Philip Weller caricature
Philip and Weller hugging

Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years.   
-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Brooks, Cleanth. "The Naked Babe and the Cloak of Maniless."
The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry. 1947. San Diego: Harcourt, 1974. 22-49.

Thesis: Two apparently extravagent metaphors in Macbeth -- "daggers / Unmannerly breech'd with gore" and "pity, like a naked new-born babe, / Striding the blast" -- are "facets of two of the great symbols which run throughout the play" (49).

When Brooks was working on this essay the poetry of John Donne (b. 1572) was a hot topic among poets and critics. The discussions often centered on Donne's use of the "metaphysical conceit," a figure of speech (usually a metaphor or simile) which was complicated and intellectually challenging. In contrast, Shakespeare's metaphors were considered to be simpler, more spontaneous, and more passionate.

However, Brooks makes the point that Shakespeare often uses figures of speech that are as extravagent as Donne's. Brooks gives two examples from Macbeth. The first is "daggers / Unmannerly breech'd with gore," in which Macbeth compares the grooms' two daggers to the legs of men; the men in the metaphor are "unmannerly" because they are wearing only breeches and because those breeches are made of the blood ("gore") of the dead King Duncan. The second of Brooks' examples is Macbeth's mention of "pity, like a naked new-born babe, / Striding the blast"; of course, as Brooks points out, a real "new-born babe" wouldn't be able to crawl, much less walk on the wind, and it's hard to see just how such a babe can represent pity.

Brooks defends Shakespeare's use of these two metaphors by showing how each one is closely tied to a set of images that Shakespeare uses throughout the play. Brooks' arguments are detailed and persuasive. For example, he shows how the play's clothes-imagery depicts Macbeth disguised in stolen, ill-fitting clothes, and then shows how this idea is developed in the passage which contains the "breeches" metaphor:

     The clothes imagery runs throughout the passage; the body of the king is dressed in the most precious of garments, the blood royal itself; and the daggers too are dressed--in the same garment. The daggers, "naked" except for their lower parts which are reddened with blood, are like men in "unmannerly" dress--men, naked except for their red breeches, lying beside the red-handed grooms. The figure, though vivid, is fantastic; granted. But the basis for the comparison is not slight and adventitious. The metaphor fits the real situation on the deepest levels. As Macbeth and Lennox burst into the room, they find the daggers wearing, as Macbeth knows all too well, a horrible masquerade. They have been carefully "clothed" to play a part. They are not honest daggers, honorably naked in readiness to guard the king, or, "mannerly" clothed in their own sheaths. Yet the disguise which they wear will enable Macbeth to assume the robes of Duncan--robes to which he is no more entitled than are the daggers to the royal garments which they now wear, grotesquely.   (38-39)

Bottom Line: A justly famous study.