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
What Works (and Doesn't) in I.2
Bill Long 3/28/06
Exploring Shakespeare's Literary Method
After having memorized and worked through 1.2 dozens of times in my head (and on paper), I want to share my thoughts on what "works" for S and what doesn't really "work" in this scene. Since he is the best writer we have in the language, it might seem strange to say that some things don't work, but in at least three places in 1.2 he uses images that don't quite fit. Nevertheless, the fact that so many things do work shows me that what S is doing as he writes is experimenting with language, seeing how much "give" there is in the words, stretching it to cover the varied experiences of life. S's use of language should embolden us not only to care for our speech but to "try out" our own vocabulary in new and fresh ways.
Things That "Work" for Me
Here are some things that seem to work very well in 1.2. Almost all of them can be integrated into the way we speak or think, to our profit. Let me list them, commenting only briefly.
1. The Structure Works. The scene is about 65 lines, and it is broken into three identifiable parts, which themselves are interrupted about every 10 lines. The injured soldiers speaks in the first 45 lines, with appropriate introductory and interjectory material, and the Thane of Cawdor's speech finishes the scene. Nothing so long but that the hearer/reader gets a slight mental break. Such a break enables us to see each subsection as almost complete in itself (Macdonwald's revolt; Norway's assault; the bravery of Macbeth and Banquo, etc). The lesson from S: think about how we structure our words for maximum effect. Give hearers mental breaks. Don't be prolix. Provide one point at a time.
2. The Single and Double Syllable Words Work. They often are used with a slight "twist" from their original meaning so that the reader/hearer must stop, ever so briefly, to consider what is being said. He uses "broil" (6) for battle, "smoked" (18) for dripped, "carve" (19) for advance, "unseamed" (22) for sliced down the middle, "cracks" (37) for cannon explosions, "smack" (44) for show or testify to, "haste" (46) for desperation, "flout" (50) for a combination of mock and flap, "lapped" (54) for accoutered or dressed, and "lavish" (57) for proud. There are also other examples. S's brilliance is often in simple words. Simplicity doesn't come naturally. You have to work at it.
3. Ironies, Silences and Pithy Lines Work. Two ironies are evident. When the king asks whether Macbeth and Banquo were scared when the "Norway's" lord began a fresh assault, the wounded soldier says "Yes." "Yes" 'is at the end of line 34. We see the word and stop mentally. 'Oh, they were afraid. I can understand that.' Then line 35 follows: "As sparrows eagles, or the hare the lion." Now we smile. S has charmed us. A few lines later, when the Thane of Ross has entered, and the king sees the "haste" in his eyes, a sign that a person is about to "speak things strange," Ross immediately says, "God save the King" (48). It is a very appropriate greeting, but it drips with irony here, because the "strange" thing uttered is that the king should be long-lived. The reader/hearer knows, but the characters to do not, that Duncan is in the last days of his life.
I have spoken about the silences or partial lines in 1.2 here and need not repeat myself. As regards a pithy line or two, the one I like most follows the description of Macbeth when he confronts "Norway" in battle. He is called "Bellona's bridegroom" (notice, in contrast, that Macdonwald's female helper in battle shows herself like a "whore" (15. Thus, Macbeth has a "wife" while the foe only has a "whore"), and he is accoutered for the battle ("lapped in proof"). Then, just as he "faced the slave" (20) then, he confronted Norway with "self-comparisons" (55) here. But this line isn't exactly clear. It is a beautiful example of S's method of putting together a thought that is 50% clear and 100% beautiful, which requires him in the next line or two to "unpack" the compressed image that isn't quite clear. To that end he does so in the next line: "Point against point rebellious, arm 'gainst arm." Now we see what "self-comparisons" are all about. It means that the opponents are, in our words, "taking the measure" of the other and then fighting seemingly on equal terms. We see the swords flash, the "points" thrust, the arms lock, the confrontation continue. The next line (57) neatly resolves the issue with another pithy, but 100% clear, line: "curbing his lavish spirit." In other words, the point by point self-comparison leads to the clash and then the victory by Macbeth. How beautiful is it, however, to "see" the encounter. The fight with Norway contrasts with S's presentation of the fight with Macdonwald. What was stressed there was the bloody result (Macdonwald's being "unseamed") and not the process of engagement.
I need one more essay on this. Suffice it to say for now that I try to use S's principle every day when I teach. That is, I give a basic principle, which might be 50% clear, and then I "unpack" it for students, giving illustrations through the text of a statute, cases or problems that both illumine the statute and the principle. I don't claim Shakespearean eloquence, but I do follow his heart, I hope.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long