The Chain of Being
The Latin term scala naturae translates to a “ladder/stairway”, from this term the “the Great Chain of being is derived. The Great chain of being, also called the Chain of being was a significant concept during the Elizabethan Period which denoted that all animate and inanimate objects had a distinct position in the universe as they were divinely placed by God in a hierarchal order. Therefore, all animate and inanimate objects were ordered based on strict ranks. These ranks depended on the proportion of “spirit” and “matter” an animate or inanimate object possessed. If it contained more “matter” in comparison to “spirit” it have a low place in the hierarchal order. For example, rocks, metals, stones and the four elements (earth, fire, air, water) have more “matter” than “spirit” and remain at the bottom of the hierarchal order. Objects with more “spirit” in contrast to “matter” exist at the highest levels of the hierarchal order.
For example, God, angels and Kings have more “spirit” than “matter” therefore exist toward the top of the hierarchal order. If an animate or inanimate object were to alter the divine order by taking authority over or disobeying an object or creature who had a higher place than that object or creature in the divine order, that animate or inanimate object will be penalised with a punishment from God. These punishments varied depending on who from the hierarchal order had caused mischief. For example, if a daughter had disobeyed her father Elizabethan people would have believed that she will become sick. However, if a noble dethroned the king, then Elizabethan would believe that a natural disaster (hurricane, flood, etc) would occur. The chain of being is a significant concept evident in the work of Shakespeare as he sincerely believed that all objects created by god had been placed in a divine order which cannot be broken. Many of Shakespeare’s plays such as Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello have the concept of the chain of being embedded in them.