MNC Book Report: The Elizabethan World Picture, E.M.W. Tillyard
I’ve discovered that I quite like searching for academic books on Amazon; the reviews for them are often surprisingly substantive and useful. One for this book referred to it as “training wheels” for the interpretation of Elizabethan drama and poetry: not exactly wrong, but not something one wants to rely on too heavily in textual interpretation. Since I’m not embarking on an analysis of any Shakespearean plays, that’s fine by me.
But it’s a good thing this book is short, because it took me long enough to get through as is. I generally read a couple of pages and then put it down for a few minutes, coming up for air and to digest what I’d just read. Tillyard presents the metaphors by which the Elizabethans viewed the universe as ordered: the Great Chain of Being (some of you might have heard of that before), a set of corresponding planes, and a dance, and he proceeds to demonstrate, through literary texts of the period, just how those metaphors operated and influenced Elizabethan thought.
The great usefulness of this book to me is a reminder not to think like a modern when I write: regarding class distinctions in particular, it’s important for me to bear in mind the extent to which hierarchy permeated that society. Also, it gave me a lot of fodder for my own metaphorical language, regarding elements and animals, astrology and the humours, and a lot more. So the training wheels, I’d say, have done their job.