Act 3, scene 4: The Ghost of Banquo

What does this scene tell us about Macbeth?
  • His anxieties are getting the best of him. Although he seemed sure-footed in the previous few scenes, where he was hiring murders to assassinate Banquo and Fleance, he now seems incapable of hiding his guilt.

  • Although Lady Macbeth appeared troubled by her own guilt in the previous scene, she is, once again, in power, but at this point her strength is in covering up the fears and anxieties of her husband rather than telling him what to do. She must explain to their banquet guests the strange behaviours of Macbeth, his hallucinations being a strange malady that he was been suffering from ‘since childhood’.

Internal Battle or Supernatural
  • By the presence of Banquo’s ghost, the audience is not explained whether the ghost haunts Macbeth, as a supernatural being or whether it is all in his head, a result of his beaten conscious and unrelenting guilt.

  • Metaphysical dread versus the Supernatural (how many of their hallucinations / visions are created by their guilt and how many are of supernatural origins?)

What is the significance of it being Banquo’s Ghost and not Duncan?
  • Shakespeare uses Banquo as a moral pillar for Macbeth, illustrating the righteous path, without bloodshed / deceit or murder. Banquo is an example of the way Macbeth should have reacted to the prophecies of the weird sisters, he should have waited for fate to lead him to his destiny rather than stepping in and making it for himself.

  • At this point in the play, Macbeth is seen as corrupt, both by the audience as well as by the other characters. Macduff and Malcom have fled to England to seek help King Edward, to rid Scotland of the evil, tyrant Macbeth.

  • Indicates Macbeth’s guilty conscience

  • It is debated by critics, whether Banquo’s ghost is real or a hallucination

  • Audience superstition

  • Supernatural

  • Crime doesn’t pay

  • Guilt and madness of Macbeth “The comes my fit again”(3.4.21);
“Thou canst not say I did it”(4.3.50)

Banquo is real?
  • Shakespeare made his Banquo out to be an honourable soldier with a strong moral standing, unlike the interpretation by Raphael Holinshed who described Banquo, in his historical chronicles, as an accomplice in the murder of King Duncan. It has been speculated that Shakespeare made slight changes to the character of Banquo, to please King James I, who was thought to be a descendent of the real Banquo.

  • Shakespeare’s Banquo was given strong moral attributes, standing in opposition to the character of Macbeth and his dishonourable actions. Banquo is a foil to Macbeth.

Foil: a character in a work who, by sharp contrast, serves to stress and highlight the distinctive temperament of the protagonist.
-Doubts prophecies and the intentions of the witches
-Accepts prophecies and looks to help them come true
-Believes that only bad things will happen when one embraces evil and dismisses acting on the predictions
-Places hope in the prediction that he will become king
-Prays to heaven for divine assistance
-Prays to evil powers for assistance
-Loyal to King Duncan
-Murders King Duncan