The of the creation story which adds human


The concept of sin and
temptation is one that has fascinated authors and critics alike since
literature began, the archetypal first instance of sin and the fall of Adam and
Eve in the Bible is something that has influenced multiple monumental texts.
Both Doctor Faustus and Macbeth follow the downward spiral of the protagonists
as they give in to the temptations of their desires, forsaking God and their
morals. What makes these works so fascinating is the presentation of these
protagonists as three-dimensional humans, and the nature of how they succumb to
temptation. Miller’s The Crucible is a more modern exploration of moral
integrity, along with the presentation of evil as being linked with
supernatural forces, directly opposing conventional religious practice.
Milton’s Paradise Lost is a version of the creation story which adds human
qualities to Satan and a new perspective on Adam and Eve’s temptation. The
numerous links between all these texts make observing the
similarities and differences fascinating, they raise questions about what it
means to be a human and how far an individual can go before redemption becomes


I would argue that temptation
and sin are themes most effectively explored through the means of dramatic
texts, as the medium of drama most acutely allows for the study of individuals
because, by its aesthetic quality, it allows for the staging of the dynamic and
experience of temptation in a way that most powerfully affects an audience.
This is true for all the texts in this investigation (excepting Paradise Lost),
as the audience can visually watch the protagonists conscious’ struggling to
reconcile their deeds. However, even in the case of Paradise Lost, Milton leans
on a dramatic form since the majority of the epic poem is written in long
narrative monologues. Both Macbeth  and Doctor
Faustus include dramatic moments which performance makes necessary for
full effectiveness. The display Lucifer shows Faustus of the ‘seven deadly
sins’ for example, in which manifestations of each of these sins, lust,
gluttony etc… parade themselves before Faustus in the midst of his moment of
weakness in order to convince him that serving Satan is the most attractive
path. In this way, Marlowe uses visual techniques, as well as language, to show
the nature of temptation as something otherworldly and alluring. Faustus’
response to Lucifer’s show is “O this feeds my soul”, the word “feeds” with its
connotations of food, reinforces the materialistic nature of Lucifer’s
temptation, convincing Faustus that “in hell is all manner of delight” which
will appeal to his  worldly desires. 


There seems to be an
inextricable link between supernatural forces and their relation to sin and
temptation throughout all these texts. The supernatural, with it’s
other-worldly allure, plays a key role in the downfall of the protagonists and
their attitudes towards religion and sin. In Macbeth, the witches do not
strictly influence Macbeth by magical means but their supernatural predictions
provide the temptation that sets him on his murderous path. Shakespeare
strategically places the witches at the very beginning of the play, in place of
a prologue, which establishes the important role supernatural forces will play.
The effect of this on an audience would have been particularly powerful
considering the widespread Jacobean belief that witches were people ‘who, for
the sake of certain abnormal powers, had sold themselves to the Devil’,
revoking God and religion. King James was particularly skeptical about witches
and there is speculation that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth especially to appeal to
the monarch. This medieval idea about witches being figures who had turned
themselves over to the Devil is a key idea seized upon by Miller in The
Crucible to portray a society spiralling out of control through a
cycle of lies and suspicion. Miller does not use the idea of supernatural
forces themselves to represent evil, but rather the obsession with witches  as a façade to expose the real corruption and
real evil happening within the Salem society.


The language of the witches, with the
short rhyming iambic lines, reminds us of spells or incantations, the effect is
one of chilling the audience and foreboding the evil to come. Their speech is
full of contradictions; a “battle lost and won”, “fair is foul and foul is
fair” which suggests the deceptive nature of the predictions; the appearance
not living up to the reality. This could also represent the blurred and
confusing line between right and wrong, conflicting sentiments at war with each
other, as Macbeth himself struggles with when opposing sides of his personality
are warring with each other. We see the internal war waging within Macbeth
during his soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 7, where he is agonizing over whether or
not he should kill Duncan. At this point in the play it seems Macbeth has not
been so corrupted by the witches prophesy alone as in this instance he
overcomes his “vaulting ambition” by the end of the speech. Shakespeare employs
another mechanism for temptation: his wife, an attack on his masculinity, and
sexual desire.


Lady Macbeth’s invocation to
devilish spirits in her “unsex me here” speech echoes Faustus call on devilish
spirits to take over his soul. From the outset Lady Macbeth’s mind is set on
the murder, she perceives her weakness to be her very femininity and she calls
on evil spirits to “stop up th’ access and passage to remorse”. In the words of
critic Nicholas Marsh ‘as opposed to order Lady Macbeth is on the side of
chaos – of a blind, indiscriminate destructiveness – and in her case the
conflict is conveyed by the energy she puts into suppression her other
feelings’ . Marsh is suggesting that there is a choice a human can make: to
follow the path of humanity and righteousness or to suppress your humanity in favour
of ‘chaos’ in order to be able to commit the sins that usual humanity
prohibits. I would argue it is nowhere as simple as that. These texts show us
just how undefinable and complex the nature of evil can be, as perfectly demonstrated
through the destructive character of Lady Macbeth. Her speech calls for a
desire for blindness and darkness, the “thick Night” so that her “keen knife
see not the wound it makes”. Lady Macbeth would rather be ignorant, would
rather the evil overcome her entirely to release her from the pain of
consciously committing mortal sin. However, the emotions she tries so acutely
to repress manifest themselves subconsciously through her madness, only in
insanity can she acknowledge the damage done on her soul and the real remorse
she feels; “will these hands n’er be clean” she cries out as she desperately
attempts to wash the vision of blood (the physical manifestation of guilt that
Shakespeare uses as a recurring image) from her hands. Lady Macbeth’s
sleepwalking reveals the horrors she and Macbeth have committed to the doctor
and gentlewoman present on stage, it is as though her own conscience is
rebelling against the unnatural evil person that ambition has turned her


After her invocation to the
devil, Lady Macbeth does seem to gain her own powers of temptation – albeit not
supernatural in the way of the witches. Though for a time Macbeth struggles
valiantly to resist temptation, her devices of persuasion catch Macbeth in his
moment of. The first part of her speech is full of rhetorical questions,
picking at his cowardice; “art thou afeared to be the same in thine own act and
valour as thou art in desire?”, insinuating that she knows the extent of his
ambition, her knowledge of him as a person means she only needs to nudge him
into action (similarly to the witches, they do not themselves incite desire,
but simply suggest the thought to him) – the desire is ingrained in Macbeth
already. She shows her intelligence in attacking Macbeth’s masculinity, “When
you durst do it, then you were a man; and, to be more than what you were, you
would be so much more the man”, here she combines her female sexual appeal
whilst simultaneously digging at a point a war-hardy soldier such as Macbeth
would be especially sensitive about.


This dialogue particularly raises the
question of what it means to be a true ‘man’, an there are clear parallels here
with the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. Adam, who allows Eve to temps him to
give in to Satan in order to achieve ‘true manhood’. Lady Macbeth
makes several allusions to the story through her talk of ‘th’ serpent’, and
Shakespeare provides many other specific references to the story of The Fall,
intended to highlight the religious parallels. Milton’s presentation of Eve in Paradise
Lost affirms this widespread view of womenkind as the first to succumb to
temptation. There is a scene in Book IX of Paradise Lost which loosely
resembles this exchange where Eve proposes to Adam that the two work apart for
a while, Adam tries to dissuade her by saying they are more susceptible to Satan’s
temptation if they separate but Eve persuades him. Adam’s mistake is allowing
Eve’s physical beauty to overcome his better judgement – Milton is reiterating the
power of free will and persuasion have over ones better nature.


Similar emphasis on the importance
of the supernatural is established by Marlowe in the prologue to Doctor
Faustus, however in Faustus case it is the allure of possessing these
supernatural powers himself that leads him to committing mortal sin. The
prologue of Faustus spoken by the Chorus introduces the character of Faustus
and establishes his downfall as resulting directly from his being “swollen with
cunning and self-deceit”, in the same way as Macbeth’s downfall is sparked by
the prophecy of the witches which enlarges his egotism. The use of alliteration
and rhythmic flow of the iambic pentameter lends the verse a lyrical feeling
which contrasts with the severity of the subject matter; however it also bears
the feeling of a didactic speech, clearly a warning to the audience. The word
“graced” is repeated several times in reference to Faustus’ “profits in
divinity” which highlights the evil he has succumbed to in his “falling to a
devilish exercise”. The reason for his initial temptation to sin is expressed
through words associated with extremes and excesses such as “swollen … glutted”
and magic being his “chiefest bliss”.  The comparison of Faustus’ fall
from grace to Icarus’ “waxen wings” brings further light to the folly of
excessive ambition for an individual.


Faustus’ warring conscience is
physically portrayed through the figures of the Good and Evil Angels. They
represent both his tempting desires and his potential for redemption and their
portrayal by Marlowe is important as they serve as constant reminders for the
audience of both these warring aspects of his character. Despite the Good
Angel’s voice of reason warning of “God’s heavy wrath”, the Evil Angel prevails
with the temptations of all the material profit Faustus gains out of his
agreement with Lucifer, of his being “on Earth as Jove is in the sky, lord and
commander of all these elements”. The Evil Angel’s other key argument is that
Faustus is already so damned that he is already past the point of being able to
return into God’s good graces. However, in the Angel’s last appearance the Good
gets the last word and Faustus’s resolve seems more significantly weakened than
before. The language of the Good angel is much more plaintive and direct,
whereas the Evil angel makes use of excessive embellished descriptions in order
to tempt Faustus to the riches of sin: this reflects the nature of temptation,
the outward appearance is always more desirable than the actual reward. In
Scene one when Valdes is instructing Faustus on all the books of magic he must
read to gain his reward, the entire passage hangs on the word ‘if’: “If learned Faustus will be resolute”.
This one word is recurring at the end of speeches throughout the play where
Faustus is being tempted; this small word reflects the entire nature of his
temptation. It is as though he is seeing all the potential glory through a
glass partition, the metaphorical ‘if’, making all Satan’s promises so much
more tangible, and thus easy for him to fall victim to. 

Where Marlowe employs the physicalising
of Faustus conscience through the figures of the good and evil angels, in
Macbeth the apparitions of the dagger and Banquo’s ghost could be viewed as externalizations
of both Macbeth’s desire and also his guilt. It was the dagger he “said led
him to Duncan” providing the push to committing the murder which he was
wavering over. The ghost of Banquo could be Macbeth’s inner conscience riling
against him, his subconscious mind manifesting itself in the form of a demonic
reminder of the horror he has committed – in the same way as Lady Macbeth’s
madness. As soon as he sees the ghost Macbeth


   For both
Macbeth and Faustus, it is their desire for power that drives them – the one
for his kingship, the other for knowledge of magic. Both believe that the
acquisition of these things will lead to ultimate happiness, which is the root of
their delusion. Macbeth shows himself to be very conscious of the decision he
is making to kill Duncan, as we see if we examine his speech in Act I Scene


Faustus chooses to give up the
long-term benefits of a life in heaven with God for the immediate and accessible
pleasures that come with the tangible presence of Mephastophilis in the same
way Macbeth gives up the more morally rewarding benefits that would come from
serving his rightful king in order to take the position for himself.

idea of predestination and free will has the potential to undercut the guilt we
can place on these characters, if their own actions are out of their control,
can they be blamed for what eventually comes to pass? The witches prophesy is
what starts Macbeth on his downward spiral of sin, without it, it seems
unlikely he would ever have succumbed to the temptation but the witches
prophesy does not actually give Macbeth the evil means by which to achieve the
prophesy, their words are ‘morally neutral’, suggesting the
tragedy is indeed a  result of Macbeth’s own free will. Perhaps
Shakespeare is suggesting that the Devil’s powers of temptation are so
effective on certain characters because they use their own weaknesses against
them, Macbeth’s ambition in this case. Kittredge proposes the witches are
blameless; simply ‘great powers of destiny, great ministers of fate’ – this
suggests a lack of malign influence on Macbeth, that it was simply inevitable
his character would commit such crimes, with or without supernatural intervention.
Macbeth attempts to be the master of his own fate, riling against the parts of
the witches prophesy that don’t suit him directly, becoming a slave to fate
instead of its master. Just like how Faustus unwittingly makes himself a slave
to Mephistopheles instead of his master.

In addition to Renaissance
changes in the fields of science and education, the Protestant reformation
brought about multiple questions about the nature of religion which are
addressed in Faustus, predestination chief
amongst them. Calvinism (a strain of Christianity brought about by John Calvin)
suggests that individuals are already fated to either be damned or saved by
hell or heaven respectively – this suggests that one may be destined to go to
one or the other with nothing they can do to change that. As in Macbeth, one of
the overarching questions in Marlowe’s play is whether Faustus’ downfall is his
own doing, or whether he is fated to be cursed. From the evidence we see of
him, Faustus seems to be acting entirely of his own free will and at any moment
in the play has the opportunity to repent and return to God. However, a
Calvinist interpretation would suggest that Faustus’ moral battle is futile and
he is one a one-line trajectory to damnation. Personally, I doubt that Marlowe
was writing with this sentiment in mind, because it is the tantalising
possibility of Faustus redemption that makes him such a tragically fascinating
character. It also undermines the whole idea of sin as something we only commit
through temptation, the idea of free will is necessary for temptation to have
any point. The two versions of the play we have even seem to contradict each
other; in the A-text the Good Angel tells Faustus it is “Never too late, if
Faustus will repent” and the B-text reads, “Never too late, if Faustus can repent”.
Whether he ‘will’ or ‘will not’ implies Faustus has the option, but whether he
‘can’ or ‘can not’ suggests that maybe there are constraints on free will once
one’s sinful behaviour has passed a certain threshold. 

Proctor is a fascinating
character to contrast to both Macbeth and Faustus, he is a flawed man, someone
who has themselves succumbed to temptation. After he commits his sin with
Abigail and is discovered by his wife, he lives the rest of his life consumed
by the guilt of what he has done. His relationship with his wife becomes ever
more strained with the pressure of all the lies and tension between them ever
mounting. Despite his sin, he is, to his core, a good man whose moral compass
can see beyond the superficialities of the Puritan church which is corrupt with
people such as Parris abusing their positions for power. Although the fates for
Faustus, Macbeth and Proctor all result in a tragic death, Proctor dying for
his honour and what he believes in is completely different to the damned deaths
of the other two. Proctor’s death allows him to finally escape the sin that has
plagued him for so long, to finally be free from the guilt. There is irony in
the nature of the deaths of Macbeth in battle, where he once gained so much
honour; and Faustus as he is dragged to Hell, he signed away his own soul to
the devil and the audience could see this coming from the start.


The similarity between
Marlowe’s portrayal of Mephistopheles and Milton’s Satan suggests Milton used
Marlowe’s play as a source. Paradise lost depicts the forces of good versus
evil and the question of free will and Milton’s Renaissance Christian view can
be compared to the treatment of religious themes in earlier works such as both
Faustus and Macbeth. The downward spiral of sin and degradation by Satan shows
a similar moral path to both the protagonists, with the constant reminder of
redemption epitomised by Adam and Eve. However in Macbeth and Faustus the road
to redemption is complicated 


Both Macbeth and Faustus can
be viewed as symbols of renaissance individualism as well as tragic heroes
according to the Aristotelian definition. Each has his own tragic flaw, which
could be called ‘hubris’ in the sense that it is their inflated pride that
leads them to turning to evil action. Critic Francis Jeffery says of Marlowe’s
protagonist; “Faustus is a vulgar sorcerer, tempted to sell his soul to the
devil for the ordinary price of sensual pleasure, and earthly power and glory-
and who shrinks and shudders in agony when the forfeit comes to be exacted.”
which to an extent can be agreed with. However, is it not Faustus’ superior
intelligence that has led him to this place where he feels he can gain nothing
more from the world except by making a pact with the devil? Paradoxically, it
is Faustus’ intellectual prowess which makes him so vulnerable to temptation,
despite his desires going against all logic. The logic he uses to reject
religion may be flawed, but there is something impressive in the breadth of his
ambition, even if he pursues it through unworthy means. In Faustus’s long
speech after the two angels have whispered in his ears, his rhetoric outlines
the modern quest for control over nature in glowing, inspiring language.
Similarly it is Macbeth’s being an admirable over-achiever which leads him to
seeking ever more from the word. 


Throughout these texts runs
the basic didactic message against succumbing to temptation. Although, as we
have seen, this message is at times complicated by the attractiveness of the
‘evil’ characters. Shakespeare and Marlowe add dimensions to their protagonists
any audience, modern or Elizabethan, could relate to and this appeals to the
dark part in each of us where lies our own sin. Milton suggests that this sin
exists only because of the acts of Adam and Eve when they first gave in to
Satan’s temptation. However, as we see through Proctor in The Crucible,
although this sin may innately exist in each of us, we have the means of
redeeming ourselves to whatever higher power controls our fate – and avoiding
damnation in the end. The messages are confused and, at times, conflicting,
depending on the authors’ own personal beliefs but they all seem to be
attempting to convey the message that within each human exists the free will to
sin or repent, to sacrifice all for the sake of ambition and be damned or to
suffer in exchange for ultimate salvation.