Act 3, Scene 4: the banquet


Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost

Act 3, Scene 4 of Shakespeare's Macbeth is referred to as “the banquet scene”. Here, the consequences of Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan start to show. Macbeth and his wife throw a banquet - a feast - to celebrate his coronation. A murderer that Macbeth has secretly hired informs him that Banquo is dead but his son has escaped. This is bad news since the prophecy said that Banquo’s sons would become kings. Macbeth then thinks he sees Banquo’s ghost in his seat and has a humiliating breakdown in front of his guests. 

We may interpret the appearance of Banquo’s ghost in two ways: Either it is really there, or it is merely a figment of Macbeth’s imagination. If the ghost is real - as most Elizabethans would perhaps think - it is a sign that God is punishing him for his killings. If the ghost is imaginary - as most modern readers would think - it is a sign that Macbeth is falling apart psychologically because he is riddled with guilt and fear.

Macbeth is so agitated that he comes close to revealing to his thanes that he is the one behind the murders of Duncan and Banquo. He almost screams at the ghost: “Thou canst not say I did it: never shake / Thy gory locks at me.” (3.4.60-61). Apparently the ghost has bloody hair (“gory locks”), which fits the description of Banquo’s violent death: “safe in a ditch he bides, / With twenty trenched gashes on his head.” (3.4.29-30). This is a clear sign that Macbeth’s sense of guilt is becoming too much for him.

In any case, the evening ends in humiliation for the Macbeths, despite Lady Macbeth’s desperate attempts to cover for him. The thanes leave, probably thinking that their new ruler is unfit to rule, and perhaps also responsible for Duncan’s death. 

The Macbeths begin to drift apart

Lady Macbeth does not see the ghost. She does her best to save face for both of them, partly by making excuses to their guests and referring to Macbeth’s behavi...

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