This idea of cosmic order was one of the genuine ruling ideas of the Elizabethan Age, and perhaps the most characteristic. Such ideas, like our everyday manners, are the least disputed and the least paraded in the creative literature of the time. The province of this book is some of the notions about the world and man that were quite frequently taken for granted by the ordinary educated Elizabethan; the commonplaces too familiar for the poets to make detailed use of, except in explicitly educational passages, but essential as basic assumptions and invaluable at moments of high passion.
The objective of The Elizabethan World Picture is to extract and explain the most ordinary beliefs about the constitution of the world as pictured in the Elizabethan Age and through this exposition to help the ordinary reader to understand and to enjoy the great writers of the age. In attempting this, Tillyard has brought together a number of pieces of elementary lore. This classic text is a convenient factual aid to extant interpretations of some of Spenser, Donne, or Milton.