Doctor Faustus –The Seven Deadly Sins www.misterconnor.com
The PageantNote that this scene runs through the sins very quickly.Instead of showing scene after scene of Faustus engagingwith the sins individually, Marlowe takes the abstractconcepts of the sins and parades them before theaudience. They are intended to demonstrate that withinFaustus’s twenty-four years, he would indulge in all ofthem in his various experiences. They are presented byLucifer in the same way a medieval morality play wouldpersonify broad religious and philosophical concepts. Theywould have been costumed for comedy.
The Great Chain of BeingThe great chain of being (scala naturae, literally"ladder/stair-way of nature"), is a concept derivedfrom Plato and Aristotle. It details a strict, religioushierarchical structure of all matter and life, believedto have been decreed by God.The chain starts from God and progresses downwardtoangels, stars, moon, kings, princes, nobles, men, wildanimals, trees, other plants, precious stones, preciousmetals, and other minerals.
SinAccording to Christianity, “All unrighteousness is sin”.Sin is a transgression (going beyond) of divine law.They are different to crimes that transgress man’slaws. The Catholic church had two kinds of sin: venialand mortal. Venial sins were smaller and could beforgiven, but mortal sins threaten to destroy the lifeof grace and condemn the sinner to eternaldamnation, unless they are absolved throughconfession. Each sin was punished by an appropriateform of suffering in Hell.
TaskFor each of the seven sins, make appropriate notesfrom the slide, then find a quote to illustrate anaspect of the particular sin.
Pride (p55)Pride was considered to be the most serious of the sins. Itis identified as excessive self-esteem, especially when theproud person does not accept his/her proper position inthe Great Chain of Being. Lucifer was thrown from Heavenbecause he would not accept the Son of God being placedat God’s right hand, which he believed to be his ownrightful place. Those guilty of pride were destined to bebroken on the wheel in Hell. In the pageant in DoctorFaustus, Pride is too arrogant to accept the position intowhich he has been born, and he has an inflated sense of hisself-worth.
Covetousness (avarice) (p55)Covetousness is a sin of excess, particularly applied tothe acquisition of wealth. Those guilty of avarice weredestined to be put into cauldrons of boiling oil. InFaustus’s pageant, covetousness is presented as amiser.
Wrath (p55)Wrath refers to excessive and uncontrolled feelingsof anger that can lead to such offences as assault andmurder. In Marlowe’s time, the sin of wrath alsoencompassed anger turned against oneself, leadingto self-harm. Those guilty of wrath were destined tobe dismembered alive. In the pageant, Wrath hasbeen angry since birth with no provocation, and heattacks himself when he has no one else to fight.
Envy (p57)Envy is characterised by spite and resentment atseeing the success of another. Those who commit thesin of envy resent the fact that another person hassomething they see themselves as lacking, and mayeven gloat if another person loses that something.Those guilty of envy were destined to be put intofreezing water. In the pageant, Envy is resentful ofanyone who has something he does not, and hisresentment prevents him from enjoying what he doeshave. He wishes to pull everyone down to his level.
Gluttony (p57)Gluttony is the over-consumption of food and drink tothe point of waste. Those guilty of gluttony weredestined to be forced to eat rats, toads and snakes. Inthe pageant, Gluttony over-indulges and is resentfulof anyone who does not indulge him.
Sloth (p57)Sloth is idleness, the failure to utilise the talents givento you by God. Those guilty of sloth were destined tobe thrown into snake pits. In Faustus’s pageant, Slothresents any attempts to make him do anything at all.
Lechery (p57)Lechery, or lust, refers to excessive and unrestrainedindulgence in sexual activity. Sexual intercourse wasconsidered to be purely for the purposes of procreation, soany sexual act that was indulged in for enjoyment ratherthan to produce children was sinful. Those guilty of lecherywere destined to be smothered in fire and brimstone(sulphur). Lechery is the only one in the pageant who isobviously female. In Elizabethan times it was thought thatthe Devil targeted men through women who, likeEve, were ruled by their appetites rather thanreason, given to delusional imaginings and far too feebleto resist temptation.
Faustus’s sinsFaustus is certainly guilty of pride.The Prologue tells us that he is “swoll’n with cunning and self-conceit”, and Faustus himself claims to be “conjurer laureate”.Perhaps more significant is that he is too proud to ask for God’smercy; he presumes to know that God will never forgive him:“To God? He loves thee not” (2.1). Marlowe’s language suggeststhat Faustus is guilty of metaphorical gluttony as he has stuffedhimself full of permitted knowledge and plans to over-indulge inthe forbidden arts. The Prologue uses the metaphor when hesays that “glutted more with learning’s golden gifts,/ he surfeitsupon cursed necromancy”, and Faustus admits to being “gluttedwith conceit of this!” (1.1)
Faustus’s sinsFaustus certainly thinks he is lecherous, saying, “I amwanton and lascivious and cannot live without a wife” (2.1)and asking for Helen “To glut the longing of my heart’sdesire” (5.1). However, it might seem to the audience thathe is actually sexually frustrated because he has noexperience of women.Faustus corrupts his servant, who in turn corrupts hisservant, so their souls are endangered as well. He also asksMephistopheles to torture the Old Man for trying topersuade Faustus to repent.
Faustus’s sinsFundamentally, Faustus is undone by the pride of hisambition.He attempts to assume a god-like power, and this is anaffront to divine law.This matches with Lucifer, who was thrown from Heavenfor “aspiring pride and insolence”. Faustus aspires to “gaina deity” and asks, “what god can hurt thee, Faustus?”He is also compared with Icarus who attempted to usurpgod and reach beyond his natural position in the world.