Macbeth is struck with fear and guilt when he sees Banquo's ghost. This is a crucial turning point in the play, as it is when we see Macbeth expressing his internal guilt for the first time. It remains possible, even given the significant role of the supernatural, that the ghost is not supernatural, but rather a manifestation of Macbeth's inner turmoil. None of the other guests at the banquet, including Lady Macbeth, can see the...
Macbeth is struck with fear and guilt when he sees Banquo's ghost. This is a crucial turning point in the play, as it is when we see Macbeth expressing his internal guilt for the first time. It remains possible, even given the significant role of the supernatural, that the ghost is not supernatural, but rather a manifestation of Macbeth's inner turmoil. None of the other guests at the banquet, including Lady Macbeth, can see the apparition, and it thus seems very odd when Macbeth begins shouting at it:
Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!
Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;
Thou hast no speculation in those eyes
Which thou dost glare with.
As Macbeth continues to shout at the invisible ghost, his wife asks their guests to leave. When they do leave, he talks openly about the sense of guilt and fear that the ghost has aroused in him:
It will have blood: they say blood will have blood.
Stones have been known to move and trees to speak;
Augres and understood relations have
By maggot pies and cloughs and rooks brought forth
The secret'st man of blood.
The ghost, then, reveals the fear, guilt, and paranoia that Macbeth's deeds have caused. He worries that Macduff, who did not attend the banquet, may be conspiring against him, and decides that the only thing to do is to consult the witches for advice.
Summary: Act 3, scene 4
Onstage stands a table heaped with a feast. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth enter as king and queen, followed by their court, whom they bid welcome. As Macbeth walks among the company, the first murderer appears at the doorway. Macbeth speaks to him for a moment, learning that Banquo is dead and that Fleance has escaped. The news of Fleance’s escape angers Macbeth—if only Fleance had died, he muses, his throne would have been secure. Instead, “the worm that’s fled / Hath nature that in time will venom breed” (3.4.28–29).
Returning to his guests, Macbeth goes to sit at the head of the royal table but finds Banquo’s ghost sitting in his chair. Horror-struck, Macbeth speaks to the ghost, which is invisible to the rest of the company. Lady Macbeth makes excuses for her husband, saying that he occasionally has such “visions” and that the guests should simply ignore his behavior. Then she speaks to Macbeth, questioning his manhood and urging him to snap out of his trance. The ghost disappears, and Macbeth recovers, telling his company: “I have a strange infirmity which is nothing / To those that know me” (3.4.85–86). As he offers a toast to company, however, Banquo’s specter reappears and shocks Macbeth into further reckless outbursts. Continuing to make excuses for her husband, Lady Macbeth sends the alarmed guests out of the room as the ghost vanishes again.
Macbeth mutters that “blood will have blood” and tells Lady Macbeth that he has heard from a servant-spy that Macduff intends to keep away from court, behavior that verges on treason (3.4.121). He says that he will visit the witches again tomorrow in the hopes of learning more about the future and about who may be plotting against him. He resolves to do whatever is necessary to keep his throne, declaring: “I am in blood / Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.4.135–137). Lady Macbeth says that he needs sleep, and they retire to their bed.Read a translation of Act 3, scene 4 →
Summary: Act 3, scene 5
Upon the stormy heath, the witches meet with Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. Hecate scolds them for meddling in the business of Macbeth without consulting her but declares that she will take over as supervisor of the mischief. She says that when Macbeth comes the next day, as they know he will, they must summon visions and spirits whose messages will fill him with a false sense of security and “draw him on to his confusion” (3.5.29). Hecate vanishes, and the witches go to prepare their charms.Read a translation of Act 3, scene 5 →
Summary: Act 3, scene 6
That night, somewhere in Scotland, Lennox walks with another lord, discussing what has happened to the kingdom. Banquo’s murder has been officially blamed on Fleance, who has fled. Nevertheless, both men suspect Macbeth, whom they call a “tyrant,” in the murders of Duncan and Banquo. The lord tells Lennox that Macduff has gone to England, where he will join Malcolm in pleading with England’s King Edward for aid. News of these plots has prompted Macbeth to prepare for war. Lennox and the lord express their hope that Malcolm and Macduff will be successful and that their actions can save Scotland from Macbeth.Read a translation of Act 3, scene 6 →
Analysis: Act 3, scenes 4–6
Throughout Macbeth, as in many of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the supernatural and the unnatural appear in grotesque form as harbingers of wickedness, moral corruption, and downfall. Here, the appearance of Banquo’s silent ghost, the reappearance of the witches, and the introduction of the goddess Hecate all symbolize the corruption of Scotland’s political and moral health. In place of the dramatization of Macbeth’s acts of despotism, Shakespeare uses the scenes involving supernatural elements to increase the audience’s sense of foreboding and ill omen. When Macbeth’s political transgressions are revealed, Scotland’s dire situation immediately registers, because the transgressions of state have been predicted by the disturbances in nature. In Macbeth’s moral landscape, loyalty, honor, and virtue serve either as weak or nonexistent constraints against ambition and the lust for power. In the physical landscape that surrounds him, the normal rules of nature serve as weak constraints against the grotesqueries of the witches and the horrific ghost of Banquo.