Macbeth By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act III: Scene 1

Summary

Banquo suspects Macbeth but gains comfort from the second part of the Witches' prediction — that his own children will be kings. Having announced his intention to go riding with Fleance, Banquo is persuaded by the Macbeths to return later that evening to their new palace at Forres for a special feast. However, Macbeth realizes that the Witches' prophecy regarding Banquo represents a threat to his own position. Unable to endure the thought of Banquo's descendants claiming his position, Macbeth summons two hired murderers and confirms with them prior arrangements for the killing of Banquo and Fleance.

Analysis

Banquo's short soliloquy has two purposes: It reminds the audience of the details of the Witches' prophecy in Act I, and it reveals his own suspicion that Macbeth is Duncan's murderer. Ironically, his tone also recalls the ambitious tone of Macbeth in earlier scenes.

Macbeth and his wife make arrangements for the feast with all the confidence of their new rank. Note particularly Macbeth's adoption of the royal "we," The use of the plural in place of the singular pronoun is a traditional figure of speech by which the monarch expresses not only unity with his people but also his absolute authority over them. Banquo, once equal in status with Macbeth, acknowledges Macbeth's new position by addressing him throughout the scene as "my lord."

Other aspects of language confirm Macbeth's new status: strong verse rhythms, for example, appear in lines such as "Here's our chief guest" and "Fail not our feast." Macbeth's apparent disregard for time — of which he now has plenty — is clear in expressions such as "but we'll take tomorrow" and "But of that tomorrow." The word "tomorrow," like "hereafter," is full of irony in Macbeth. Tomorrow should be full of hope for the future, but the word comes back to haunt him later in the play. His use of the word here foreshadows the famous "Tomorrow and tomorrow" speech in Act V.

Even with his new title and robes of office, Macbeth does not feel entirely at ease: The security of his kingship rests partly on his own children's succession to the crown of Scotland. However, because he has no children of his own, his treacherous act of regicide — the murder of a king — appears pointless and has been committed on behalf of Banquo's promised successors. The soliloquy that Macbeth delivers is filled with the language of contrast. His split with Banquo is emphasized by opposing pronouns: "They hailed him father to a line of kings: / Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown, / And put a barren sceptre in my grip . . . " (60-62).

The line "To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!" (70) is almost incredulous, as if Macbeth is trying to convince himself that the Witches could not possibly have spoken the truth. Whereas Banquo still trusts in the fateful prophecy, Macbeth is all too ready to dismiss it. In Act I, Scene 2, the wounded captain reported that Macbeth the warrior-hero was prepared to disdain Fortune. Now Macbeth the murderer goes one step further by literally challenging Fate itself to a tournament (or "list"): "Rather than so, come, fate, into the list / And champion me to the utterance" (71-72). Note that the verb "to champion" here has its original meaning: to fight against, not for.

The entry of the hired murderers is a crucial element in the development of Macbeth's character. His use of others to do his dirty work presents him as politically powerful but morally weak. Long gone are the days when Macbeth would meet his enemy "front to front." Now he must commit murder with the seeming protection of distance — "something [distant] from the palace" (133). Shakespeare also contrasts ironically the murderers' pragmatic reaction to the idea of murder with Macbeth's conscience-stricken one.

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