William Empson disagreed with many of J. M. Robertson, LiteraryDetection (1931), about certain points surrounding MacBeth.
“The eye winkat the hand, yet let that be which the eye fear, when tis done, to see.” isa line from MacBeth which to Robertson “appeared particularly vulgar”.William Empson discusses this point and says that “he throws out a numberof them which seem to me to sum up the thought of the play.”. I agree withWilliams 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 fogand 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 Robertsonhas passed off as horrid. Empson points out that “it establishes from thestart the theme of fog” and I am within full agreement with Empson when heremarks that comment of the line.
Certain lines to MacBeth, which Empson described as essential, weredisregarded by Robertson as having “no sense”. This paragraph shows anexample of what Robertson disregarded:”But cruel are the times, when we are traitors And do not knowourselves, when we hold rumour From what we fear, yet know not what wefear, 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 thelines, “hold rumour could be like ‘hold parley with'” and goes through aretranslation of this short passage. “No one who had experienced civil warcould say it had no sense.” is a line which briefly sums up Robertson’sreasons for his earlier claim on this passage, his lack of experiencing acivil war. Empson does a wonderful job placing himself as the firstaudience of Shakespeare and reliving these events to their raw meaning. Ibelieve that once you’ve lived through a civil war with its traitors andviolent times, this passage comes through more clearly and can be seeneasier.
A third point which Empson rebukes, “Before my body, I throw mywarlike 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 notdistinguish between the sense of style and the sense of sense” implyingthat Chambers is not capable of examining this line fully. I believe thisline to be a powerful line showing that MacBeth is trying to protecthimself with the last of his bodily protection that he possesses. “Isuspect the trouble is merely that the critics don’t see the point.” is aline which states clearly the problems of the previous 2 critics’ misleadinterpretations.
William Empson has led several strong arguments againstRobertson’s translation of the story MacBeth. I agree with the pointsbrought up by William Empson and believe that Robertson misinterpreted keyevents in the play of MacBeth.