The Elizabethan World Order was a theological, legal, scientific, and moral plan that provided the ultimate solution to unexplained aspects of the world. It was designed to provide answers to problems that existed regarding human existence. The Elizabethan World Order consists of five major principles, “The Chain of Being”, the linkage or classes, the middle position of man, man as a social being, and the “General Notion of Correspondences.”
The Great Chain of Being states that order resides in polarities. “Hot things are in harmony with cold; dry with moist;” and so on. Everything is involved in the order. Go regulated all things. From the lowest earthly creature to the human beings, there is a set chain of order from the superior to the inferior delegated by God.
All classes in the Elizabethan world are linked. The lowest creature on the sea floor is linked to the highest creature in the heavens because the surface of the water is in contact with the air. Consequently all classes in human society are linked together.
Man lie halfway between angel and beast. They are superior to beasts whereas they were given reason and understanding, but they are inferior to angels because they have not been fully elevated to the level of understanding and control of angels. They are the image of God but still live like animals.
Man is insufficient alone. He is a social being who is proned to sin because of his inherited “fallen” nature. Only beasts or God can exists alone. Humans require social interaction.
In the human world there is a hierarchy. In the political and church world there exists a chain of command, so to in the everyday life of humans. God set a hierarchical order to the way things are conducted.
John of Gaunt Previously he had upheld the belief that this world order laid down by God gave Richard II the right to do as he pleased and tarnish the throne he inherited. This preliminary belief was evident throughout his conversation with the Duchess of Gloucester in Act 1, Scene 2. The Duchess wanted John to avenge the death of her husband, John responded by saying, “God’s is the quarrel; for God’s substitute, His deputy anointed in His sight, Hath caused his death, the which if wrongfully Let heaven revenge, for I may never lift An angry arm against His minister” (I, 2, 39-43). When he was gravely ill he met with Richard II and vocalized his disapproval.
Duchess of Gloucester does not agree with the order of the time. The court of a corrupt king killed her husband and she wants revenge. It is not socially acceptable to murder the innocent and therefore she did not believe God would delegate the power to do so to a man. She didn’t care about the Elizabethan Order.
Duke of York belief in the Elizabethan World Order is based on the familial hierarchy. He had never questioned Richard II’s questionable decisions until Richard denied Hereford his rights as surviving heir by taking Gaunt’s possessions to fund the war in Ireland. “Take Hereford’s rights away, and take from time His charters and his customary rights; Let not tomorrow then ensue today; Be not thyself; for how art thou a king But by fair sequence and succession?” (II, 1, 204-209) The Duke realizes Richard is disturbing the very hierarchy that allowed him to inherit the throne. He is very passionate about the existence of order even though he realizes that Richard has done Hereford wrong he still asks him to put down arms and not rebel against the sovereign king. (II, 3, 156-165) He takes a neutral stance, a stance for the Elizabethan World Order as both sides have broken the order of the world.
Bishop of Carlisle has perhaps the strongest beliefs in the Elizabethan World order. Based in his religious views, the Bishop believes anyone challenging the divine right of a king to be wrong and therefore views Hereford as a traitor. “What subject can give sentence on his king? And who sits here that is not Richard’s subject?” (IV, 1, 127-128) God dictates who is king and only God is fit to judge the king in the ways of order. The Bishop predicts chaos will ensue after the disruption of order and the country will deteriorate. Till the end Carlisle does not accept the kingship of Henry and is banished for this belief.
The Gardener and Man speak up against Bolingbroke’s ascent to the throne. Their perception of order is political in nature. Like their garden a government must keep unruly and ambitious forces in check in order to be fruitful and successful. “Why should we, in the compass of a pale, Keep law and form and due proportion, When our sea-walled garden, the whole land, Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up, Her fruit trees all unpruned, her hedges ruined, Her knots disordered, and her wholesome herbs Swarming with caterpillars?” (III, 4, 43-50) In their eyes Bolingbroke is a weed choking Richard, the fair flower. Order must be kept as disorder brings about a chaotic mess, much like an unkept garden.