What is the order of nature and The Great Chain of Being in Elizabethan times?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Great Chain of Being explains an idea of world order prevalent in Elizabeth Age. This hierarchy constitutes the plot structure Shakepeare's plots, the psychology of his characters, the imagery that affects their speeches, and the fates that they must confront. 

Here is the hierarchy of the Chain of Being

  1. God
  2. Cherubs
  3. Archangels, Angels
  4. Star Controllers of Destiny
  5. Moon
  6. King
  7. Church
  8. Princes
  9. Nobles
  10. Man
  11. Lion
  12. Other Animals
  13. Oak and Rose
  14. Other Plants
  15. Gold
  16. Other Minerals

Everything in heaven and on earth has its fixed position created by God, who rules over all the spirits, and on earth there are fixed classes of people. In Elizabethan times, this Chain of Being established the beliefs and values for individuals and society. Any attempt to break this Chain of Being caused chaos and brought about universal disorder.  Witches, or other evil spirits upset the Chain of Being because they were outside the order created by God. In Macbeth, for instance, the introduction of the preternatural world immediately upsets the Chain of Being. Then, the murder of King Duncan causes chaos because kings were perceived as the closest to divine that humans could be.

The order of Nautre is composed of the four elements:

  1. Fire -    the qualities of hot and dry
  2. Air   -    the qualities of warm and moist
  3. Water    the qualities of cold and moist
  4. Earth     the qualities of cold and dry