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 1.2 II
Bill Long 3/28/06
More Literary Reflections
Let's continue (and conclude) with more reflections on S's method.
4. Brief Phrases Create Pictures. Pictorial speech and writing is the best speech and writing. When you speak and write this way people see and feel what you want them to experience. In contrast, doctoral programs and higher education in general usually take away our capacity to write and speak this way. They do so because higher education is, in general, an unimaginative enterprise. It is largely a bureaucracy that needs feeding, much like the Titanic's boilers, which needed to be fed by the shoveling energy of sweaty and blackened Irishmen. S, in contrast, teaches us how to create pictures. He does so through similies ("like" or "as"), subordinate clauses and vivid verbs.
One example will have to suffice. I like the way he can string out an image through use of subordinate clauses and similies. When Macbeth is first introduced, after the bloody sergeant has described the composite strength of Macdonwald (his own troops, supplemented by the kerns, supported further by Fortune), we immediately "see" Macbeth. The literary instruments through which we see him are prepositional phrases, subordinate clauses, similies. He just doesn't go and confront Macdonwald. Rather, "disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel,/ Which smoked with bloody execution,/ Like valor's minion carved out his passage..." (17-19). Notice how the phrases pile up. They are not obtrusive, but they combine wonderfully to give us a picture of Macbeth at war. First we see him as courageous and then we see him equipped. But he is not just carrying a "steel." It already is "smoking"--i.e., steam is rising from it because of the frequency of its piercing warm bodies. Now we have an analogy or simile. He is not going into battle as a pimp or customer of the whore Fortune. Rather, he is "valor's minion," the darling of courage itself. Shakespeare knew that all you needed to do to create an image in our minds is to drop one or two suggestive phrases in our laps. Our minds will do the rest.
5. A Bonus Phrase. I have friends who are buying new houses. Ever since the mid-1990s, builders have been putting "bonus" rooms in houses. I still don't know what a bonus room is. I think it must mean that it is a room for which the traditional housing terminology of the 1950's-1980s had no word. Houses are becoming so big that we simply run out of words to describe physical space. Thus, it is a "bonus" room. Well, I much prefer bonus phrases, sort of gifts to us when we are not expecting them. So let me give you a bonus. We will finish with the phrase "craves composition" in line 59. One edition of S I read gives a footnote for composition: "terms of surrender." Another says "peace treaty." A third, as if by way of compromise, defines it as "terms of peace." You get the picture. But let's look at the word "composition." Comprised of two Latin words meaning "to put together," composition has 26 definitions in the OED. We know several of them, and I won't belabor them. But we have to go down to definitions 22-25 to get the sense of this passage, even though this passage isn't cited as an example by the OED. A composition may be "a mutual agreement between two parties," such as a contract. A sixteenth century quotation has: "composition...for their transportation." Then, composition may mean an agreement to settle political differences, such as a treaty. This is probably the sense in which S uses it here. From 1568 we have: "That the realmes of England and of France..were of late..joyned together in an eternall league and composition." Then, the OED lists a definition as "an agreement or arrangement involving surrender or sacrifice." Finally, it can be such an agreement where a sum of money is in view. Obviously these various definitions rather shade into each other than are fully distinct from one another. In any case, "composition" was used frequently in the 16th and 17th centuries to describe some kind of agreement or surrender. The editors of the S versions are right; I wanted to bring you into the laboratory of language to show this.
What Doesn't Work in 1.2
I will close this essay by pointing out three images which really don't work very precisely for S in 1.2. I am actually encouraged by this; it emboldens me to keep trying to get it right as I speak and write. In fact the images are very vivid, that is why S probably uses them. But, they just don't quite "fit." Here they are.
1. "And choke their art" (9). I show elsewhere why this picture doesn't fully work. Suffice it to say here that when swimmers choke each other they are "spent" and not necessarily hostile, but what S really wants to describe is the equal powers on each side of antagonistic forces. Check out my essay for more on this.
2. The Confusion in Lines 11-13. Again, I describe this here. This confusion may be the result more of editorial bumbling than S's infelicities. Ok, I will blame the editors. S is off the hook.
3. The Sun "'ginning his reflection" (25). S is working here on a potentially brilliant image from nature relating to the remergence of danger when you think the danger has passed. That is, Macdonwald and his troops have been bested; it seems as if victory is assured. At this point the Norweyan troops arrive and begin a fresh assault. How to capture this in a simile? That is S's "problem." What does he do? He takes an image from the "bending" of the sun at the vernal equinox (different editors give different explanations of this "reflection" or "bending" or "turning") and the well-known natural disasters which follow in its wake (i.e., the "thunders" and the "shipwracking storms" of 26). So, the idea he is working on is the reemergence of trouble when there is a "turning" point. But what does he "liken" things to? Read lines 27-28: "So from that spring when comfort seemed to rise/ Discomfort swells." S has mistakenly made reference to a place or source ("from that spring") rather than the process of the turning or bending. It isn't the sun he is focusing on in line 25; it is the bending or turning back of the sun. Yet, his simile likens things to the source of distress. Close, but not really close enough.
I am sure that if any of our work was subjected to this kind of scrutiny it would be weighed in the balance and found wanting. Close examination of S, however, gives me the confidence and encouragement to keep trying not only to fashion visual images but even to let some stand that might not fully "work." If only my editors would see things the same way that S did...
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long