Internet Shakespeare Editions


Order within order

As with the angels, each rung on the ladder (or link in the chain) could be seen as further ordered. Within the ranks of the angels there were angels and archangels--Lucifer fell because, as the brightest of the archangels (his name means "light") he aspired to the status of God himself. The society of humankind was subdivided into many ranks, from peasant to king; each person was born into his or her destined station in life*, and that status, being divinely ordered, was appropriate.

King Husband
Nobles* Wife*
Gentlemen Male children
Yeomen Female children
Citizens Servants


  1. Class distinctions

    There was in fact a certain amount of movement up and down in the social scale (Cardinal Wolsey was the son of a butcher), but it is on the whole inappropriate to think of Renaissance society in terms of class as we do today. The equivalent of class existed--and what was to become the middle class was already making its presence felt as a political force through Parliament and through its growing economic power--but what we think of as class was seen as a necessary structuring of society, and therefore part of the great principle of order.

  2. More hierarchies

    In many categories there were sub-hierarchies; see the next page.

  3. A woman's vow to obey

    Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance, in the holy estate of Matrimony; wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as you both shall live?
    (The Book of Common Prayer).