Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England

By Dennis Taylor; David Beauregard | Go to book overview

15
Blasphemous Preacher:
Iago and the Reformation

by Richard Mallette

Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, Illinois

"But words are words" (1.3.217): so says a bitter Brabanzio to the Senate after he has lost his daughter to the Moor. Exactly so, one might respond, but not merely in the cynical sense Brabanzio means—that words are ineffectual. "I never yet did hear," he continues, "That the bruised heart was pierced through the ear" (1.3.217–18).1 But Brabanzio himself has just averred the opposite, by arguing that Othello has bewitched his daughter at least partly with words, with "spells and medicines bought of mountebanks" (1.3.61). Brabanzio rejects the efficacy of rhetoric by drawing on a scriptural trope popular in Reformation culture to describe the effects of preaching: the heart is pierced by the Word (Heb 4:12; Eph 6:17).2 Contrary to Brabanzio's claim, Reformed preachers never tire of repeating that the heart is best pierced through the ear. "By the eare commeth knowledge," says Henry Smith, "and therefore it is likely that many would profite by Sermons, if they were taught how to heare" (1599, 295).3 The celebrated Reformed preacher William Perkins claims that we have two kinds of ears, one corrupt and deaf, the other "a new eare pierced and bored by the hand of God, which causes a mans heart to hear the sound and operation of the Word" (1608–13, 1: 200). Perkins elsewhere adds that the redemptive stage after hearing the Word is "mollifying the heart, the which must be bruised in peeces" if the sinner is to be saved (1:79).4 These well-known preachers might also have pointed out to Brabanzio, if only in the spirit of intertextuality, that "an euill eare lets all that is euill enter into the heart" (Smith, 307). Brabanziohas, after all, just witnessed ample evidence of the heart being penetrated through the ear—in Othello's narrative of his wooing

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