The classification of the “seven deadly sins” dates back to as early as the 6th century, when they were first grouped together by St. Gregory the Great, Pope from 590-604. The sins – pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony (including drunkenness) anger, and sloth – were held to be transgressions that caused the death not of the body but of the soul. In the mid-13th century Guilielmus Peraldus composed a treatise on the seven deadly sins called the Summa seu Tractatus de Viciis, and it soon became the most influential source on the subject, fascinating and inspiring Medieval and Renaissance writers including Thomas Malory, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, Langland, Dante, Spenser, and Marlowe. Although Shakespeare does not address directly the catalogue of deadly sins, he does have much to say on each individual offence.
When Envy breeds unkind division:
There comes the ruin, there begins confusion.
1 Henry VI 4.1.195-6, Exeter
That monster envy, oft the wrack
Of earned praise.
Pericles 4.1.11-13, Gower
Thou dost love her, because thou knowst I love her.
Myself have often heard him say and swear
That this his love was an eternal plant,
Whereof the root was fix’d in virtue’s ground,
The leaves and fruit maintain’d with beauty’s sun,
Exempt from envy, but not from disdain.
3 Henry VI 3.3.125-9, Warwick to King Lewis XI
Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thou forgot
The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy
Was grown into a hoop? hast thou forgot her?
The Tempest 1.2.304-6, Prospero to Ariel
Thou grumblest and railest every hour on Achilles,
and thou art as full of envy at his greatness as
Cerberus is at Proserpine’s beauty.
Troilus and Cressida 2.1.30-2, Thersites to Ajax
This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
Julius Caesar 5.5.75-8, Mark Antony, of Brutus
I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances;
But not for joy; not joy. This entertainment
May a free face put on, derive a liberty
From heartiness, from bounty, fertile bosom,
And well become the agent; ‘t may, I grant;
But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers,
As now they are, and making practised smiles,
As in a looking-glass, and then to sigh, as ’twere
The mort o’ the deer; O, that is entertainment
My bosom likes not, nor my brows!
The Winter’s Tale, 1.2.136-45, Leontes