Fancy embodied: William Blake’s Pity and Shakespeare’s Macbeth

In Blake’s illustration Pity, it is the presence of the female figure that has remained a challenge in criticism. Not appearing in Macbeth’s simile on pity, that figure creates difficulties for commentators who first and foremost draw on Shakespeare’s text in their interpretations. This paper approaches the problem by exploring the influence of Blake’s own visual and verbal imagination on the illustration of Macbeth’s lines. This influence becomes evident when we trace the development of the pity concept in Blake’s poetry and examine other prints from the 1795 series, which exhibit hitherto unnoticed visual correspondences to Pity. Finally, by drawing on Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, the paper moves beyond both the Blakean and the Shakespearean perspectives and suggests new dimensions in the interpretation of the painting.