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
Partial Lines in Macbeth I.2
Bill Long 3/16/06
"Hearing" and "Seeing" the Action
When you study human memory you quickly come across the concept of an "eidetic" memory--one which, as it were, "takes a picture" of things and then can accurately recite what was "seen" from memory. The more I read and memorize Shakespeare, the more I am convinced that he had what I will call a kind of eidetic conversational memory, a memory in which he could imagine, by the mere stroke of the pen, the full range of interpretive possibilities resident in the use of a word or phrase. That is, he could "see" who would need to be speaking the word, hearing the word, out of earshot, just coming into the scene. He could see the place perfectly, the tone, volume and gestures that accompanied the words, and also the ambiguity or irony created by these same words. In addition, S had at his disposal what art critic John Ruskin called "penetrative" insight, which meant that he could use words that sliced to the heart of the matter and the individual using them. These words didn't have to be big words; in fact, as a subsequent essay will show, many of the words in 1.2 which enrich the context are mono- or di-syllabic words. This essay explores one literary device S used in Macbeth I.2 to enrich our visualization of the action--the device of partial (fewer that 10-count) lines. My thesis here is that these partial lines in I.2 work well because they require the reader to "fill in" the missing syllables. Thus, S is doing something very "modern" in his writing--forcing his hearers/readers to "interact" with him as the play unfolds. To the four examples:
I.2.20--"Till he faced the slave"
The result of the battle between Macbeth and Macdonwald is, as we have been told, "doubtful." The latter has his "kerns and gallowglasses" as well as the "whore" Fortune on his side, but Macbeth simply disdains this array of opponents and carves out his passage through the enemy until he confronts Macdonwald directly. He carved out his passage (I.2.19) "Till he faced the slave" in 20. A few points call for comment. First is the characterization of Macdonwald as a "slave." No noble opponent is he. No worthy thane is here.
But more important is the picture created by the scene. Once Macbeth carves out his passage through the bodies with his steaming sword, he comes face to face with the foe. And, when that happens, the action, as it were, stops for a moment. What happens in that moment of recognition or discovery, that literary anagnoresis? Several things. S "sees" them all, but wants us, the reader, to "fill in" what we see in our mind. What do we see in this "interactive" passage? Do we see fear? Wounds? Supreme confidence? A sort of private conflict or a very public fight? A recognition that finally this is what is meant by quashing a rebellion? Students of history read all the time about revolts that are successful or "put down." But, what does it actually feel like to be the person who delivers the decisive blow to turn back the the opposition forces or, to use S's more eloquent poetry, to make them "crave composition"? It must be like the feeling a trial lawyer friend of mine had when his case against the Catholic Church for priest sexual abuse actually was the case that caused the Diocese of Oregon to seek bankruptcy protection. Perhaps there is a difference. My friend has no brief against the Roman Catholic Church in general, though he was zealously representing the interests of his sexually-abused clients. The Diocese "craved composition" or, more accurately, sought to buy time through the bankruptcy process--which is ongoing as I write.
But we should not miss the point. S's half line (five beats only) makes us stop, listen and "see" the scene. For those of us who are not in a hurry, we then will imagine all sorts of things as the two intrepid warriors, Macbeth and Macdonwald, faced off. Don't be too quick to rush to line 21--the disembowelment of Macdonwald. Live in the uncertainty, the rush of the moment of confrontation, for a while.
I.2.41--"I cannot tell"
This second partial line (four beats here) comes after the injured Sergeant has narrated the "newest state" of the battle for the preceding 35 lines. He is imbrued in blood and sweat as he tells his story. He has just finished giving King Duncan two possible interpretations of M's action. The violence of the action is so extreme either: (1) because M enjoys bathing himself in "reeking" blood ("reeking" probably refers to "smoking" blood rather than "odoriferous" blood. The original meaning of "reek" is to "smoke," and this reading of the word would comport well with line 18 where M's sword "smoked with bloody execution") or (2) because M wants to have this battle bring to memory that greatest battle of human history, where Christ fought with Satan at Golgotha. Which shall it be? "I cannot tell," he says. Can we, the reader, tell? Is this a battle in which Macbeth is portrayed simply as a killing machine, filled with bloodlust and desire to obliterate the foe, or is this a battle fraught with deeper significance, a sort of modern "holy war," a battle fraught with meaning? If it is the latter, then terms such as destiny, purpose, right, and duty are implicated; if it is the former, then the battle is primarily one of destruction only. The wounded soldier cannot say. It is left to the reader to determine what sort of battle this is.
But we really can't answer this question as we could answer the first "question" posed by the words "Till he faced the foe." There we could imagine the scene with some precision and confidence. Here we don't know the answer to the interpretive dilemma of what kind of battle this is. We will have to read the rest of the play to answer this second question, and maybe even then we won't have an answer. The soldier may speak more than he knows.
I see I need another essay to look at two other partial lines in I.2.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long