period of the witch-hunting is another page in the European history. It also shows the power of church in the social and cultural life of people.
It was also a result of lack of education among poor people. Witches were the enemies of society and church, they were considered to evil creatures that could destroy the society. We can also find the example of this “social and religious belief” in the work by William Shakespeare. These are the tree withes that provoke Lady Macbeth to commit a murder. Thus, the author shows a particular trait of society, moreover, he add a great significance to these three mystique personages of his work.
In Macbeth, we found another characteristic of the Early Modern society. First of all, the real historical personages had become the main characters of the work. However, Shakespeare did not focus on a true history and used those personages in order to describe social and political relations of the ruling class. Rivalry, and betrayal were the common features of it. The fact that Macbeth killed a king was a common thing for that period. Many rulers passed the same paths to get their thrones and they did not have any religious superstitions.
As it has already been mentioned, the religious beliefs influenced on all aspects of human life. The change of role of woman in the society is one of the major characteristics that became a distinctive feature of the Early Modern Europe. The Puritanism was a widespread religion that formed the orthodoxy view on woman. On the one hand, her position of a mother made her a pure creature (association with the mother of Christ), on the other hand, socially and economically she had not any freedom and was dependent on man and her family.
Some changes were introduced when Henry VIII legalized divorce, however, woman did not have such right as she was not “an autonomous individual”. In addition, she was not allowed to get education and she could not participate in political life of the country. A paradox in attitude to women is another feature of the period.
As it has already been mentioned, a woman had a certain degree of a religious purity, however, she was also considered to have unnatural powers, in other words, woman was often associated with a witch. However, in this period, we can see the seeds of rise of women’s rights and William Shakespeare describes them it his work. He describes a woman of a new period, however he is still not liberated of superstitions of his time and revels the supernatural character of woman’s nature.
Thus, we can see that there was a great tension between the secular and religious power and authority in the early Modern European period. The confrontation between church and “officials” was a major characteristic of the European society. Between 1500 and 1700 there were special relations between secular and sacred.
Those reactions influenced on different aspects of human life, including cultural, social and politic development. One of the major characteristics of the society was an attitude to woman and her social role. We can find some of the characteristics of this society in the work by William Shakespeare, Macbeth.
Ferraro, Joanne M. Early Modern Europe. Web. 15 Dec. 2010.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth: a Tragedy. London: Mathews and Leigh., 1807