Summary: Act 3, scene 1
In the royal palace at Forres, Banquo paces and thinks about the coronation of Macbeth and the prophecies of the weird sisters. The witches foretold that Macbeth would be king and that Banquo’s line would eventually sit on the throne. If the first prophecy came true, Banquo thinks, feeling the stirring of ambition, why not the second? Macbeth enters, attired as king. He is followed by Lady Macbeth, now his queen, and the court. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth ask Banquo to attend the feast they will host that night. Banquo accepts their invitation and says that he plans to go for a ride on his horse for the afternoon. Macbeth mentions that they should discuss the problem of Malcolm and Donalbain. The brothers have fled from Scotland and may be plotting against his crown.
Banquo departs, and Macbeth dismisses his court. He is left alone in the hall with a single servant, to whom he speaks about some men who have come to see him. Macbeth asks if the men are still waiting and orders that they be fetched. Once the servant has gone, Macbeth begins a soliloquy. He muses on the subject of Banquo, reflecting that his old friend is the only man in Scotland whom he fears. He notes that if the witches’ prophecy is true, his will be a “fruitless crown,” by which he means that he will not have an heir (3.1.62). The murder of Duncan, which weighs so heavily on his conscience, may have simply cleared the way for Banquo’s sons to overthrow Macbeth’s own family.
The servant reenters with Macbeth’s two visitors. Macbeth reminds the two men, who are murderers he has hired, of a conversation he had with them the day before, in which he chronicled the wrongs Banquo had done them in the past. He asks if they are angry and manly enough to take revenge on Banquo. They reply that they are, and Macbeth accepts their promise that they will murder his former friend. Macbeth reminds the murderers that Fleance must be killed along with his father and tells them to wait within the castle for his command.Read a translation of Act 3, scene 1 →
Summary: Act 3, scene 2
Elsewhere in the castle, Lady Macbeth expresses despair and sends a servant to fetch her husband. Macbeth enters and tells his wife that he too is discontented, saying that his mind is “full of scorpions” (3.2.37). He feels that the business that they began by killing Duncan is not yet complete because there are still threats to the throne that must be eliminated. Macbeth tells his wife that he has planned “a deed of dreadful note” for Banquo and Fleance and urges her to be jovial and kind to Banquo during the evening’s feast, in order to lure their next victim into a false sense of security (3.2.45).Read a translation of Act 3, scene 2 →
Summary: Act 3, scene 3
It is dusk, and the two murderers, now joined by a third, linger in a wooded park outside the palace. Banquo and Fleance approach on their horses and dismount. They light a torch, and the murderers set upon them. The murderers kill Banquo, who dies urging his son to flee and to avenge his death. One of the murderers extinguishes the torch, and in the darkness Fleance escapes. The murderers leave with Banquo’s body to find Macbeth and tell him what has happened.Read a translation of Act 3, scene 3 →
Analysis: Act 3, scenes 1–3
After his first confrontation with the witches, Macbeth worried that he would have to commit a murder to gain the Scottish crown. He seems to have gotten used to the idea, as by this point the body count has risen to alarming levels. Now that the first part of the witches’ prophecy has come true, Macbeth feels that he must kill his friend Banquo and the young Fleance in order to prevent the second part from becoming realized. But, as Fleance’s survival suggests, there can be no escape from the witches’ prophecies.
Banquo, in the royal palace in Forees, wonders about Macbeth’s impending coronation and thus the prophecies of the weird sisters; the witches said Macbeth would be king so will their second prophecy come to pass also, that Banquo’s lineage will eventually attain the kingship also? Macbeth then enters dressed as king, followed by Lady Macbeth and others; both ask Banquo to attend a feast they will hold that night. Banquo accepts and after revealing that he plans to go horse riding that afternoon is told by Macbeth (who confirms that Fleance will accompany Banquo) that they must discuss the issue of Malcolm and Donalbain, who have both fled and thus may be plotting against him. Macbeth dismisses all others when Banquo leaves and asks a servant to bring in some men who have come to see him. The servant departs and Macbeth, in soliloquy, admits the only one he fears in Scotland is Banquo; if the witches’ second prophecy comes to pass then all he will have is a ‘fruitless crown’ and thus no heir. Perhaps his prophecy, which involved killing Duncan and becoming king, is simple a vehicle for the second prophecy to come to pass, Banquo’s family assuming control of the crown. The servant returns with two men and it is revealed they are two murderers Macbeth has hired; he reminds them of their conversation the day previous, where he told them of wrongs Banquo had inflicted on them. After riling and filling them with anger Macbeth is assured by the two that they will kill Banquo, and says he would kill Banquo if he could for his is now the king’s enemy also; however loyal friends of Banquo prevent him from doing so. Before the criminals leave Macbeth reminds them they must kill Banquo some distance from the palace, and that Banquo’s son must be killed also.
Interestingly, Shakespeare does not show Macbeth’s coronation and rather has the scene begin immediately after this. This seems appropriate on two levels, first of which being that Duncan’s murder was not shown and thus the result of this not shown provides symmetrical harmony. Secondly, it might be seen to symbolize that while Macbeth has removed God’s representative from the kingdom, and himself from the Christian realm in the process, he has not removed Scotland from the Christian realm. While there is a coronation Shakespeare’s not showing it may be his way of saying that it is not the appropriate coronation for a true king of Scotland, God’s representative in this place. The scene also shows Macbeth’s ruthlessness and further descent from his original role; whereas before he was considering about whether to act in an immoral manner now he does so without second thought, reasoning that to keep his throne he must kill his friend, which shows that he now values the crown above all else (this is further exemplified with his confirming with Banquo that Fleance will ride with him, so as to be completely successful with his plan). His movement away from any source of consideration or hope of redemption from such actions, confirmed by his killing of the king, is shown further as he echoes Lady Macbeth in his words to the murderers, as he goads them into murder by questioning their manhood and instilling in them a desire to prove this through murder (his fear of Banquo’s good nature is similar to how his wife feared his previously moral ways). This echo of Lady Macbeth (and the scene where she sought to convince him to do wrong) serves to show how the once double-sided nature of Macbeth is no more; now he is the corrupter, having others do his evil deeds for him. This shows just how low Macbeth has descended and also reveals his way of ruling; he corrupts others such as the murderers, implicating them with immorality, thus showing how his corrupt ways now spread through the kingdom. In addition, we see just how corrupt Macbeth is; whereas before he was convinced by Lady Macbeth to do wrong and kill Duncan even though he admitted previously this action could not be justified, now he has to justify killing Banquo to the murderers by telling them falsely that his friend has done them wrong (that they were subject to ‘vile blows and buffets of the world’ and are ‘So weary with disasters, tugged with fortune’). In doing so, Shakespeare presents Macbeth as worse than common murderers, emphasizing the true nature of his descent. Macbeth’s instruction to the murderers to ‘leave no rubs nor botches in the work’ can be linked to the blood he viewed on his hands earlier, and his hope that Neptune might wash this away; this might be a sign of his being affected/ paranoia earlier, and his desire not to suffer from this again.
Points of note
Macbeth’s constant references to stains and blood, such as here when he tells the murderers to leave no ‘blotches’, serve to show not just that he wishes to prevent himself from being stained irrevocably due to his deeds, but also that he cannot escape the memory of what he has done, thus showing once more that Lady Macbeth was wrong when she said they could get away with the crime.
Banquo once more acts as the moral barometer of the play, as he worries rightly that Macbeth ‘play’st foully’ in becoming king. Macbeth fears Banquo’s ‘royalty of nature… dauntless temper of mind.. wisdom that doth guide his valor/ To act in safety’ as these are the very opposite of the traits Macbeth now lives by; as a result, it seems inevitable that Banquo will be killed as he is shown in opposition to the corrupt regime that Macbeth is creating. He is opposed to the king, a very real source of power (even if the kingdom isn’t united) who can have him killed/ removed, and this seems likely as Macbeth is becoming paranoid about any threats to his crown. As there is more corruption in the world of Scotland than there is good it seems likely that the former will eventually overpower the latter.
Macbeth is now haunted by the realization that he has inherited a ‘fruitless crown… barren spectre’ and that his ‘eternal jewel/ Given to the common enemy of man’. This foreshadows that his rule will not be successful as he imagined and that he will not be able to forget his deed easily, as his unsuccessful reign will remind him of his sinful act which brought this about and he is irreconcilably linked to.