The Elizabethan World Picture by E.M.W. Tillyard: Book Review

Some books easily beguile people because they lack an enigma or a different market than the intended ones. Well, this book is one of those works. The Elizabethan World Picture by E.M.W. Tillyard is primarily used to explain the worldview during the Elizabethan era of England. This covers William Shakespeare, Milton. and other writers using occult knowledge that was a worldview. There are a great many writers of this time in the region this book was targeting.

However, context matters when we are reading Shakespeare and writers of this period. It is very difficult to understand an 17th material being 400 years apart. These people had different technology, culture, social scenes, and knowledge being passed around. It is from my experience that many authors mention important details in a subtle way, rather than adding emphasis in to this world picture. Without the heavy emphasis it only shows how common the knowledge was in society. Tillyard does a wonderful job pointing out an important factor that not only applies to the Elizabethans, but also the Greek philosophers, ancients, early church, and traditional western occultists.

This book seeks obscure lines about about angels, astrology, and theology that many moderns dismiss as superstition today in these Elizabethan plays and novels. As The Elizabethan World Picture points out, these were important parts of daily lives to the people.

If anyone has read Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres (also known as The Three Books of Occult Philosophy) there will be a concept of the superiors and inferiors that bring order from the heavens to the earth. This is called the Great Chain of Being. The concept comes from Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s classification of the natural world.

The Elizabethan World Picture focuses on the ideas of the Great Chain of Being starting at the throne of God and going to the angels, ether, fixed stars, the seven classical planets, the four elements, man, beast, plants, and minerals. It also covers the idea of the anima mundi, which is the world soul, and macrocosm and microcosm. But the part I find most intriguing is the concepts of sin, salvation, and order being balanced and working together.

Many extreme tradition western magicians find these concepts to be the secrets in grimoires and try to maintain them. However, there was nothing secret about these ideas. Many of the playwrights and mentioned this sort of theology. Richard Hooker was a large proponent to write about this philosophy. It was so engrained to the Elizabethans that if they were secrets at one point then they were secrets no more.

I appreciate the way that Tillyard explains these ideas that is accessible to the beginner and makes it plain to read. He does a wonderful job mentioning these concepts of the vitality of the fall and redemption. It demonstrates that as people would listen to these plays they perfectly understood astrological ideas, even as it was a part of medicine and anatomy at this time.

I believe that occultists and practitioners should read this book and afterward read Agrippa’s three books. There is nothing but positives we can gain from studying this theology, philosophy, astrology, and other occult topics in a general view with this work. It should be well-studied and a part of every library.

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