Definition and Explanation

  • Concept: “everything in the world has its own place”
  • No matter what you do, you cannot make your way up in the chain
  • You are all that you are born with, for the rest of your life, no matter what you do to try and change it
  • The English society depended on a certain “order”:
    • Hierarchical: The Great Chain of Being dictated everyone’s social station and standing
    • Obedience: The lower classes were to submit to the upper classes. The upper classes, in turn, were responsible for the welfare and upkeep of the lower classes.

Philosophical Perspective

  • In the Elizabethan times, everything in the universe was said to have a place in this hierarchy
  • Less spirit and more matter an object had, the lower down on the chain it was
  • Italian philosopher, Pico Della Mirandola, believed human beings were capable to rise to the angel level through philosopher contemplations
  • Aristotle: Thought the universe was completely perfect, so was the “Great Chain of Being”

Presented in the PlayThe-Great-Chain-of-Being

  • Lear is the King he is, a man of great power
  • Relinquishes the kingdom to his daughters, as a reward, to test their love for him
  • Lear surrounds himself with people who use him (i.e his daughters (except Cordelia) )
  • Edmund is considered low on the chain because of the circumstances that surround his birth
  • Father treats him poorly because of his illegitimacy
  • i.e.: King acknowledges his intent to abdicate his thrown
  • By surrendering the throne to fuel his ego he disrupts the Great Chain of Being because he is challenging the position that God has given him
  • Chaos occurs later in the play
  • Lear banishes those around him that genuinely care for him.

Profundity Scale

  • Mental -> King Lear divides his kingdom, Edgar holds onto the letter to keep & attain his Father’s attention
  • Psychological -> King Lear divides his kingdom to rid himself of burdens and responsibilities
  • Philosophical -> “Greed for power”
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


  1. THE ANSWER TO THE WEBQUEST IS: It is a concept that says that everything in the world has its own place and no matter what you do, you cannot change your place by going up the chain.

  2. hey… @Curly..It simply means that if you were born to be someone you cannot try to be someone else…. And if you try to be someone higher than your status then a destructive will may fall upon you …eg.. if you were born as a servant.. you cannot be a king because it is god’s will for you to be there….and if you try to e a king then some disaster may take place
    Thank you..hope this was useful

  3. What was the chain of Being and what did it uphold? “Shakespeare web quest” This is the site the teacher gave us!

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