Critical Article on MacBeth William Empson disagreed with many of J. M. Robertson, Literary Detection (1931), about certain points surrounding MacBeth. “The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be which the eye fear, when tis done, to see.” is a line from MacBeth which to Robertson “appeared particularly vulgar”. William Empson discusses this point and says that “he throws out a number of them which seem to me to sum up the thought of the play.”.
I agree with Williams on this point because what Robertson passed off for being vulgar, I believe helped to sum up certain points which a scene is trying to make. For example, Robertson calls this line of MacBeth: “Hover through the fog and filthy air”. He even goes so far to call that a “vacuous tag-line”. This is a example of a line which sums up a certain point that Robertson has passed off as horrid. Empson points out that “it establishes from the start the theme of fog” and I am within full agreement with Empson when he remarks that comment of the line. Certain lines to MacBeth, which Empson described as essential, were disregarded by Robertson as having “no sense”.
This paragraph shows an example of what Robertson disregarded: “But cruel are the times, when we are traitors And do not know ourselves, when we hold rumour From what we fear, yet know not what we fear, Each way and move.” Robertson, after contemplating this passage, remarked that this is “certainly not Shakespeare’s” because of the earlier point based above. Empson believe’s that Robertson’s flaw comes within his translation of the lines, “hold rumour could be like ‘hold parley with'” and goes through a retranslation of this short passage. “No one who had experienced civil war could say it had no sense.” is a line which briefly sums up Robertson’s reasons for his earlier claim on this passage, his lack of experiencing a civil war. Empson does a wonderful job placing himself as the first audience of Shakespeare and reliving these events to their raw meaning. I believe that once you’ve lived through a civil war with its traitors and violent times, this passage comes through more clearly and can be seen easier. A third point which Empson rebukes, “Before my body, I throw my warlike shield” is an example of a line which Robertson remarked as “admittedly intolerable, known even by its defenders to be very bad”. Robertson even goes so far as to say that “(E.K.) Chambers does not distinguish between the sense of style and the sense of sense” implying that Chambers is not capable of examining this line fully.
I believe this line to be a powerful line showing that MacBeth is trying to protect himself with the last of his bodily protection that he possesses. “I suspect the trouble is merely that the critics don’t see the point.” is a line which states clearly the problems of the previous 2 critics’ mislead interpretations. William Empson has led several strong arguments against Robertson’s translation of the story MacBeth. I agree with the points brought up by William Empson and believe that Robertson misinterpreted key events in the play of MacBeth.