The Elizabethan World picture 1


The role of the ruler is important to emphasize in the Elizabethan monarchy. The politics were influenced by the idea of the absolute ruler; the king was seen as God’s representative on earth. His power was given directly by God and because of his position in the Great Chain of Being, he was only responsible to the Almighty God.

Queen Elizabeth (1558 - 1603) held supreme power, which, among other things, means that she always had the last word in all state policy. There was a rising middle-class of merchants and manufactures and they could secure jobs by allying themselves with the king or queen. All in all, the monarch had a great power as well as the top position of the human beings.


Protestantism wasn’t the official religion after the break with Rome. It was the reigning monarch who dictated the official religion of the country. The Protestantism gained ground in the reign of Henry 8. Elizabeth I was a protestant in her belief. When capturing the throne after the reign of her half sister “Bloody Mary”, she restored Protestantism as official religion. The result of the Reformation became a reduction of the power of the Church. The properties of land became limited and Church services became much simpler compared to the services of the Catholic Church.
Two conflicting ideas lived side by side in the Elizabethan times: first was the idea of the man’s free will and second the idea of destiny. The common belief of the man’s free will existed in the context of the belief in the individual. It meant that a man was responsible for his own actions. The belief in the destiny, also called the providence, shaped the life of man. However, the overall way of thinking was still influenced by the medieval world picture.

The great chain of being.


The Great Chain of Being is a hierarchical order, in which all life and natural components is divided and ranked by its divinity, powers and value. Everything is divided into 6 steps, where the upper group, and also the most divine group, contains God.For each step down the ladder you get further away from God and divinity. The second group is angelic beings, and the third is human beings. Each one’s relation to God subdivided the human beings further. And the King, the royalties and nobles were the once closest to God, except the angelic beings. Below mankind is animals, vegetation and at last minerals. Every creation was thought of as a link. And all the links together created the Great Chain of Being.And the function of the ranking system was veryclear, as the King was the highest rated human being, followed by princes and nobles.

Astronomy – And the order of the universe.



As in any other paradigm shift, no one believed the new astronomic way of thinking in 1543. Until then it was common knowledge that the earth was the center of the universe. But Nicolaus Copernicus revealed a theory, in which he claimed the earth to be in orbit around the sun. Never the less the pope didn’t approve this theory before 1616. In time before this event every one knew the medieval idea, of a universe with the earth as center.

This Idea placed the earth in the center of everything, or in the first sphere. In the second sphere the moon was placed. The system consisted of 9 or 11 spheres and the one farthest away from the Earth was called “primum mobile”, translated to English: “first mover”.



This sphere dictated all movement in the universe. Outside this sphere, and above everything in the universe, god was to be found, surrounded by his angels. In this idea the Earth was considered the “dumping ground” of the universe and in constant danger of being destroyed. This idea is also known as “the order of the universe”, and was an assumption build on the bible, including the fall of man.

Editors - Barbara & Matias.

The Reformation
The reformation in England started at the same time as in the rest of Europe, but was not of the same character as the one in Europe. The Church of England was somewhere in between. It broke with Rome and thereby the authority of the Pope, but still saw itself as being a continuation of the medieval church.
The Reformation meant the power of the church was reduced. For example large properties of land was confiscated and put under the authority of the king who was now the head of the church. Also the services were made simpler and were conducted in English instead of Latin.
This meant that for the first time every one could now go to church and actually understand what was said.
The Reformation also led to a new belief in the individual. Where the individual in the Roman Catholic Church was suppressed and made indifferent, the reformatted Church of England believed that everyone had a free will. This meant that man was responsible for his own actions and couldn’t hide in his religion or buy his way out with indulgences. Still there was a belief that destiny shaped the life of man due to The Fall and the expulsion of Adam an Eve.
Even though The Reformation contained lots of new ideas about Christianity and man’s role on Earth, it didn’t really change the way of thinking of the ordinary citizen. Many still believed in the medieval world picture.

In politics the idea of the absolute ruler was developed. The king or queen was seen as the highest power after God and therefore the middleman between God and the people. For example all laws were made and carried out by the king or queen and was as this power had been given to him or her directly by God.
Where the aristocracy had had much influence previously the new middleclass was now allying with the king to gain more privileges. In this way they made sure that the life of the middleclass man was secured. This caused the middleclass to grow even bigger and gain even more power.


A very important term to understanding the time in which Shakespeare lived is hierarchy. Hierarchy seems to saturate the entire renaissance world view, and is definitely a survival from the Middle Age.
In politics there was a clear divine hierarchy which was not discussable. But not only the human society was founded upon the idea of hierarchy, also the entire order of the universe was. In the centre of everything was the Earth, surrounded by 9 or 11 spheres. The last sphere was called “primum mobile” (first mover), and dictated the movements of the entire universe. Outside this sphere was heaven, where God and “the elected” lived. “coelum empireum habitaculum dei et omnium electorum” it says on a medieval drawing of the order of the universe. This is translated to “the empire of heaven, home (habitation) of God and all the elected.” The sphere closest to the Earth consisted of the moon, and this sphere marked the border between stability and instability. Above the moon was eternity and stability and what was below was unstable, and always in danger of turning into chaos. The Earth was considered heavy and filthy because of the Fall of Man, and if God gave up his control of order, everything would end up in disorder and chaos.
Classes and the position of man
The entire universe was based upon hierarchy, and so was the relationship between all living and all things. Everything in the universe had its own position in the “chain of being” with God as the greatest and the inanimate (translation: død/ulevende/ting) as the lowest. Man was in the middle of the chain, and it was argued, that he, therefore, was an outstanding creature, because he possessed both reason and passion. Man was the link between the level of angels and the level of animals, and some believed that the role for man, was to be the admirerer of God's work. This is a very important thought in the renaissance, that man because of the Fall had become a very special and important creature as the only one who possessed both reason and passion.

Order of the Universe

A person’s character was decided by the mixture of the four elements:” earth (melancholy), water (calmness), air (blood) and fire (being bad tempered). These humours where placed in the liver and if the mixture of the four humours in a persons liver was perfectly balanced, the person would be a perfect man. However, if one of the elements became dominant it would influence the personality, and that would often be a result of a sudden movement in the formation of the stars. Unfortunately, man was unable to understand the working of the stars and their influence on his life.
God had given man the free will, which made man able to fight against passion and lust. The weakest men were much influenced by the stars, and they would have difficulties fighting against these passions and lusts.

It was believed that there was an order in all things. Not only where there an order in the universe and the stars and planets, but also in each grouping of creations. The so-called primates were the superior of every class. Among the fishes the dolphin was the primate, among animals it was the lion and the elephant, among men it was the emperor, among stars it was the sun, and so on.

It was believed that there was a fine coherence between the classes. Man was seen as summing up the universe in himself, called microcosm. The correspondences could be seen in almost everything. For instance; the head of man controlled the body in the same way as the planets controlled the live of people and events on Earth, while the heart of man was referred to as the sun.
When natural phenomena, as earthquakes and storms, stroke, it was macrocosms way to be in disorder, and in the same way it is microcosm that is in disorder when a man does bad things.
Furthermore, the order of the state, the Body Politic, is mirrored in the order of the universe, where the Queen and her council is compared to the primum mobile; The Great Ruler.
Hence, everything, from the smallest bug to the stars and the sun, has its own part in one specific class.