During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and in the years before and
after it, the concept of order was a very important one. This was
illustrated by Tillyard, a twentieth century writer, in a description
of 'The Great Chain of Being', a six rank order of the universe
according to Elizabethans. At the very top of the chain was God, then
angels. Man followed, as he had existence, life, feeling, and
understanding and so was above other creatures. At the very bottom of
the Great Chain of Being, came those things that had mere existence-
inanimate objects such as elements, liquids, and metals. Water was
seen as nobler than earth, and gold, predictably more noble than lead,
but these objects were regarded as inferior.
Roman society, much earlier on, also had very strong ideas about order
in the universe. The play Julius Caesar considers a man who is seen to
go beyond his place in the order of existence. Julius Caesar appears
to want to be King, although this was not his right by birth. Order
plays an important part in Julius Caesar from the very first scene of
the play, which was referred to as 'a brilliant and daring opening
scene' by Frank Kermode (see bibliography). Marullus and Flavius, two
Tribunes (higher than commoners, otherwise known as plebeians) berate
the plebeians for their fickleness in welcoming Caesar, who has gained
power by fighting with fellow Romans. From a piece of verse spoken by
Marullus (who the audience later learns has, with Flavius, been 'put
to silence'), the audience is given a specific idea of the ranking
order within Rome. Plebeian...
... middle of paper ...
...nceps' ('chief one'),
calling into doubt Antony's true authority in Rome.
In conclusion, Shakespeare uses the historical setting of Julius
Caesar to display view of power and authority in a way which is still
relevant to modern society, and all societies throughout history.
Verse is used to signify authority, and many metaphors are also
included, such as serpents:
'And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which hatch'd, would, as his kind grow mischievous;
And kill him in the shell.'
Many are taken from the great chain of being prevalent in Elizabeth
I's reign, most notably the description of a ladder in AII, si:
'Lowliness is young ambition's ladder'
The interpretation of this play is tempered by Elizabethan ideals and
beliefs of the time, but Roman honour is still a major part of the
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