Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2013
The Devil versus God in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Times
While God has certainly been one of the most important subjects of Western literature, the devil matches that popularity in a Manichaean-like symmetry. Indeed, the good and evil they incorporate are among the fundamental issues of literature. A detailed probing of the ways individual writers in any particular period reflected those polar opposites would be an inexhaustible undertaking. Nevertheless, we can observe a remarkable increase in the interest in, fascination with, and fear of the devil during the late Middle Ages and the early modern period. The increase is parallel to the growth of widespread superstition. In fact, the curious sense of the end of time, occasionally even in an apocalyptic sense, throughout the fifteenth century and the realization of an impending paradigm shift that characterized the entire transitional period from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century almost automatically led to an intense treatment of the devil in myriad manifestations. Johan Huizinga points to the pervasive and provocative role of the devil in the late Middle Ages not long before the obsession with witches became epidemic. However, the widespread interest in the devil, which found expression in popular literature, did not fully emerge until the sixteenth century.