What Did the Elizabethans Believe About Fate?

The Elizabethans believed that fate was the main controlling factor in a person’s life and was symbolized by the wheel of fortune. The wheel was used to explain the high and low points of a person’s life as well as the randomness with which those points occurred.

The wheel was believed to hold the lives of all people. Those people that had obtained a high position on the wheel of fortune, such as kings or nobles, could eventually end up as beggars simply by a rotation of the wheel. The concept of a wheel of fate also was used to account for seemingly random fortuitous moments in a person’s life. However, no one knew when the wheel would stop or where a person might end up on the wheel.

This concept of fate eliminated a person’s ability to control his own destiny. Shakespearean tragedies such as “Macbeth” and “King Lear” make use of this concept of fate to dramatize the eventual fall of a character. In the play “Macbeth,” the main character is a victim of the wheel of fate as he rises to a position of political power, and then falls into ruin and eventually dies. In “King Lear,” the Earl of Kent also holds a position of power but is eventually banished by the king. The Earl returns to Kent as a beggar, symbolizing his turn upon the wheel.