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Act Three

Act Three, Scene One


  • Act begins in the palace at Forres.

  • Banquo enters, stating that Macbeth has everything that the witches promised but may have used foul play to get it. He speaks in the language of the witches, 'foully', yet clearly suspects Macbeth. Yet Banquo also realises that it is Banquo's children who will be kings, not Macbeth's. We might question whether Banquo is seduced by what the witches say. 'And set me up in hope' may show seduction.

  • Macbeth enters, ironically stating 'Here's our chief guest', to which Lady Macbeth says that if he were not at the feast it would be 'all-thing unbecoming'. This is ironic because in some ways Banquo (as a ghost) will be the main guest who Macbeth notices and will be extremely unbecoming for Macbeth. Macbeth commands him 'Fail not our feast', which may be seen as a supernatural event, ensuring Banquo's attendance at the feast and shows how Macbeth is his own downfall.

  • Macbeth is now plotting to kill Banquo, so that he can destroy the possible line of kings which Banquo represents. Macbeth asks whether Fleance is going with Banquo, so he can eliminate Banquo's line. He then asks for men waiting by the gates (murderers) to be brought in and begins a major soliloquy.

  • 'To be thus is nothing;/ But to be safely thus.' Macbeth now doesn't see any point to being king without being safe, his ambitions keep expanding beyond their original remit. Explains that he fears Banquo's 'royalty of nature' - he fears Banquo's intrinsic royal qualities. 'Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown' - shows more than Macbeth intends it to. His marriage is literally fruitless because he has no children, yet ultimately Macbeth will see the throne and his whole as fruitless and pointless. Macbeth's view of lack of importance in the world will eventually be his downfall.

  • The murderers enter, and Macbeth asks them whether they have considered what Macbeth has asked of them. Shows Macbeth's suspicious nature that he's done this with no-one watching. Tries to persuade the murderers to kill Banquo by saying that Banquo was the cause of their misfortunes and so they should want revenge. Compare Macbeth's attempts at persuasion with LM's in terms of insulting people.

  • Could look at the effect of having a rhyming as Macbeth ordains Banquo's death (spell-like effect it has.)


Scene Two


  • Lady Macbeth opens this scene asking whether Banquo's left - she doesn't yet know that Macbeth has arranged to have Banquo killed. She states that all is lost if they can’t enjoy it. Literally she means that they can’t rest easily as Banquo is still out there, however this is ironic as they have damned themselves to eternal torment.  Alliteration of ‘d’s harsh consonants sound violent and draw attention to destruction.

  • Scene signals role reversal in their relationship - instead of Lady Macbeth persuading Macbeth to do things, she is following behind him instead. Irony of 'Tis safer to be that which we destroy/ Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy' - on the one hand shows her progression as a character from daring to doubt, and shows her lack of control of the situation and Macbeth. They two seem to be growing apart.

  • Macbeth, Lady Macbeth notes, is making ‘companions’ from his ‘sorriest fancies’, or keeping to himself, spending time with his upsetting imaginations.  Perhaps we might consider Macbeth as having consistently troublesome companions, especially if we view the witches as products of Macbeth’s imagination. He is hanging on to thoughts which should have ended with Duncan, playing on the theme of ghostly resurrections of things which should be dead and buried.

  • Also ironic is 'what's done is done', as Macbeth keeps finding new things to 'do', or less euphemistically, new people to kill.

  • Again also ironic that Macbeth refers to Banquo as a 'snake', as he is the snake himself. He states that it would be better to be 'with the dead,' that they have murdered than to be in 'restless ecstasy'. This is again ironic because Macbeth uses this to mean he has to kill more people to be less troubled, and because it's true - Macbeth would been better to have died earlier. He seems jealous of Duncan, in a very strange role reversal - though we might consider that he has been jealous of Duncan for the entire play.

  •  ‘Restless ecstasy’ - restless clearly connotes lack of sleep as well as feverishness.  ‘Ecstasy’ means ‘to stand outside the self’, Shakespeare’s time ‘out of your mind’. Thinking of Macbeth as not quite being himself - influenced, not who he wants to be, costuming.  Sibilance is used in this phrase, creating a sense of constant movement.

  • Lady Macbeth then tells him to dress up and be cheerful for all their guests. They resolve to make their faces 'vizards to our hearts', disguising what they intend. At this point, Macbeth feels alone (not sharing his thoughts), restless and in constant pain. Language of possession is used again, as though Macbeth is to some degree possessed by witches.

  • Question arises of why Macbeth doesn't want Lady Macbeth to know what he's doing: she may stop him, she may judge him, or perhaps he is ashamed and really does love and want to protect her. Again he invokes night to come so he won't be judged by heaven and so that God can't interfere, and also invokes a bloody and invisible hand

  • Religious language ‘snake’ is inverted now to Macbeth’s own devil: Banquo.

  • ‘But let the frame of things disjoint, both the/ worlds suffer,/ Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep/ In the affliction of these terrible dreams/ That shake us nightly:’

  • Macbeth here says he would tear the world apart (both earthly and spiritual worlds) before he will allow himself to succumb to the fear the ‘shakes’ him nightly.  Yet the audience may see that his world already has been torn apart, and in his rash decisions Macbeth has already succumbed to fear.  Does this question Macbeth’s bravery?

Act Three, Scene Three

  • Murderers are meeting in a park near Forres, talking about Macbeth.  

  • Banquo enters saying "Give us a light there, ho!", representing his symbolic connection with heaven, yet also the fact that this night is incredibly dark, like the deeds which are about to happen.  Macbeth has turned out heaven's lights. Fleance metaphorically picks up Banquo's torch. 

  • Banquo is killed, yet Fleance escapes, allowing the line of Kings to continue.

Act Three, Scene Four

  •   Macbeth opens this scene by telling people to sit down according to their status, that he will 'play the humble host' (language of theatre), and that Lady Macbeth will there soon.

  • The image of the bloody man recurs again in the murderer with 'blood on thy face' - the bloody man represents in Macbeth the overwhelming presence of death and violence in the play.  

  • The murderers reveal to Macbeth that Fleance has escaped, Macbeth says that his anxiety ('fit') is coming on again in response to this.  He asserts that if Fleance had died, I 'had else been perfect,/ Whole as the marble', strong and marble, cold and inhuman. Macbeth seems to think of perfection as being emotionless, being cold and so being strong.  Significant that marble was used for sculpture, Macbeth almost wants to become a piece of art. 'As broad and general as the casing air', wants to be big and powerful as the surrounding air, might connect the air Macbeth speaks of with the filthy air of the witches  But instead he is 'cabin'd, cribb'd, confined' by his doubts and fears. Ironic idea that Macbeth feels claustrophobic and yet is also falling apart.

  • There is a final piece of irony in 'But Banquo's safe' - for Macbeth safety only lies in death.  

  • Lady Macbeth chastises Macbeth for not participated and leading the feast, and Macbeth tries to make up for this, yet sees someone in his space.  Macbeth initially just thinks that the table is full, Banquo symbolically sitting in Macbeth's place - his children will be King. He initially thinks that it is a trick, then tries to assert his innocence, showing absolute panic.  Other characters begin to suspect him, perhaps the supernatural shows that he is to some extent to blame for Duncan's death.

  • 'This is the air-drawn dagger, which, you said,/Led you to Duncan'.  This is a very interesting - Lady Macbeth is mocking Macbeth and again in a minute emasculates him again, turning his own imaginary weapon against him.  Macbeth's hallucinations are becoming more vivid and more real, and are now focused on guilt rather than ambition, showing the changing state of his mind. 

  • The vision of Banquo's ghost in this scene partly is used to show Macbeth's mental disintegration, but also how the horror of his deeds is haunting him.

  • 'When all's done,/You look but on a stool' - one of the most important quotes of the play, referring to the throne, shows Macbeth's ambitions to be ultimately disillusioned, they're just petty ambitions which won't mean anything.  

  • 'the times have been, that, when the brains were put, the man would die' - to some degree, nature has been torn apart so that the dead no longer die but come to haunt the living.  To some extent this also applies to Macbeth, who spiritually has been dead since the first act, and yet refuses to die.

  • 'It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood' - As we have heard repeatedly throughout the play, bloody deeds will cause further bloody deads.

  • Lady Macbeth states that the night is 'Almost at odds with morning, which is which' - on the one hand she says it's between night and day, on the other she reveals that time itself has ceased to work properly.

  • Macbeth begins to realise that Macduff is against him, and that he will go and ask the witches more questions.

  • 'I am in blood/ Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as go o'er' - Macbeth has previously used quite a lot of sea imagery, previously used this to describe, now these are seas of blood and time which he is too far out to come back from.  Here Macbeth acknowledges that he has now spilled too much blood to ever be able to redeem himself.


Act Three, Scene Five


  • Hecate appears, goddess of witchcraft, she is the threefold goddness on whom the witches may be based.

  • However, it is extremely likely that Shakespeare didn't write any parts in the play with Hecate in them, which scholars can infer from the poorer quality of the verse.  It is likely that this scene was an addition designed to make the play more dynamic, with some spectacle and horror for the audience.


Act Three, Scene Six

  • Lennox enters saying that it's a strange coincidence that Macbeth has been close by all the murdered people, and that other people have been framed for it. He effectively says that Macbeth has access to Duncan's rooms, and killed the only witnesses, and he thinks that Macbeth would also kill Malcolm, Donalbain and Fleance. Lennox subtly states his belief that Macbeth killed the King.

  • Macduff has gone to meet Malcolm and Edward in order to form an army against Macbeth.

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