In Christopher Marlowe’s Christian play Doctor Faustus, sin is a very notable feature in regards to the theme of the play. This play revolves around the topic of temptation and repenting following one’s decision to sin. The main character Faustus, is tempted by Lucifer to give him his soul in return for ultimate power and knowledge. Throughout the play, Faustus is constantly struggling with asking for forgiveness or continuing to move forward with his sins. There are multiple times in which Faustus is calling for God to save his soul. Whenever this occurs, Lucifer comes back and reminds Faustus that speaking to God is against the rules and he should simply focus on his work towards his power. Faustus unfortunately does not feel as if he can be forgiven because he has caused too much harm and he has gone too far into his own desires. This can be seen when he says, ‘My heart’s so hardened I cannot repent!’ (Line 197). This cements the idea that sin causes regret and constant unhappiness.
Marlowe is getting his theme of not giving into the temptations of sin across through showing the negative effects that will be created. Marlowe does this to portray to his audience that although sin is tempting, it will have repercussions that outweigh those temptations.
In Paradise lost Book IX, John Milton is able to describe the reality of temptations of sin, and also how the devil is an awful character who can use different techniques to lure others. In Paradise Lost Book IX, Satan searches for Eve after he has transformed himself into a serpent. Satan knows to use flattery to intrigue Eve and get her attention. Eve is astonished that the serpent can speak because she thought none of Eden’s beings could speak except for Adam and herself so she wonders how this has happened. Satan tells Eve that he has found a tree with delicious apples on it. After he ate that he gained the ability to speak and the amazing intel on knowledge. To continue to tempt her, Satan claims that the apples also made him find out Eve so that he could give her the compliments she deserved.
Satan knows to continue to influence Eve’s beliefs, mostly that they are not to eat from the forbidden tree because her and Adam will die if they do. Satan explains that God has forbidden this to keep her and Adam from gaining total knowledge and they must not trust this command and that they will not die because he has not. After these persuasions, Eve decides she should be able to experience this knowledge and power as well and takes a bite of the apple. At that moment she decides whether or not to share this with Adam but ultimately, she decides she must. When she tells him what she has done he is horrified she has given into temptation however, similar to how Satan persuaded her, she is able to persuade Adam. After they both have eaten it they feel a sense of power and go off to have sex. Once waking they are embarrassed that they are in the nude and ashamed they gave into temptations. Milton says “Humbly thir faults, and pardon beg’d, with tears VVatering the ground, and with thir sighs the Air Frequenting, sent from hearts contrite, in sign Of sorrow unfeign’d, and humiliation meek” (1185-1189). In saying this Milton is demonstrating that sin is not worth the inevitable aftermath.
In Book IX, Milton is able to use the theme of temptation and regret following a decision to perform a sin. It is evident that after giving into temptation to follow through with this sin, they both instantly feel the regret and guilt which they know they have created themselves. Milton was able to portray the downsides of sin and the consequences one will experience after performing them.
A piece that portrayed the negative connotations of sin in a rather different way is Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales General Prologue. This piece revolves around a group of pilgrims who partake on a religious journey. At first glance this work may seem as if it will go in a pro-catholic way. However, this piece is able to depict the sins seen in everyday lives that are experienced, even for those who hold positions within the church. Through Chaucer’s characters, a picture of irony is painted. These characters include an array of church members who are participating in sin. A prime example of one of these characters is the Monk. Instead of devoting his life to work and pray like most monks of the his time, he spends his time hunting and eating. Chaucer says “Ther as this lord was keper of the celle. The reule of seint Maure or of seint Beneit, By-cause that it was old and som-del streit, This ilke monk leet olde thinges pace,” (175-179). In saying this Chaucer is letting his audience know that the Monk is very modern and does not listen to St. Benedict’s rule that monks should live a simple life that devotes themselves to prayer. This is the first sinning character that Chaucer introduces.
Another influential character who is living a life of sin is the Pardoner. He uses his power to dissolve others sins to take their money or possessions and sells these items by falsely claiming their history. When describing the Pardoner Chaucer says, “And thus, with feyned flaterye and Iapes, He made the person and the peple his apes. But trewely to tellen, atte laste,” (705-708). This means that the Pardoner is using his position to trick innocent people into giving him money and items they own.
In his own way Geoffrey Chaucer is able to show the sins these characters commit within their positions in the church. With these Chaucer is portraying the members of the church and their sins in a way that does not seem appealing to the reader to show the negatives associated with sinning.