Elizabethan World View


The Elizabethan Age was when Queen Elizabeth took the throne of England in 1558.

Elizabethan England had two very different views about the nature of the universe and man's place in it.

- The first view was the traditional medieval view of Ptolemy.

The medieval world view also dealt greatly with the concept of the Ptolemaic Universe and how man fit in it
  • the earth was seen as the center of all that God created, which were nine concentric spheres that surrounded the earth (Mercury, Venus, the Moon, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Fixed Stars, the Primum Mobile)
  • a main belief was that everything beneath the sphere of the moon was corrupted by the fall of man and that the music created by the perfect outer spheres that would reveal the essential harmony of all creation could no longer be heard by man
  • scientists created many different theories that would connect their observations to the theory, which became both science and theology and therefore the philosophical construct of man’s world view (the highly ordered universe was reassuring to man that his place was fated by God)
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The Chain of Being
The medieval world view revolved around a concept preached to the public as the Great Chain of Being and its divine order
  • the hierarchy could not be disturbed and its permanence serves to create the sense that everything has its specific place and meaning in the order of the universe
  • each tier of the from the bottom had the positive attributes of the link below it plus one other (ie. the rock has only existence, but plants have life and existence)
  • the Chain of Being was used by kings and clergymen to retain their power and assert the belief in the divine right of kings so as to avoid revolt and change
  • the Great Chain of Being:
- God – Angelic Beings – Humanity – Animals – Plants – Minerals -
  • within each tier, there are higher links than others and this helped shape societal norms, such as the social system with kings at the top, succeeded by the clergy, the lords, and then the peasants or the family system with the father as the head, followed by the mother, and then her children
  • a main concept of the Chain of Being is that of the spirit and the flesh:
- God and angels are spirit, humanity is spirit tied down to flesh, and all else is flesh
- the human struggle between spirit and flesh is a moral one where spirituality must be victorious in order for one’s spirit to be released from the flesh and its physical sins



- The Renaissance Worldview

During the period of the Renaissance, man underwent a change in worldview from a largely religious view to a humanistic outlook

· Humanism consisted mainly of the idea of the power and dignity of the human being and how man was the measure of all things
· rebirth of the Latin and Greek classics promoted a more secular philosophy, believing that these texts contained the lessons needed to be learned in order to live a moral and productive life (shift from a contemplative life to an active life)
· felt that man should participate actively in public life and involve himself in the knowledge of many different subject areas
· supported belief that science in conjuncture with reason was the primary methodology for creating an interpretation of reality
· focuses on man’s capabilities to solve problems without divine intervention
· supported both intellectual and geographical discovery
· also believed that man was not predestined or subject to fate, but instead was the shaper of his own individual destiny


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Dr. Faustus viewed through Elizabethan lens:

Transgressor: The Elizabethan era predominantly consisted of the Medieval views. The Medieval view contained ideas of the Ptolemaic Universe. Everything beneath the universe was corrupted by man. They also strictly believed in the chain of being. If a man were to breach their place in this chain there would be universal chaos. The character Dr. Faustus represents himself as a transgressor. He is one who transgresses the laws of the chain of being. Faustus does not follow the church's doctrine of that time, and therefore, in the eyes of the medieval people, he will be damned to hell. Even though Faustus believes that God and his laws transcend human capacity he contradicts this view when he sells his soul to Lucifer in exchange for knowledge and power. During the play the audience can see the transition of Faustus' belief and disbelief. He tries to over reach his place on earth and become more powerful. He heartly believes that he will become more powerful than lucifer. Faustus is breaking the laws of the chain of being. He sells his soul to the devil and once his contract was up his soul was damned to hell. His ill fate and the consequences of his sins reflects the beliefs of the medieval times.


Dr. Faustus viewed through Renaissance lens:

Transcender: The Renaissance had a humanistic view. The humanists believed that man was the measure of all things. They thought that man should be actively participating in the social and public life. They also believed that they had control over their fate while on earth. To them knowledge could solve the mystersies of the world. Faustus displayed his desire to participate in public affairs when he claimed that he would save his country from the invading king and save the suffering citizens from disaster. Along with his savior quest he desired to provide schools with silks so that the children may be taken care properly. As well, Faustus was consumed by his desire to control his destiny with his knowledge. He transcended the rigid ordelry beliefs of the medieval time period and approached a new. To do this Dr. Faustus sells his soul to Lucifer for knowledge and power. Faustus coincided with the renaissance view that man was not predestined to his fate, but is in control of his own individual destiny.