This essay examines envy within a particular historical circumstance, that of the noninheriting younger son, and contributes to scholarship that situates the etiology of emotion (and its resultant consequences) within culture and history. In Sir George Sondes His plaine Narrative to the World (1655), Sondes describes the murder of his eldest son by his younger son; he accuses the murderous son of envy. This essay argues that the early modern construction of envy as a sign of a degenerate disposition and an enemy of good functioned to sidestep material inequities; the younger son’s envy was ideologically shaped to obstruct its agency and its potential disruption to inheritance practices. Seventeenth-century commentaries on envious younger sons move away from a medieval model of sin that preached resistance to external demonic forces of temptation and instead show a tendency to psychologize, casting envy in terms of personal culpability and urging inner reform. As a subjective stance rather than an empirical thing with ontological existence, envy and its dangers could, theoretically, be eradicated through individual will.

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