Macbeth Act 3, Scene 3: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

This lesson will begin with a brief recap of Act 3, Scene 2 of Macbeth. It will then go on to include a summary of the events in Act 3, Scene 3. The two murderers are joined by a third, and set about to carry out King Macbeth's orders.


In Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth, Lady Macbeth told King Macbeth that the murder of Duncan was done and he should let it go and rest easy. But the king told Lady Macbeth that his mind would be uneasy as long as there existed a threat to his throne. King Macbeth then told her that he had set into motion a horrible plan to take care of the threat.

The Murderers Wait

As we begin Act 3, Scene 3 of Macbeth, we see the two murderers hired by King Macbeth to kill Banquo, a general of the Scottish army, and his son Fleance. Macbeth wants them dead because he sees them as a direct threat to his throne. The witches' prophecy is that Banquo will be king and not his son, so they must die!

The murderers wait in the woods outside the king's palace. They are then joined by a third murderer, who tells them he was also hired by the king to help them. The two murderers accept him, figuring why not.

The three murderers then lie in wait for Banquo and Fleance. They expect them any minute. The first murderer says, 'The west yet glimmers with some streaks of day: Now spurs the lated traveler apace To gain the timely inn, and near approaches The subject of our watch.' Banquo and Fleance are running a bit late, but should arrive soon.

The first murderer then wonders out loud if Banquo and Fleance will just ride by them to the palace gates. However, the third murderer, the new guy, reassures them: '...he does usually--So all men do--from hence to the palace gate Make it their walk.' In other words, everyone usually stops and walks to the gate from where the murderers now wait.

The Terrible Deed

No sooner has the third murderer said those words than Banquo and Fleance arrive on horseback, holding a torch to light their way. The second murderer spots them: 'A light, a light!' The third murderer, the new guy, then confirms the target: ''Tis he.' So far, the new guy has proven to be quite useful.

Meanwhile, Banquo and Fleance have no idea what is about to happen to them. Banquo casually comments on the weather: 'It will be rain tonight.' The first murderer uses this moment to pounce, or jump on, Banquo, saying, 'Let it come down.' And with that, everything breaks loose.

The other murderers join the attack. Banquo barely has time to speak. 'O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! Thou mayst revenge. O slave!' As Banquo dies, he tells his son Fleance to run away so he may avenge, or get even for, Banquo's death. And just then, someone puts out the torch.

In the darkness, Fleance escapes. The third murderer, the new guy, wonders aloud, 'Who did strike out the light?' To which the first murderer, almost comically, responds, 'Was't not the way?' Seems Shakespeare does not want us to forget he also writes comedies.

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