Saturday, November 10, 2012

Great Chain of Being

When I think of the great chain of being I think of a ladder. The ladder very ridged, and defined. The king is at the top, supported by god, and everyone else is below him in a hierarchy going from beggars to lords. There was some fluidity within English society though, and people were able to improve their social and financial circumstances, especially with the rise of the merchant class. When the fluidity of society is juxtaposed with the great chain of being, the two seem to be opposites. But the fluidity of society did have a mold. A beggar could become a farmer, and a farmer could become a merchant, but not anyone could claim the throne, and not anyone could possess a title of nobility.

5 comments:

Michell D said...

I think that the great chain of being is extremely rigid. For example a rock will never be a human. Yes, I know that is an obvious statement, but I'm trying to say there is no passing between chains. However within each chain it becomes exponentially harder to reach the top. As you said a beggar can easily become a farmer (I'm assuming) and a farmer can easily be a merchant and so on, but between each rank it becomes more difficult to advance further in society. This perpetuates the hierarchical nature of the chain and the maintenance of order.

Laura N said...

Though social mobility was possible, I believe, people who climbed the social ladder, whether through honest work, marriage or any other vehicle, were not viewed the same as hereditary upper class folk. At least in the1800s I’m pretty sure that a man of a lower birth rank became fabulously wealthy in a trading company or something would still be viewed as inferior to someone of a higher birth rank who inherited his wealth. So their was some sort of social or cultural emphasis/discrimination on birth and rank that kept people from getting full respect from the community at large. I imagine it would have been similar for people in the Elizabethan Period. In terms of the chain, I think the social snobbery would have directly impeded any true link hopping/ rank climbing..

Ian J said...

I believe that the Great Chain of Being is extremely rigid in the higher parts, such as when it comes to kings, queens, lords, feudal lords, etc. However, when you move farther down the ladder, it becomes extremely fluid. It would be very easy for farmers to become merchants, merchants "down-grade" to farmers if business isn't great, farmers to become beggars if their growing season does not go according to plan, etc. As Laura said, the "social snobbery" as one moved up the ladder would become increasingly vehement and violent. I believe this social snobbery would pose great problems to those individuals and families trying to advance up the Chain because other families that have been established in a certain group would maybe be to "proud" to accept another family into their social group.

Ben Bonner said...

I think it depends on what part of the chain we are talking about. If we are looking at the lower and middle clases, sure there is definately a large amount of grey area and social mobility. However at the top, it seems very much black and white. Just as there is God and then everyone else beneath him, there is the nobility and everyone else beneath them. English nobility was, and is still, very immutable. Even today if you aren't part of the nobility, you never will be - the only exception being, I think, if you marry into the nobility.

Ben Bonner said...

I think it depends on what part of the chain we are talking about. If we are looking at the lower and middle clases, sure there is definately a large amount of grey area and social mobility. However at the top, it seems very much black and white. Just as there is God and then everyone else beneath him, there is the nobility and everyone else beneath them. English nobility was, and is still, very immutable. Even today if you aren't part of the nobility, you never will be - the only exception being, I think, if you marry into the nobility.