According to the book of Genesis, the world with its living creatures and original human inhabitants first existed in the mind of God and then became his creation. Adam and Eve were created in order to serve the will of God which they performed simply by refraining from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The tree was, as Milton says in the De Doctrina Christiana, ‘a pledge, as it were, and memorial of obedience’.1 At first Eve is content to play her role in the eternal drama designed for her by God, but she is then persuaded by Satan that she can, if she chooses, assert her own will in a drama in which the tree will have a different function. Instead of being a pledge of her obedience to God, it will, she is persuaded, become a key to knowledge, a means whereby she herself may become like God. According to the religious assumptions on which the story rests, Eve’s choice is a very simple one between good (rejecting the apple and thereby doing God’s will) and evil (eating the apple and asserting her own will). Adam’s predicament is, however, very much more problematical. When offered the apple he may behave as a creature in the world God has created, refrain from eating it and thereby allow Eve to go alone to her death, or he may behave as the husband of Eve, whom he loves, eat the apple and share her doom with her, a problem made more difficult because he and Eve are literally one flesh. His choice is no longer one between good and evil but between a greater and a lesser evil, between his role in God’s world and his role in Eve’s world, for the two roles are no longer congruent. His predicament is, according to the Genesis story, the first complex moral dilemma, the origin of all such dilemmas in a creation out of harmony with the will of God.
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Notes and References
- 1.Milton, De Doctrina Christiana, in Works (Columbia edition) vol. XV (New York, 1933) p. 115.Google Scholar
- 11.Peter Ure (ed.), Richard II, Introduction, p. lxxviii; and Irving Ribner, ‘The Political Problem in Shakespeare’s Lancastrian Tetralogy’, Studies in Philology, XLIX (1952) 171.Google Scholar