What prophecy is given to Banquo in Macbeth?  

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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The first witch predicts that Banquo shall be "lesser than Macbeth, and greater". This first prediction is common of the doublespeak used by the witches. Their words ring like a paradox, an equivocation, but close analysis of events later in the play proves the truth of their prediction. Macbeth becomes king and therefore Banquo becomes his subject - he is "lesser" than Macbeth. Banquo, however, retains his integrity and the respect of all who know him, unlike Macbeth who, through his tyranny and ruthless blood-thirst, loses the support and respect of those who were once close to him. They turn against him. Even though Banquo dies, his memory is that of a noble and loyal gentleman, whereas Macbeth is despised and seen as the canker destroying Scotland. In this sense, then, Banquo is "greater" than Macbeth. 

The second witch says that Banquo would be "not so happy, yet much happier". Once again, paradox is used. Banquo would obviously not be happy for the death of his king (Duncan) saddens him later, whilst for Macbeth it brings the crown. Macbeth feels no remorse. Secondly Macbeth has Banquo assassinated, so Banquo is therefore once again, "not so happy".

What does make Banquo "much happier" or more fortunate than Macbeth is the fact that in death, he is at peace whilst Macbeth cannot sleep. He becomes steeped in blood and is paranoid, suspecting practically all those around him. He is haunted by the murders of Duncan and Banquo and can therefore not enjoy a peaceful rest. He suffers relentless torment, is constantly on his guard and is overwrought. Furthermore, Banquo had the confidence that his heirs would rule whilst Macbeth would leave behind a barren throne.

The third witch's prediction "Thou wilt get kings, though thou be none" affirms the fact that although Banquo would not be a king himself, his heirs would. His issue would become either be rulers themselves or would be the progenitors of future kings

robertwilliam's profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.

Not so happy, yet much happier.

Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.
So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!

These are the prophecies the witches make to Banquo: he'll be less than Macbeth but greater (which ends up meaning that he'll be less powerful politically but morally greater!) not as happy (in terms of wealth) but ultimately happier, and the father of kings though he shall never be king himself.

Interestingly - Fleance, Macbeth's son is never crowned at the end of the play; it's usually assumed that Shakespeare is referring to James I, on the throne when Macbeth was written, who descended frmo Banquo.

iambic5's profile pic

iambic5 | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

First Witch

Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.

Second Witch

Not so happy, yet much happier.

Third Witch

Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none:
So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!

First Witch

Banquo and Macbeth, all hail!

Sounds pretty good, right? Macbeth will one day be king, and Banquo never will, but in a sense Banquo gets even better news: he will one day be the patriarch of a whole line of kings. Macbeth gets to rule, but Banquo will found a whole royal dynasty. That probably means his son Fleance will one day be king, and though Banquo might be disappointed that he won't rule himself, what better consolation could there be than to one day see your son on the throne?

Of course, these two bits of good news in Act 1 lead to four successive acts of chaos and murder. Macbeth soon realizes that the prophecy must mean that Banquo's son will overthrow him, and he soon turns against his best friend and begins to plot Banquo and Fleance's murder. Which is only the beginning....

An interesting side note: many people wonder what happened to Fleance, as he is not actually the character crowned at the end of the play. But the king of England and Scotland when the play first opened was James I, and he was believed to be a direct descendant of the historical Banquo and Fleance. So though the play doesn't state it explicitly, Shakespeare's first audience would have understood that at some point in time, the prophecy to Banquo came true.

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