What was the wheel of fortune in Elizabethan times?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Order and harmony, in the Elizabethan era, existed on earth and in the heavens. Any earthly disruption would be evident through nature and violent storms would often accompany any disturbance in the natural order. Everything had its place - and its relevant importance - and the Chain of Being should not be interfered with.

The wheel of fortune, which had its origin in the Middle Ages, and continued in popularity during the Elizabethan era, was based on the belief that fate and fortune were believed to control life. The "wheel" could turn in your favor or reduce your status as misfortune struck. Consequences would largely be considered to be beyond a person's own control; hence the importance of not upsetting the Chain of Being unnecessarily.

A man was effectively placed on the wheel in terms of his status in life; noblemen filling the higher spaces and the poor at the bottom. A goddess could spin the wheel as she chose.  Even Shakespeare speaks of "Fortune" in Hamlet and the wish to "take away all her power." It was a contradictory theory, obviously not favored from a Christian point of view when, especially in Elizabethan times, the theory of doing good deeds assuring you a place in heaven would have been contrary to the wheel.

The Elizabethan era was also an "age of discovery" and more scientific methods and approaches were being introduced. Shakespeare favored the humanistic approach, believing that man has a hand in his own destiny and is not merely or literally "at the hands of the gods."