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THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING
Transcript of THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING
What it is
The Great Chain of Being is the concept that everything is ranked in an order placed by God, from low to high.
The Order of the Chain
Association With the Classical Period
The Classical Period focused on the importance of human beings, and being able to be a beast, man, or rise up and be a philosopher.
The Greeks and Romans started explaining the world through reasoning, changing the previous mythological way of explaining the world.
The people through their own intellect began to stray from their "place" on the "chain of being", and started moving upwards.
The improvement of man and society became a main focus, along with the control over ones own future.
These ideals were revived during the Renaissance.
Influences on Renaissance Writers
Renaissance writers often acknowledged the idea of the Great Chain of Being in their work.
Some writers seemed to disagree with the strictness of the order of the chain, and believed that it was possible to rise to another level.
Some were fascinated by the idea of testing the boundaries of the chain.
The idea of not going beyond one's place influenced many writers to create strong political leaders in their work, such as Shakespeare's Henry V.
Shakespeare used ideas from the Great Chain of Being in his work often.
The order is based on the amount of "spirit" and "matter" an object has.
An object that has more "spirit" and less "matter" is placed higher up in the order.
An object with less "spirit" and more "matter" is placed lower down in the order.
The main order of the chain from low to high goes:
Inanimate objects, rocks, metals, and the four elements (earth, fire, water, and air)
Hierarchies of the Chain
Each group contains hierarchies within it.
In the metal group, gold was placed highest because it was thought to have the most spirit of the metals, while lead was placed lower because it was thought to have more matter.
There was considered to be "continuity" between the groups, and some objects blended into lower or higher groups.
For example, shellfish were considered to be animals, however, because they do not move they seem more plant like.
Examples of the Great Chain of Being in literature
Alchemy was based on the belief that lead could be turned into gold by infusing spirit.
Shakespeare's King Lear
Pico Della Mirandola's On the Dignity of Man
The Great Chain of Being says that humans cannot raise up past their spot in the order.
On the Dignity of Man is a piece of literature based on the idea that humans can rise to the level of angels through philosophical contemplation.
Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince
The Prince is a piece of literature that distinguishes the qualities that a prince must have to keep power.
This is related to the idea in the Great Chain of Being that a person in power must remain in power and not let anyone rise above them in order to prevent disorder.
The idea that disorder will be reflected into other realms when it is in one is used in this work.
There is disorder in King Lear's family, which is reflected to his mind, and to nature.
The great storm; disorder of nature
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