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Heather Hirschfeld's The End of Satisfaction

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. FaustusThe Revenger’s TragedyThe 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.


“Heather Hirschfeld is an astute reader of early modern English dramatic texts and an authoritative voice on the wide-ranging effects of the Reformation on English literary culture (and vice versa). In The End of Satisfaction, Hirschfeld turns her sharp attention to the theological idea of satisfaction and its doctrinal ramifications across a host of related experiences and discourses—the question of hell, the impossibility of fulfillment through revenge, financial repayment, and the social and psychic costs of marriage.”—Gail Kern Paster, author of The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England

The End of Satisfaction will become a touchstone for future debates over the legacy of the Reformation on the early modern stage and the role played there by satisfaction in the widest sense of the word. Heather Hirschfeld handles beautifully both the continuities and the discontinuities between late medieval and Reformed thinking. Her treatment of revenge tragedy is a tour de force.”—John Parker, University of Virginia, author of The Aesthetics of Antichrist: From Christian Drama to Christopher Marlowe

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