22nd March 2018

The chain of being

The great chain of being is a strict hierarchical structure of all matter and life, though in medieval Christianity to have been decreed by God. The chain starts with God and progresses downward to angels, demons (fallen/renegade angels), stars, moon, kings, princes, nobles, commoners, wild animals, domesticated animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, precious metals and other minerals[1]. This means that God had put King Lear in place according the this chain of being, and every human was below him. 

At the top of the chain is God, he is an external being and exsists outside the physical limitations, an rules over everyone and everything. Next is the angles or anglic beings. These have no physcial body of their own and have traits of love, and imagination, howver unlike God they lack omnipresence and the divine attributes of God, but however they can also commite intellectual sin which God cannot do. Next is humanity. For Medieval and Renaissance thinkers, humans occupied a unique position on the chain of being, straddling the world of spiritual beings and the world of physical creation. Humans were thought to possess divine powers such as reason, love, and imagination. Like angels, humans were spiritual beings, but unlike angels, human souls were “knotted” to a physical body[1].  This mean sunlike God and agnles they are partial to physical sensations like thirst and hunger, they are also capable of intellectual sin and physical sin, also to be noted is that the highest ranking human was the king. Animals were next and like humans we animated and possed physical attributes, however unlike humans they had no spiritual content, no soul, and therefore are below humans. Next plants, they have are alive and have the ability to grow and reproduce. However they have no mental attributes and sensory. Finally minerals such as earth are at the bottom. All minerals lacked the plant’s basic ability to grow and reproduce. They also lacked mental attributes and sensory organs found in beings higher on the chain. Their unique gifts, however, were typically their unusual solidity and strength. Many minerals, in fact, were thought to possess magical powers, particularly gems. The mineral primate is the diamond[1]

What does all of this mean?

The more “spirit” the person or object had, the more power it had in its
interactions with people or things below in the order.  People in
Elizabethan England believed that God set up this order and wanted it
to be followed.  If someone or something were to break the Divine Order
by not being obedient to whatever was above it, the person or thing that
went against the God’s will would be punished.  Bigger betrayals of the
Divine Order were believed to bring bigger punishments by God, while
smaller betrayals would bring about smaller punishments.  For example,
if a noble overthrew a king, Elizabethan people thought that a natural
disaster (an earthquake, a hurricane, etc.) would strike.  If a daughter
disobeyed her father, Elizabethan people believed the daughter might
fall ill.  This was a very convenient way for people higher in the Divine
Order to maintain their power[2].




Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. A good start! Make sure that you are keeping track of where this is all coming from so you can reference it.

    Can you, while you type up your notes, think about who represents what level on the chain of being in the play so far? Who would have been placed where and why?


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