Back To CourseSupplemental English: Study Aid
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Banquo is a Scottish general who fights alongside Macbeth, the namesake of Shakespeare's play. Although Macbeth's selfishly ambitious nature is hidden at first, it becomes more and more clear that he craves power and position in the kingdom. The characteristics of the two men also become more clear as the events of the play unfold.
As Macbeth and Banquo return from a victorious battle, they encounter three witches whose words change both of their destinies. Banquo courageously confronts the witches, saying, 'Live you? Or are you aught that man may question? You seem to understand me, by each at once her choppy finger laying upon her skinny lips' (1.3). Not every character would confront these three creepy women, but Banquo is both bold and curious.
When Banquo hears the favorable predictions the witches give to Macbeth - that he, the current Thane of Glamis, will become the Thane of Cawdor and then the king, he says:
'Are ye fantastical, or that indeed
Which outwardly ye show? My noble partner
You greet with present grace and great prediction
Of noble having and of royal hope,
That he seems rapt withal. To me you speak not.
If you can look into the seeds of time
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak, then, to me, who neither beg nor fear
Your favors nor your hate' (1.3).
Banquo asks the witches to give him a prediction as well, since he doesn't fear whatever they may say, good or bad. Before disappearing, the witches respond cryptically, saying:
'Lesser than Macbeth and greater,' 'Not so happy, yet much happier' and 'Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.'
For Banquo, the witches have predicted that he won't be as great as Macbeth. They also say that he won't be as happy, but somehow happier! Also, it seems that though his descendants will become kings; Banquo will not.
You might think it odd that both Banquo and Macbeth so easily believe the witches' prophesies without stepping back to consider the source of these predictions. However ambitious both Macbeth and Banquo are, the two men respond to these prophesies in two radically different ways that further highlight their characters.
The witches disappear, and their words seem a like a dream - hardly anything to be taken seriously. That is until Banquo and Macbeth meet up with a friend of the court, Ross, who informs Macbeth that the current Thane of Cawdor, a traitor, has been defeated. Macbeth has been chosen to take his place. In shock, Banquo states: 'What, can the devil speak true?'(3.1).
At this point, both Banquo and Macbeth begin to wonder if all that the witches predicted could come true. Banquo must have wondered what they meant by saying that he would not be so happy, but happier, or lesser than Macbeth and yet still greater! And certainly, could it be true that his descendants could be kings, though he would not? The paradox of their words must have been maddening.
Banquo and Macbeth each face a choice. Will they wait and let things run their course, as it were, or take the kingdom by force? Banquo chooses the former. Macbeth does not. His wife prods him to take matters into his own hands by brutally killing King Duncan and taking his place as king, though the real truth of Macbeth's part in the murder would remain hidden for some time.
Unquestioning loyalty to the throne was expected of both Banquo and Macbeth, and we see Banquo following what he knows is right. King Duncan comes to stay the night at Macbeth's house on his way back home from battle. But we see a foreshadowing of Macbeth's treachery when he tells Banquo, 'If you shall cleave to my consent, when 'tis, It shall make honor for you' (2.1). Basically, he tells Banquo that if he does what Macbeth tells him to do, Macbeth will make it worth his while. Banquo's response reveals his honest character. He says that as long as he can keep a clean conscience, he will gladly help Macbeth. Shortly after this conversation, Macbeth murders King Duncan.
Banquo is genuinely shocked when King Duncan's death is discovered. But as he begins to think on Macbeth's success, he suspects that he has not gained power honestly. He thinks:
'Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
As the weird women promised, and I fear
Thou played'st most foully for 't. Yet it was said
It should not stand in thy posterity,
But that myself should be the root and father
Of many kings. If there come truth from them -
As upon thee, Macbeth, their speeches shine -
Why, by the verities on thee made good,
May they not be my oracles as well,
And set me up in hope? But hush, no more' (3.1).
Banquo wonders if his descendants will become kings and how this works together with Macbeth's apparent success. But Macbeth has also not forgotten the witches' prediction for Banquo's heirs. Once Macbeth begins to steer his own destiny, he knows he cannot let Banquo stand in his way. Banquo is too much of a 'boy scout,' and honest men are dangerous to Macbeth.
Macbeth tells Banquo that he would like him to attend a banquet one evening. Then, knowing that Banquo is going riding that afternoon, Macbeth sends two murderers to kill him when he returns from riding. They brutally attack him, and he dies.
The murderers tell Macbeth that the deed is done. Then, when Macbeth attends his banquet that evening, he sees the ghost of Banquo sitting in his chair! Of course, his guests cannot see the ghost. To them, it appears that Macbeth is going crazy. Macbeth says to the ghost, 'Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake thy gory locks at me' (3.4). Banquo's ghost now represents a conscience that Macbeth has learned to ignore.
Fate may have swept Banquo into a downward spiral, but even as his life crumbled around him, he kept true to his own integrity. Unlike Macbeth, he refused to take the witches' prophesy into his own hands. Yes, it cost him his life, but he died with a clear conscience. Banquo's character was noble until the end.
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Back To CourseSupplemental English: Study Aid
2 chapters | 29 lessons