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The End of Satisfaction

The End of Satisfaction: Drama and Repentance in the Age of Shakespeare

Heather Hirschfeld
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    The End of Satisfaction
    Book Description:

    In The End of Satisfaction, Heather Hirschfeld recovers the historical specificity and the conceptual vigor of the term "satisfaction" during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Focusing on the term's significance as an organizing principle of Christian repentance, she examines the ways in which Shakespeare and his contemporaries dramatized the consequences of its re- or de-valuation in the process of Reformation doctrinal change. The Protestant theology of repentance, Hirschfeld suggests, underwrote a variety of theatrical plots "to set things right" in a world shorn of the prospect of "making enough" (satisfacere).

    Hirschfeld's semantic history traces today's use of "satisfaction"-as an unexamined measure of inward gratification rather than a finely nuanced standard of relational exchange-to the pressures on legal, economic, and marital discourses wrought by the Protestant rejection of the Catholic sacrament of penance (contrition, confession, satisfaction) and represented imaginatively on the stage. In so doing, it offers fresh readings of the penitential economies of canonical plays including Dr. Faustus, The Revenger's Tragedy, The Merchant of Venice, and Othello; considers the doctrinal and generic importance of lesser-known plays including Enough Is as Good as a Feast and Love's Pilgrimage; and opens new avenues into the study of literature and repentance in early modern England.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7063-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Where’s Satisfaction?
    (pp. 1-15)

    “Would I were satisfied!” laments Shakespeare’s Othello in the tortured crescendo of act 3, scene 3. “You would be satisfied,” confirms Iago, whose poisonous suggestions about Desdemona’s infidelity have prompted Othello’s plaint. “And may, but, how, how satisfied, my lord? Would you, the supervisor, grossly gape on, Behold her topp’d? … What shall I say? Where’s satisfaction?”¹

    Where’s satisfaction? Iago’s question is directed at Othello’s specific struggle, often understood as the effect of a corrosive skepticism, with the nature of evidence and the problem of other minds.² But the deep force of the query derives from the explicit, categorical challenge...

  5. Chapter 1 “Adew, to al Popish satisfactions”: Reforming Repentance in Early Modern England
    (pp. 16-38)

    “Adew, to al Popish satisfactions,” proclaimed the Protestant clergyman Thomas Wilson in his monumentalChristian Dictionarie(1612).¹ The exclamation is representative of the robust efforts by early modern Protestants to “bend the language of satisfaction … to a new purpose.”² The “language of satisfaction” to which theologian Timothy Gorringe refers here is a vocabulary of divine and human atonement intimated in the Scriptures and established in early and medieval Christian doctrine. The “bending” of this language was a discrete element of the doctrinal program of the European and English Reformations, consistent with their epochal redescription of the relation between humans...

  6. Chapter 2 The Satisfactions of Hell: Doctor Faustus and the Descensus Tradition
    (pp. 39-64)

    Could Christopher Marlowe’sDoctor Faustusbe a version of the medieval harrowing of hell play, that cycle pageant which displayed Christ’s descent to the underworld where he challenged Satan for the souls of the righteous dead?

    Of course, Marlowe’s drama, which centers obsessively on the status of the protagonist’s repentance, has long been associated with the morality play.¹ But in this chapter I argue that, under the pressure of the period’s reconfiguration of satisfaction, the play’s generic as well as penitential impulses take shape as an underworld journey as much as they do a psychomachia. In other words, the “form...

  7. Chapter 3 Setting Things Right: The Satisfactions of Revenge
    (pp. 65-93)

    “Unto God, satisfaction is due for every sinne … by taking vengeance of our selves,” explains theBriefe Fourme of Confession(1576).¹ Echoing a long tradition of confessionalsummathat build from 2 Corinthians 7:11, the dictum names a special reciprocity, even entanglement, between revenge and repentance. This reciprocity, and the linguistic and conceptual pressures to which it was subject over the course of the Reformation, represent an unexplored core of English Renaissance revenge tragedy, that fantastically successful dramatic genre dedicated to problems of retribution and reconciliation, of “setting things right” in the wake of wrong-doing. At the core of...

  8. Chapter 4 As Good as a Feast?: Playing (with) Enough on the Elizabethan Stage
    (pp. 94-118)

    Given the conceptual centrality in the early modern period ofsatis, enough, in organizing various systems of obligation and recompense, it should not surprise us to see the term emerge as a character in the mid-Tudor interlude, a genre intimately concerned with “the spiritual implications of wealth and social conduct.”¹ In the 1570 playEnough Is as Good as a Feast, for instance, “Enough” doubles with “Hireling” and serves as the protagonist’s chief ally as well as his chief antagonist, reciting all the while the proverb that gives the play its title and its didactic coloring, its homiletic message about...

  9. Chapter 5 “Wooing, wedding, and repenting”: The Satisfactions of Marriage in Othello and Love’s Pilgrimage
    (pp. 119-146)

    Satisfaction, as we have charted over the course of the preceding chapters, is a qualitative as well as quantitative principle that organizes various categories of exchange: of transgression and redemption, of violation and vendetta, of debt and repayment. In Shakespeare’sThe Merchant of Venice, these categories converge in the famous “flesh bond,” which trammels up the characters’ financial as well as religious and emotional interdependencies.

    Those interdependencies share their syntax with an additional category of interpersonal exchange: marriage. Karen Newman, for instance, suggests that the intersection of the erotic and the economic in marriage grounds the play’s other relations. “The...

  10. Postscript: Where’s the Stage at the End of Satisfaction?
    (pp. 147-152)

    This book began with a discussion of a distinct Reformation doctrinal change; it then traced the significance of this change as it was intuited by and fashioned for the early modern stage. It has thus been concerned largely with dramatic content, with the ways in which the theaterrepresentedto its audience an early modern problem of satisfaction.

    But the stage alsopresentedthis problem, showing it to be an intrinsic element of theatrical performance and reception, a feature of theater-going.¹ How can we describe and then explain this particular instance of the theater’s metadramatic function, and what does it...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 153-204)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-232)
  13. Index
    (pp. 233-240)