William Empson disagreed with J. M. Robertson’s Literary Detection (1931) on certain points regarding Macbeth. The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be which the eye fears, when ’tis done, to see” is a line from Macbeth that Robertson found vulgar.
William Empson discusses this point and says, 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 as vulgar, I believe helped to sum up certain points that a scene is trying to make. For example, Robertson calls this line from Macbeth: “Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
He even goes so far as to call that a vacuous tag-line.” This is an example of a line that Robertson has passed off as horrid. Empson points out that “it establishes from the start the theme of fog,” and I fully agree with Empson when he remarks on that comment of the line. Certain lines in 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 rumor 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 believes that Robertson’s flaw lies in his translation of the lines, hold rumour could be like ‘hold parley with’.” He goes through a retranslation of this short passage. “No one who has experienced civil war could say it had no sense” is a line that briefly sums up Robertson’s reasons for his earlier claim on this passage – his lack of experience in civil war. Empson does a wonderful job of placing himself as the first audience of Shakespeare and reliving these events to their raw meaning. I believe that once you have lived through a civil war, with its traitors and violent times, this passage becomes clearer and easier to understand.
A third point which Empson rebukes is Before my body, I throw my warlike shield.” This line was remarked by Robertson 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 powerful, 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 clearly states the problems of the previous two critics’ misleading interpretations. William Empson has made 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.