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Shakespeare and the seven deadly sins : a necessary evil

Agar, Lesley


Lesley Agar


David V. N., 1959 Bagchi


This thesis investigates the idea that using the religious, moral and literary construct of the Seven Deadly Sins as an interpretative key to Shakespeare’s plays may provide further insight into his dramatic art. It has involved reviewing and developing the body of research which maintains that medieval literary and cultural references continued to influence and adapt to new cultural, literary and religious contexts in early modern literature, more specifically, that of Shakespeare.

The development of the Sins in a cultural, literary and religious context is outlined, exploring the extent to which they survived the impact of the Reformation on Catholic imagery and continued to be a common frame of reference in post-Reformation literature. It considers the likely early influence of the Sins on Shakespeare as a writer, exploring the idea of a personal commonplace book as an early and accessible resource of Sins-related classical and secular references, a resource shared with most of the Elizabethan and early Jacobean audiences.

Finally the thesis seeks to provide a reading of a representative collection of Shakespeare’s plays chronologically; according to genre, and by individual sins and virtues, using the religious, cultural and literary lexicon of the Sins, and to demonstrate the way in which the Sins were deployed to provide dramatic interpretation of source material, as well as psychological insight into character. It is the contention of this thesis that the popular, semi-secular nature of the Sins and the way in which they became embedded in most aspects of art and culture enabled them to slide beneath the bar of Protestant reform to provide continuity of moral and religious reference and, more importantly, to remain in the collective cultural memory of Shakespeare and his audiences as a ‘polemically safe’ resource through which to explore issues of good and evil, salvation and damnation.


Agar, L. (2016). Shakespeare and the seven deadly sins : a necessary evil. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jan 5, 2018
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords English
Public URL
Additional Information Department of English, The University of Hull
Award Date May 1, 2016


Thesis (2 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2016 Agar, Lesley. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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