Macbeth Act 3, Scene 4: Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Previous Scenes
  • 0:42 Fleance's Escape
  • 1:22 Banquo at the Banquet
  • 2:36 Bedtime for Macbeth
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

In Act III, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare's ''Macbeth'', the title character discovers that one of his intended victims has escaped and encounters the ghost of another victim at a banquet.

Previous Scenes

In the events leading up to Act 3, Scene 4 in Macbeth, Macbeth has killed Duncan, King of Scotland, and has set his sights on those who might usurp the throne from him. Duncan's sons have fled the country, fearing for their own safety as legitimate heirs to the throne. In their absence, Macbeth has been crowned kings. The three witches, whose predictions fanned the flames of Macbeth's political ambitions, and that resulted in the murder of King Duncan, claimed that Banquo's descendants, not Macbeth's, would rule. To avoid such an outcome, Macbeth engages three murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. However, events do not unfold as planned.

Fleance's Escape

As Scene 4 opens, Macbeth welcomes Rosse, Lennox, and others to his home for a banquet. When the guests are seated and the first round of drinks served, Macbeth is called to the door. There he finds one of the murderers with blood on his face, who reports that Banquo's throat has been cut. This news pleases Macbeth until the murderer reveals that Fleance, Banquo's son, has escaped.

Macbeth considers the situation and decides that Fleance is not presently a threat, although he could become one in the future. 'The worm that's fled,' Macbeth says, 'Hath a nature that in time will venom breed.' Macbeth dismisses the murderer, telling him he will meet with the three cutthroats again the following day.

Banquo at the Banquet

Lady Macbeth summons her husband back to his guests. While Macbeth speaks with his guests--even going so far as to cast aspersions upon Banquo for his absence--Banquo's ghost enters the banquet hall and sits in Macbeth's place.

When Macbeth notices Banquo's ghost, he accuses the lords: 'Which one of you have done this?' Apparently Banquo's ghost is not visible to anyone but Macbeth, so the guests have no idea what Macbeth is talking about. Then Macbeth turns his attention to the ghost. 'Thou canst not say I did it; never shake/Thy gory locks at me,' Macbeth says.

The banquet guests believe Macbeth must be ill to act in such a way, but Lady Macbeth tells them that, although Macbeth frequently has these 'fits', he'll soon be back to normal. Lady Macbeth scolds Macbeth for his behavior and tries to shame him for acting afraid. He tells her that he sees Banquo's ghost. Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to return to the banquet so that their guests will not realize that anything is amiss.

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