Macbeth: Act 3, Scene 1 – Summary & Analysis

Macbeth: Act 3, Scene 1 – Summary & Analysis

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.

Analysis

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.

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About the Author

John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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