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Macbeth Act 3, Scene 4: Summary & Quotes

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'', Macbeth has guests over for a banquet. Fearing a future political challenge from Banquo, Macbeth sends three murderers to kill Banquo. They succeed, though Banquo's son escapes. Macbeth is startled when an extra, uninvited guest appears at the banquet. Banquo's ghost enters the hall, and shakes 'his gory locks' at Macbeth; Lady Macbeth thinks a good night's sleep will solve everything.

Previous Scenes

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. Macbeth has met some witches and listed to their words. Their predictions bolstered his political ambitions and gave him the notion to kill Duncan. The witches also claimed Banquo's descendants, not Macbeth's, would rule. To avoid such an outcome, Macbeth engages three murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance.

Murderers at the Gate

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. It's one of the murderers with blood on his face, there to report that Banquo's throat has been cut. This news pleases Macbeth, but then the murderer reveals that Fleance, Banquo's son, has escaped.

Macbeth considers the situation and decides that Fleance is not a threat at present, 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, but tells 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 he frequently has these 'fits'; she assures them Macbeth will be back to normal soon. 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 the guests will not realize that anything is amiss.

The ghost leaves, and Macbeth returns to his guests. He tells the guests not to worry, that he simply has a 'strange infirmity.' The ghost enters the banquet hall again. Macbeth begins to speak to Banquo's ghost again, and the guests decide it might be best to leave. Lady Macbeth agrees.

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