Monday, September 26, 2011


British Museum
First Sketch
Among Blake's artistic productions the print called Pity is rare in that we can watch the development of the image from earlier stages of conception. There are two sketches for Pity and a preliminary trial print as well as three states of the print including one that was badly damaged by the application of varnish. The various elements from Shakespeare's lines are there from the beginning but Blake gradually adds details and brings them together into an integrated whole. One of the later details added is the covering of the reclining woman's feet as if with a shroud. Pity is one of a set of twelve designs known as the Large Color Printed Drawings of 1795.

British Museum

Second Sketch and Trial Print

Of course the original of the image was the vision which appeared in Blake's mind through his imagination. It is not known if this vision was stimulated by reading words in Act I, Scene 7 of Shakespeare's Macbeth but it may have been. Blake however may have resonated to Shakespeare's description of pity without associating it in his image with 'the horrid deed' and 'vaulting ambition' described in Shakespeare's passage.

Macbeth , Act 1, Scene 7
"... He's here in double trust;
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other."

If Blake was inspired by words from Shakespeare it was because both men had activated an archetypal image of integrating activities of the spirit at various levels of psychic activity. Blake's myth constructed worlds in which the mind could engage with the fourfold vision. Try looking at Blake's image from four perspectives: sensation (literal or descriptive); feeling (emotion or judgement); reason (rationality or analysis); or intuition (imagination or spirit). Perhaps this image could as well be titled Fourfold Vision.

Letter 23, to Thomas Butts, (E 722)
"Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep"

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