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
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.