Overview Act I
"Threes" in 1.1
"Threes" in 1.1 (II)
Weird Sisters I
Weird Sisters II
Act 1, Scene 2
I. 2 Images
Word Use in 1.2
Word Use in 1.2 II
Partial Lines (1.2)
Partial Lines II
Phrases and 1.3
The Future Now
The Chalice (1.7)
Sacking the Temple
Sack. the Sacred II
The "Chance" II
Bill Long 3/14/06
"Memorizing" Golgotha and Other Choice Words
The Sergeant is hastening on to the conclusion of his speech. As luck would have it, he finishes just before faintness overcomes him. The purpose of this essay is to examine S's word choice throughout the last several lines of the speech as well as to focus on one phrase: to "memorize another Golgotha." Let's begin with the latter.
S's lines read as follows:
"Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds
Or memorize another Golgotha.." (1.2.39-40).
The word "except" means "unless" or, better, "whether." The Sergeant is saying that he isn't sure whether M & B are simply desirous for blood or, in a sense, whether they are calling to mind or trying to make as memorable as another great sacrifice--that of Christ in the Valley of the Skulls (Golgotha)--their deeds. But S's use of "memorize" here sent me scurrying to the OED to see what I could see. Here are a few things I found.
The meaning we all associate with the verb memorize today ("to commit to memory, learn by heart") only emerged in the mid 1830s, and it first emerged in America. From 1838: 'Good,' is used in the sense 'well'; ..To learn a thing by heart is to 'memorize' it." From the Southern Quarterly Review in 1843: "It was the custom of French preachers to write their sermons, and memorize them." Since the origin of the term in this sense coincides with the advent of the public school in America (Horace Mann's great reforms were just catching fire about that time), one wonders whether the American public school was really the first context in which this word flourished. But memorizing as an educational tool arose not necessarily because of the virtue of memorizing as an educational method (though I think its power and utility is underestimated today), but because of the paucity of books. Kids memorized because only the teacher had a copy of the book. Memorization was driven by the economic necessity of the times.
Indeed, we can see how the "realities" of the time affected another important movement in American education--the invention of the law school casebook by CC Langdell, Dean of Harvard Law School, in the early 1870s. Langdell was committed to education in legal cases, but the HLS only had one copy of the English and American Reports of cases. How can you have 20 or 30 students studying the same case with only one copy of the cases in the library (of course, this was well before the advent of duplicating technology)? Well, you invent the case book, sell it to the students and then you can all be "on the same page." That law schools still use case book instruction as a primary way of teaching law shows our pedagogical poverty--the method was an expedient for the 1870s, not the 21st century.
Returning, then, to memorizing. Well before the 1830s the word meant "to perpetuate the memory of in writing; to put on record; to relate, record, mention." The current word we have to describe this is memorialize, which is first attested in 1798. "A stone, memorialising the spot of a 'barbarous murder.'" So, in the 19th century, memorialize took over the hard work of the traditional meaning of memorize, and memorize was liberated to mean "to learn by heart." Thus, we have to go back hundreds of years to find statements such as "You have not memorized. How God..against your Enemies hath fought." Or, from 1632: "I arrived at Rome, of the which I will memorize, some rarest things." "Here flourished the exact Martial discipline, so memorized by ancient Historiographers." The usual meaning of the term, then, was to put something in writing so as not to lose the memory of it. But, it could also refer to a variety of actions taken by people to keep the memory alive. From S's time: "His fortune or rather misfortune..is memorized by us in a proverbial byword." Or, from 1639: "To memorize this victory, the King did found an Episcopal See." We memorize Christ in the bread and wine (1657). S used the words to "memorize another Golgotha." This would mean that the ferocity of the battle fought by M & B would both act as a sort of witness or record of the first Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion, as well as become a second Golgotha. After all, as I noted in an earlier essay, the horizontal and vertical "cuts" of Macdonwald (ll. 23-24) act as a sort of "sign of the Cross" for Macbeth.
I have dallied too long with memorizing. In fact, using the word in its current usage, I have memorized the first 44 lines of 1.2, because I know that I will miss so many things in the text if I don't commit it to memory. One thing I noted in lines 25-44 is the way that S "tweaks" English words to get his point across. We can see him as it were experimenting with words, as a skilled cook might experiment with ingredients, to bring more flavor and body to the food. So, he stretches the word "vantage" in l. 31 to mean "opportunity." More frequently, however, he chooses a word that might not be the first word that comes to mind to describe a phenomenon. For example, he uses "Shipwracking storms and direful thunder" (26) while I might be inclined to use "terrible thunder" (though mine might be metrically problematic). S says: "So from that spring whence comfort seem'd to come,/ Discomfort swells." I think I would have experimented with various "arising" or "emerging" verbs, but S uses the more visual "swells." And, S is right to use "swells." A more vivid picture is created--we get a picture of a puffed-up discomfort, a sort of distended distress, which faces M & B and others. Finally (and this is all too brief), he speaks of the "skipping kerns" who "trust their heels." Today we might say something to the effect that groups "flee" the battle, but S has done us one better. They "skip," which means not only that they are light-armed and mobile, but they also "skip" the battle--leave it quickly. They "trust" their heels rather than trust their weapons.
And so we smile, knowing that S has picked better words than we would select. We also smile because we are the beneficiaries of his superior choice. But sometimes we just need to read very slowly, memorizing as you go, to let the phrases sink in and become a part of the weft of our own being.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long