What was the social hierarchy in Shakespeare's time?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The hierarchy of Shakespeare’s time starts at the top with Queen Elizabeth herself (followed at her death with James I); after her, the other members of the royalty.  Because she had no children, the next social layer consisted of dukes, earls, etc.  Next on the social ladder were the merchants...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The hierarchy of Shakespeare’s time starts at the top with Queen Elizabeth herself (followed at her death with James I); after her, the other members of the royalty.  Because she had no children, the next social layer consisted of dukes, earls, etc.  Next on the social ladder were the merchants of commerce, followed by the landowners (many of whom gained their land by performing in England’s battles) and ranking military; then came the educated (anyone who could read Latin, for instance, was exempt from the death penalty), including the students at the Inns of Court; then local members of guilds, such as ironmongers, vintners, and goldsmiths; below them were the common workers, who made up much of what were called “the groundlings” in Shakespeare’s theatre audiences.  As for gender social order, women had little political strength but fairly hearty financial strength, as they were the organizers of the daily households. Visitors from other parts of Europe carried their social rank with them when coming to England.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team