Religious Themes of the Sixteenth Century: The Seven Deadly Sins, Death, and Damnation

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Religious Themes of the Sixteenth Century: The Seven Deadly Sins, Death, and Damnation

Religion in the Sixteenth Century was a major point of contention, especially for Elizabethans. In the midst of the Reformation, England was home to supporters of two major religious doctrines, including the Catholics and the Puritans. Three dominant themes that came out of this debate were sin, death and damnation. Important elements of Christian religions, these themes were often explored in the form of the seven deadly sins and the consequential damnation. The elements of sin pervasive in Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller, Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, William Shakespeare’s Othello, and Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen allow for
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We see idleness being the root of evil in Doctor Faustus, when he says of his studies ‘a greater subject fitteth Faustus’ wit,’ implying that he has already learned everything in the books surrounding him and is ready for something more.[4] It is immediately after this soliloquy that Faustus summons Valdes and Cornelius and begins his journey towards the necromancy and the devil. In Doctor Faustus, Sloth, as he describes himself, was ‘begotten on a sunny bank, where I have lain ever since,’ and in The Faerie Queene he is described as being ‘still drownd in sleepe, and most of his daies / scarse could he once uphold his heavie hedd, / to looken whether it was night or day.’[5] The similarities between these two descriptions show that Spenser and Marlowe were using a cultural prescription of the personification of the sins when they wrote them into their work.

The second sin described in The Faerie Queene is gluttony, or the vice of excessive eating. In The Faerie Queene gluttony is described as a ‘deformed creature, on a filthie swine. / His belly was upblowne with luxury.’[6] Spenser also says that ‘an on his head an yvie girland had, / from under which fast trickled down the sweat.’ Thomas Nashe makes use of this analogy of gluttony to sweating, and, among his many

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