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George Washington University

The Devil Can Cite Scripture Author(s): Ernest A. Strathmann Reviewed work(s): Source: Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Spring, 1964), pp. 17-23 Published by: Folger Shakespeare Library in association with George Washington University Stable URL: . Accessed: 07/11/2012 11:04
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The DevilCan CiteScripture


NTONIO, the merchant of Venice, scornfully rejectsShylock's attemptto find in the storyof Jacob and the pied lambsjustification forusury. Markyouthis, Bassanio, The devil cancite Scripture for hispurpose. An evilsoulproducing holy witness Is likea villain a smiling with cheek, A goodly applerotten attheheart. outside falsehood hath!(I. iii. 98-i03) 0. whata goodly The admonition to Bassanio has its originin Scripture, its analogues in the ethicalphilosophy of the Renaissance, and its illustration in othercharacters thanShylock. ITe devil does cite scripture in tempting Jesusto cast himself down from the temple: "For it is written, He shall give his angels chargeover thee,to keep thee";' and Jesusexposesthe fallacyin the invitation to wilfultest of his divinity. In Shakespeare's plays,as in the poems of Spenserand Milton, falsehood has a goodly outside whichis notso readily penetrated byfrail mortals. In broad terms, the deception is at the heartof the bitter contrast betweenthe and thereality appearance whichshocksand ultimately destroys thegreattragic extendedspeechis an outragedrejection heroes.Hamlet's first of "seeming", and his first the anguishof disillusionment; soliloquyexpresses Othello is deceivedby "honest" to madnessby thecruelty Iago; Lear is driven of thedaughterswho flattered too late, the equivocationin fair him; Macbethdiscovers, promises. In thenarrower terms by whichthisessayis limited, Antonio'sprinin the speechesof villainswho give good advice and prociple is illustrated nouncesound doctrine. I proposeto examine, in theirdramaticcontext, a few speechesof which it may be said "tropically" thatthe devil can cite scripture. I Tago'sadviceto the disconsolate Roderigois a simpleand clear illustration of thecorrupt of sound doctrine. application Roderigo, havinglostDesdemona, to drown himself, threatens and Iago professes himselfappalled at such a in self-love. deficiency Rod. WhatshouldI do? I confess it is my shameto be so fond, but itis notin myvirtue toamend it. Iago. Virtuel a fig!'tisin ourselves that we arethusor thus. Our bodies
lPsalms XCI: 11-12; Luke IV: io-ii. Quotations fromShakespeare are fromThe Complete Playsand Poems, ed. byW. A. Neilsonand C. J.Hill (Cambridge, Mass.,1942).



3 19-336)

are our gardens, to thewhichour willsare gardeners; so thatif we will plantnettles or sow lettuce, sethyssop and weedup thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it withmany, either to haveit sterile with idleness ormanured withindustry, why, thepower and corrigible authority of thislies in our wills.If thebalanceof our liveshad not one scaleof reason to poiseanother of sensuality, thebloodand baseness of ournatures wouldconduct us to most preposterous conclusions; butwe havereason to cool our raging motions, our carnalstings, . our unbitted lusts, (I. iii.

Had lago stoppedhere,his speechcould standas a brieftreatise on the belief thatman-made a little lowerthanthe angels-is man by virtue of the exercise of the distinctive giftof reason.Shakespeare acceptswithout questionand uses freely the prevalent idea thatreasonsets man apartfromthe lower animals. Hamlet tells us that "a beast,that wants discourseof reason",would have mournedhis father's death longerthan his motherdid. Lady Macbeth can distort the principleinto a reproachof her husband'shesitation to murder Duncan. Macbeth. Prithee, peace! I daredo allthat become a man; may Whodares is none. do~more Lady Macbeth. Whatbeastwas 't, then, Thatmadeyoubreak this enterprise tome? Whenyoudurst do it,then youwere a man; And,to be morethanwhatyouwere, youwould

Besomuch more the man. (I. vii.45-51)

But Iago is not speaking out of character in a morallecture on the rational soul.His speechconcludes, ... ourunbitted lusts, I takethisthat whereof youcalllovetobea sect orscion. Love is simply an offshoot of lust.As a man you shouldcontrol thislove (lust) for yourown self-interest. lago manages in the few words of his conclusion not onlyto pervert the application of his morallessonbut to confuse love with sensuality. His cynicaldegradation of love evokes comparison with another pronouncement on thesubject: Callitnotlove, for Lovetoheaven is fled, Since sweating Lustonearth hisname; usurp'd Under whose simple semblance hehath fed Uponfresh beauty, itwith blotting blame; Which thehottyrant stains andsoonbereaves, As caterpillars do thetender leaves. Lovecomforteth likesunshine rain, after ButLust's effect is tempest after sun; Love'sgentle spring doth always fresh remain, Lust's winter comes eresummer half be done; Lovesurfeits Lustlikea glutton not, dies; Love is all truth, Lust fullof forged lies. (Venus,11.793-804)



sonnet Or withthemoresophisticated i29: Th' expense in a wasteof shame of spirit Is lust in action; ... not onlythe gull Roderigo;he of Iago's adviceis thathe convinces The irony on Othellohas observed More than one commentator has convincedhimself. love leads to his undoing. to understand thatIago's failure II Edmund is citingthe church rejection of judicial astrology In his derisive have not recognizedthat the if not scripture. Some commentators fathers, docwith Christian of his soliloquyis in harmony seemingly bold skepticism today,it is not the thoughless apparently trine.As in Iago's moral lecture, butitsapplication. thatis wrong, philosophy incidents The Earl of Gloucesterhas exclaimed upon the controversial conleaves,Edmund remarks by the late eclipses.Afterhis father portended uponhiscredulity. temptuously whenwe are sickin forof theworld, that, foppery This is theexcellent make guilty of our the surfeits of our own behaviour,-we tune,-often on necessity, thesun,themoon,and stars, disasters as if we werevillains and treachers by spherical thieves, knaves, foolsby heavenly compulsion, of obedience by an enforc'd and adulterers liars, drunkards, predominance, on. and all thatwe are evil in, by a divinethrusting influence, planetary of whore-master disposition man,to lay his goatish An admirable evasion underthe withmymother ofa star!My father compounded on thecharge was underUrsa major;so thatit follows, tail,and my nativity dragon's I am roughand lecherous. Fut, I shouldhave been thatI am, had the on mybastardizing. twinkled starin thefirmament (I. ii. 128maidenliest '45) of the starson the will the influence in rejecting Edmund is in good company of judicial astrology againstthe practice of man. One of the ethicalarguments the concernedwith foretelling future-was that -that branch of astrology On religiousgrounds tend to blame the starsfortheirwrongdoing. evildoers a limitation as implying upon God's omnipotence. was rejected judicialastrology forjudicialastrology, An apologist Christopher Heydon,does notallow thestars he writes, numberof scholars, an influence upon the will of man. An infinite thanour schoolmen and divines teachno further, . . . all withone consent but notenforce, bethattheheavens do incline, namely do secondthem, all whence poweroverthe will of man from cause theyhave no direct as from flow.2 do naturally human their original, actions, withHeydon: is in essential RobertGray,a clergyman, agreement such thingsas happen,but theyare Tle starsdo sometimes foreshow causes of such thingsas happen.Most impiousand not the enforcing
(Cambridge,i603), pp. 3, 20-21. For a briefaccountof 2A DefenCeof judiCialAstrology Sir WalterRalegh: A Studyin Elizasee E. A. Strathmann, Elizabethanopinionson astrology, p. therecited,especially (New York, 1951), pp. 192-197, and the references bethanSkepticism 192, n. 42.



and operation of it is, to ascribe to theinfluence these things blasphemous his power, to to derogate from forit is to robGod of his honor, thestars: and subordinate and to tie God to secondary his providence, overthrow of ourselves, thefearof God in us, it extinguisheth causes, and in respect it hinders ourrepentance and conversion untoGod,it drawsus to atheism, ofGodandhisjudgments.3 both andtoa flat contempt influence of thestarsupon thewill of man, Sir WalterRalegh deniesthe direct appetite". influence "by mediationof the sensitive but arguesfor an indirect He quotes the opinion of St. Augustinein language not unlike Edmund's strictures. is to be followed, that But in thisquestion of fate, themiddlecourse in thissupposed we do notbindGod to his creatures, as withtheheathen creawe do notrobthosebeautiful of destiny, so on thecontrary necessity tures of their and offices. For had any of thesesecondcausesdepowers God of his prerogative, themind constrained or had God himself spoiled thensure and will of man to impious actsby any celestial enforcements, of whomSt. Augustine theimpious excuseof somewerejustifiable; . .. perversethey againwithwicked we reprehend ofevildeeds, "Where them thanthedoer of thestars, and Creator theAuthor nessurgethatrather oftheevilis tobeaccused." incline thewillbymediation Butthat celestial bodies thestars and other and comof thesensitive bytheconstitution whichis also stirred appetite, itcannot bedoubted.4 plexion, attackon judicial astrology has reputable Edmund's derisive In brief, supthe lesson bothethicaland religious; but,as in Iago's advice to Roderigo, port, is misapplied.Edmund does not concludethat man must disciplinehis will and its apologists of judicial astrology agreed that and fear God. Both critics and indirect could counteract thelimited and religious nurture soundeducation of the stars.But Edmund has rejectedmoral responsibility and reinfluence In his firstspeech in scene ii he ligious duty along with judicial astrology. and in denying the influence of the starshe has invokesnatureas his goddess, declaredhis freedomfromthe laws of man and God. The simultaneously is precededby Edmund's seemingly reluctant insinuations speechon astrology withEdmund pretending againstEdgar. The speechends,when Edgar enters, in theastrology whichhe has justdenounced. a belief III Unlike Iago and Edmund, Claudius does not disclosehis villainyat the of Act III of Hamlet do we of the play. Not until the beginning beginning of wrongdoing. hear from Claudius.himselfan acknowledgment Polonius, while occupation Ophelia to "read on thisbook" as a pretended havingordered sheawaitsHamlet,comments: We areoft toblame inthis,withdevotion's 'Tis too muchprov'd-that visage o'er we do sugar action Andpious himself. The devil (III. i. 46-49)
8 An Alarum to England(i609), sigs.C it-C 2'. 4 History ofthe World(i614), bk.I, ch. I, sec.xi,p. 15.



in an aside: of theKing, who confesses The wordscatchtheconscience

0. 'tistrue! [Aside.]How smart a lash thatspeechdothgivemyconscience! The harlot's cheek, beautied with plast'ring art, Is notmore ugly tothething it that helps Thanis mydeedtomymost word. painted 0 heavy burden! (III. i. 49-54)
In Act I we knownothing of this.As thesecondsceneof Hamlet openswe are aware of something amiss,sincea ghostin the semblance of King Hamlet that"Something has appeared;but we have not yetbeen told emphatically is in the stateof Denmark",and we are yetto hear Hamlet's soliloquyon rotten causes of his griefand melancholy. the deep-seated The good advice that Claudius givesHamlet concerning a contrast grief, therefore, presents between wordsand motives thatis lesssharply at thetime, thanin thespeeches apparent, ofIago and Edmund. the featof watching If we can encompass sceneii unfoldas if forthe first we findourselves a formal courtscenein whicha mild-spoken time, witnessing of events. king seemsto be in judiciouscontrol True, we are shockedto learn thatthis king,in succeedinghis brother, has promptly marriedhis brother's widow; but the courthas acquiesced and the only discordant elementis the silentPrinceHamlet,clad in black. The king is alertin countering the threat fromNorway,graciousin granting Laertes leave to departfor France, and kindly-uneasy perhaps?-in addressing Hamlet. Gertrude's solicitous entreaty to Hamlet has culminated in an unhappyphrase.If death is common,"Why seemsit so particular withthee?" In Hamlet's view,therehas been too much ofseeming, and hisretort is passionate: Seems, madam! Nay,itis; I know not"seems." 'Tis notalonemyinky cloak, goodmother, Norcustomary suits ofsolemn black, Norwindy suspiration offorc'd breath, intheeye, No, northe fruitful river Northedejected haviour ofthevisage, Together with all forms, moods, shows ofgrief, Thatcandenote metruly. Theseindeed seem, Forthey areactions that a manmight play, ButI havethat within which passeth show, Thesebutthetrappings and thesuits ofwoe. (I. ii. 76-86) It is in reply to thisoutburst thatClaudius givesthe Princeadviceof which no Christian woulddisapprove. moralist 'Tis sweet and commendable in yournature, Hamlet, To givethese mourning duties toyour father. But,youmust know, your father lost a father; Thatfather lost, lost his;andthesurvivor bound In filial obligation for some term To do obsequious sorrow. Buttopersever In obstinate condolement is a course Ofimpious 'tisunmanly stubbornness; grief;



It shows a willmost incorrect toheaven, A heart unfortified, a mind impatient, An understanding simple andunschool'd; Forwhat weknow must be,andis as common As anythemost vulgar thing tosense, Whyshould weinourpeevish opposition Take ittoheart? toheaven, Fie! 'tisa fault A fault against thedead, a fault tonature, To reason most absurd, whose common theme Is death offathers, andwhostill hath cried, Fromthefirst corse till he that diedtoday,

"This must beso."(I. ii.87-i06)

in grief is an affront to heaven;evenapartfrom Christian Intemperance dutythe The first intemperance is a moralfault. encounter of Sir Guyonwithintemperancemayserveas an analogue.In Book Two of The Faerie Queene,a brief and righteous displayof anger,inducedby Archimago's slanderof the Red Crosse Then Guyon and the Palmer,in Knight,is dispelledby mutual recognition. theirfirst meetAmavia,who, in the intemperance adventure, of griefoverthe deathof herhusband, has givenherself a mortal wound.FirstGuyonand then thePalmermoralizeuponthescene. Thenturning tohisPalmer said,Old syre Behold the ofmortalities image Andfeeble nature cloth'd with fleshly tyre, Whenraging passion with fierce tyrannie Robsreason of herdue regalitie, Andmakes itseruant toherbasest part: itweakens The strong with infirmities boldfurie Andwith armes theweakest hart; The strong soonest theweakethrough smart. through pleasure falles, Buttemperance (said he) with golden squire Betwixt them both canmeasure outa meane, Neither tomelt in pleasures whot desire, Norfry in hartlesse griefe anddolefull teene. Thrisehappie man,whofares them both atweene: . .


The briefsermonby Claudius on the sin of immoderate the griefdeserves of thelearnedand godly.The speechconcludes withan invitation approbation thekingas hisfather, withthepronouncement thatHamlet to Hamletto regard to returnto is next in line of succession-and with a refusalof permission to Laertes.If a ghostly thekind of permission visitor Wittenberg, just granted have put us on the alert, we just possibly and an uncanonical marriage may be of permission of thisrefusal to travel. thepassagedoes not suspicious Although between"fairtermsand a villain's an immediately present apparentcontrast mind" (in Bassanio'sapt phrase), we hear in a soliloquythat beginsonly a of themoralizing dozen lineslaterHamlet'scondemnation king.And thatnight Hamletis impelled and to setdownin histables"That one maysmile, and smile, be a villain!"
5 F. Q., II. i. 57-58. For some othercounselson temperance in grief,see L. B. Campbell, TragicHeroes(Cambridge, 1930), pp. 114-11 7. Shakespeare's



and Duessa to the Archimago by Spenser's practiced Fromthedeceptions good" as a "fair appearing evilpresented Satan, ofEve byMilton's temptation When oftales. andtellers po'ets, dramatists, ofElizabethan theme is a recurrent to recognize fails as Urielat first false-seeming, penetrate evenan angelcannot is ensnared. a wiseman that wonder small Satan, disguised the candiscern Angel nor man Forneither walks that only evil the Hypocrisy, (P.L.,III. 682-684) toGodalone. except Invisible, merely myattention I haveconcentrated uponwhich speeches The three condramatic hismajor framed Shakespeare which within a problem epitomize been havesometimes by Iago and Edmund, those Two ofthespeeches, flicts. totally thatIago's speechhas been considered to the extent misunderstood, to serve all three speeches In fact, irreligious. totally and Edmund's immoral In an andreality. pretense between anddeeds, words between disparity the isolate meant goodwords ofliterature, function tothedidactic gaveprimacy agewhich hermaid: tells half mockingly, Portia, gooddeeds. produced unless they little had goodto do,chapels were what as easyas to know If to do were It is a gooddivine palaces. princes' cottages men's andpoor been churches good were what twenty teach I caneasier hisowninstructions; follows that ownteaching. mine to follow to be oneof thetwenty than to be done, (I. ii. 13-i8) Ralegh Sir Walter to ourtext, closer and in language vein, somber In a more of thepractice doesnotassure oftheprinciple grasp theintellectual laments that men. than indivinity learned aremore the devils that virtue, the mouth man's be in every thereof andthetruth religion Foralthough we that We profess dissimulation? an universal than is it other ... what notconsist doth For beatitude him. we deny knowGod,butbyworks know thedevils for life; in a divine but things, ofdivine knowledge in the in comedians become men.... We areall (in effect) than better them the all in divine voice virtues, and act in gesture we while and religion: we play.6 andtheparts ourpersons we renounce ofourlives course Shylock rebuke-of Antonio's for hispurpose. cancite Scripture thedevil In brief, of the conflicts than even larger ofthebond, thestory context than hasa larger tragedies. the great College Pomona

oftheWorld(i614), History

sig.C 2z. Preface,