The chain of being

At the time Shakespeare was writing, the universe was seen as a hierarchy, known as the Chain of Being. God, the Creator, was at the top.

  • Next to God in the order of creation were the angelic spirits: there were thought to be nine orders, or ranks: Seraphs, Cherubs, Thrones, Principalities, Virtues, Powers, Dominions , Archangels, Angels. As spirits, these were unchangeable, bodiless intermediaries between God and man; although they did not have bodies, they were thought to be able to create themselves bodies out of air so that they could appear to humans.
  • Below these spirits were human beings, who were thought to be unique in having both a body, like animals, but also a spirit (or soul).
  • Below mankind came animals, having body but no soul; then plants; then stones.

See also - The nature of humanity in The Winter's Tale:

The chain of being The state as a body Reason and passion Disease and healing
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