I know that over the past few decades, critics have been tearing apart Tillyard's belief in a Great Chain of Being that permeated every facet of Elizabethan life, but I'm curious where everyone out there stands on this issue.
For me, it's indisputable that the Elizabethan English were required by law to go to church every week and that each congregation was required by law to read State-written sermons instructing Elizabethans about their places in The Great Chain, with God at the top, the king or queen directly under, and the social hierarchy beneath that, so as to alleviate class tensions and advocate obediance.
Now, obviously, Tillyard is wrong in assuming that everyone went home, simply going along with that message. There's plenty of evidence to support the fact that most of these sermons were written in response to specific revolts, and besides, I find it hard to believe that people thought about the Great Chain as they ate their meals and went to the bathroom; nor did they necessarily accept it unwavering, but I do believe that when a belief system is forced down your throat and there are no readily available alternative belief systems to turn to, that you're going to at least partially accept what's said. English citizens may not have bought it completely, but they didn't really have the option to object to it, unless they were looking to be athiests (which was a scary thing to be back then). Your thoughts?
"Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices, that, if I then had wak'd after long sleep, will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming, the clouds methought would open and show riches ready to drop upon me, that, when I wak'd, I cried to dream again"
I think the Elizabethan/Jacobean state was pretty much of a closed system, and the only reason it wasn't perfectly closed was that the means were lacking.Censorship and licensing had been invented but were usually entrusted to men of middling ability who rarely saw an intellectual handgrenade when it was being tossed unless it was carefully labeled as such. (This is usually true of censorship, and that is why it has fallen into ill repute in, England, France and America. In countries like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia the practitioners of censorship were more carefully selected and very few disguised subversions eluded them.)
As far as Tillyard is concerned I think he is dead on about Shakespeare's world view. That speech in Coriolanus about the function of the belly pretty much illustrates Shakespeare's view. I think it is pretty clear he had no illusions about what the lower orders would do if they attained power. He sympathized, occasionally, with their sufferings, but WS was no revolutionary. The problem is that while despising the abilities of the lower orders, he sees too plainly the faults and crimes of the upper classes. This leads to a kind of dynamic/dramatic dilemma that works well in his plays.It's hard to read the Histories or the political plays without concluding that Shakespeare ,athough accepting the great chain of being, didn't think much of the results.