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Compare & Contrast: Macbeth & Banquo

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  • 0:02 Who Were Macbeth and Banquo?
  • 0:47 The Witches
  • 2:11 Murder of King Duncan
  • 3:34 Banquo's Murder
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

Macbeth and Banquo are two main characters in William Shakespeare's play 'Macbeth.' While the two men do initially have some similarities, we quickly learn that they are very different. In this lesson, we'll compare and contrast Macbeth and Banquo.

Who Were Macbeth and Banquo?

In William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, Macbeth is the tragic hero, a character who makes a decision that leads to his destruction. In the play, we see Macbeth's character before his action that destroys him and after.

Banquo is Macbeth's ally and the only person who may be a risk to Macbeth. Because of this, Macbeth turns on his friend and has him murdered. While Macbeth's character may initially have some similarities to Banquo, the two are very different.

When we first see Macbeth and Banquo together, we learn that they are both generals in King Duncan's army. The two men have fought together, and together were victorious in battle. They are allies and even friends.

The Witches

In Act I, Scene 3, Banquo first notices the three witches that predict Macbeth will become king. When the three witches greet Macbeth with his new titles and even 'king hereafter!' Banquo asks the witches to read his future. The witches tell him that he will be 'Lesser than Macbeth, but greater,' 'Not so happy, yet much happier,' and 'Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.'

When the witches disappear, the two try to understand the predictions. As they do, Ross arrives to tell Macbeth that he is now the Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth asks Banquo, 'Do you not hope your children shall be kings?'

Initially, the two men react to the predictions the same way: with hesitation and even fear. Macbeth worries that the predictions are coming true and begins to worry that he can see himself killing King Duncan to become king. He reassures himself, 'If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, without my stir.' At the same time, Banquo observes Macbeth and becomes worried about the witches' prophecy. He can see a change in Macbeth: 'New horrors come upon him.'

At the close of the scene, Macbeth and Banquo leave together, with Macbeth acknowledging Banquo as his friend. However, this friendship and the similarities in their reaction to the witches do quickly change.

Murder of King Duncan

The next time we see Macbeth and Banquo together is in Act II, Scene I. By now, Macbeth has made his tragic decision to kill King Duncan. There's already a change in his personality and in his reflection of the witches. Banquo tells Macbeth that he continues to dream about the witches, but Macbeth is quick to dismiss these feelings of hesitation and doubt: 'I think not of them.'

As Banquo leaves for bed, he has feelings of apprehension that something may go wrong. While he sleeps, Macbeth murders King Duncan, and Banquo wakes to the news. Later in the act, he worries that Macbeth may have committed the murder. Unlike Macbeth, who has lost all loyalty to King Duncan, Banquo remains loyal to the king. He tells the other men, 'Let us meet and question this bloody piece of work.' He accuses Macbeth of 'treasonous malice.'

By the end of Act II, there is an obvious difference between the two men. Macbeth has become a murderer. He has lost all loyalty to his King and friends and has changed to an ambitious evildoer. Macbeth not only embraces the witches' prophecy but kills to make it come true sooner. Banquo, on the other hand, still remains loyal to King Duncan and still fears the prediction made by the witches.

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