In a wooded park outside the grounds of the palace the two murderers who met Macbeth (and a third) wait at dusk for Banquo and Fleance. When the father and son arrive the murderers confront them and kill Banquo, who in his last moment of life urges his son to flee and avenge his death. Fleance manages to escape as one of the murderers puts out his torch, plunging the scene in darkness, and the murderers go to Macbeth with Banquo’s body to tell him of what has just happened.
This is a short scene, but one that has a few issues to focus on. The symbolism of light and darkness plays a part; it is no coincidence that the murder happens at sunset and that when Banquo is killed the torch is extinguished. Banquo is linked to light and represents morality, whereas the darkness represents immorality, deception and all things immoral; his death at the moment the scene is plunged into darkness presents this as a moment when immorality reigns over that which is good. Of note also is the issue of the third murderer; who is this? Macbeth only speaks to two, yet three appear. If it is significant it may be considered as one of the following. It may be Macbeth, who appeared so as to ensure that there as no ‘botches’ left. It might be Lady Macbeth, who was curious about Macbeth’s new plan in the previous scene. It could also be the witches, whose presence might be seen to ensure that Fleance is not killed and thus their second prophecy comes to pass. Or it might be Hecate, who appears later to berate the witches about their meddling in such affairs; this might be how she finds out about this. In any case, it seems significant that there are three murderers, when Macbeth only spoke to two earlier. The third murderer provides symmetry, as the number three is associated with evil throughout the play; there are three witches, who give Macbeth and Banquo three greetings and predictions (and give Macbeth three more predictions later in the play), while Macbeth is responsible for three murders in the play (they are considered murders as they are outside of the battlefield where killing was seen as a duty as it was part of protecting one’s kingdom), Duncan, Banquo and the household of Macduff. It is therefore appropriate that there are three murderers, and perhaps it is just for this reason that a third murderer is present in the scene.
Points of note
This scene shows further how Macbeth spreads corruption through the kingdom. One of the murderers speaks of Macbeth, remarking that ‘he needs not our mistrust, since he delivers/ our offices and what we have to do/ To the direction just’, displaying how he believes their actions are justified (as Macbeth has told them Banquo did them wrong); in fact Macbeth has deceived them into committing corrupt acts, similar to how Lady Macbeth corrupted him.