3. Explain why the appearance of Banquo's ghost is a turning point in the plot and analyze how the ghost contributes to the unraveling of Macbeth's character?
4. With respect to the way the events affect Macbeth, compare and contrast the ghost's appearance to the dream dagger in Act 2?
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Macbeth and his wife conspired to commit a perfect crime which would make him king and her queen. The drama builds in intensity up to the point where Macbeth commits the murder of Duncan and the body is discovered. Shakespeare disposes of Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan's two sons who obviously have precedence over Macbeth in line for the throne, by having both of them flee for their lifes, enabling Macbeth to pin their father's murder on them. Thus the Macbeths' plan to commit the perfect crime, despite many glitches, is successful--at least temporarily and on the surface. Macbeth is officially crowned king of Scotland, and all the thanes with the exception of Macduff acknowledge him and treat him with appropriate deference, even including Banquo, who prudently accepts Macbeth as his liege although he feels certain that Macbeth is guilty of regicide, treaon, and usurpation. By the beginning of Act 3, the middle of the play, a new status quo has been established.
Now Shakespeare is faced with the problem of sustaining the dramatic tension with new motives and new developments. Macbeth starts thinking about a another crime, that of murdering Banquo and Fleance in order to prevent Banquo from being the sire of a whole line of Scottish kings, as the Weird Sisters prophesized. Macbeth expresses his feelings in a long soliloquy in the first scene of Act 3:
To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be fear'd. ’Tis much he dares,
And, to that dauntless temper of his mind,
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor
To act in safety. There is none but he
Whose being I do fear; and under him
My genius is rebuked, as it is said
Mark Antony's was by Caesar. He chid the sisters,
When first they put the name of King upon me,
And bade them speak to him; then prophet-like
They hail'd him father to a line of kings:
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrench'd with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If't be so,
For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind,
For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered,
Put rancors in the vessel of my peace
Only for them, and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!
Rather than so, come, Fate, into the list,
And champion me to the utterance!
Shakespeare may have had Banquo included in the witches' prophecies in order to have new material to develop after the successful conclusion of Duncan's assassination and Macbeth's coronation.
Macbeth succeeds in having Banquo killed, although Fleance escapes. But Banquo was killed by proxy, and Shakespeare wanted Macbeth to be confronted with the tangible result of his treachery. Banquo's bloody ghost appears at the banquet scene in order to show Macbeth that, though he is dead, yet he can still be sire to the line of kings through his son Fleance. This is the turning point in the play because it demonstrates that Macbeth has an even bigger problem than he had with killing Duncan. Now Macbeth is fighting against Fate itself. This unequal battle will help to drive him mad.
Up until Act 3, Macbeth was a vassal plotting the murder of his sovereign. Now he himself is the sovereign, the supreme power in the land, and he apparently feels capable of achieving anything he wants to achieve, even if it means going against the most awesome supernatural forces. This is the only admirable quality of Macbeth. He is fearless. What is happening to Macbeth is something that can frequently be seen in lesser humans: power has gone to his head. According to a famous statement by Lord Acton, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
After his meeting with Banquo's ghost, Macbeth is on a slippery slope. His demise seems inevitable to everyone but himself. His wife drops out of sight and is no longer available either to advise or to encourage him. Everything is going wrong for him, but he keeps trying to cope with the results of his misdeeds and his misrule. The thanes may have suspected Macbeth of Duncan's murder, but they can have no doubts whatever that he was responsible for Banquo's murder. They know that he is capable of having any one of them killed if it suits him. He proves this when he has Macduff's entire family annihilated. Macbeth has shown at the banquet that he suspects all the thanes of conspiring against him. He tells his wife:
There's not a one of them but in his house
I keep a servant fee'd. (3.4)
He loses everyone's loyalty and knows that he has to rule by fear.
So the "perfect crime" of killing Duncan to steal his crown was not so perfect after all.
3. Earlier in the play, after his preternatural experience with the "weird sisters," Macbeth "...nothing is/But what is not" (1.3.152-153). It is at this point that Macbeth begins to think reality and fantasy may be equal and that he may not have to do anything to become king. Indeed, his confusion of fantasy and reality leads Macbeth into the realm of the phantasmagoric, "a constantly shifting complex succession of things seen or imagined." Thus enmeshed in this realm in which "Fair is foul and foul is fair," Macbeth becomes confused, believing his murderous acts are "fair" since they further his "vaulting ambitions."
After having killed Duncan, Macbeth finds himself upon a bloody path. Worried about the prediction that Banquo would be a father to a line of kings, Macbeth feels he must eliminate Banquo as an impediment to his own kingly reign. But, when Fleance is not killed with his father, Macbeth still worries about the succession of kings. Now on this bloody path, the more violent and horrified Macbeth becomes and the drama, thus, builds towards its end. The appearance of the supernatural in Banquo's ghost, come back to haunt his murderer, further unnerves Macbeth and he begins to unravel as he worries what the ghost may do and the realms of the real and the supernatural collide.
Blood hath been shed ere now, i' th'olden time.
Ere humane statute purged the gentle weal;
Ay, and since too, murders have been performed
Too terrible for the ear. The times has been
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end; but now they rise again
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,
And push us from out stools. This is more strange
Than such a murder is. (3.4.91-99)
4. In the dagger scene, there is foreshadowing of Macbeth's other illusions. But, the dagger is primarily connected to Macbeth's guilt about killing Duncan, a kinsman and a king (regicide upset the Chain of Being). Macbeth imagines that the dagger appears before him because he is reluctant to kill his kinsman and his guilt creates outside forces such as the bloody dagger; Macbeth feels the dagger turns bloody because of his deadly and bloody thoughts. But, the ghost of Banquo is from the supernatural world, a world in which the Elizabethans strongly believed; this is not something Macbeth's mind has manufactured. It is, then, the intrusion of the supernatural world which drives Macbeth to his fears of losing the crown. From his standpoint, Banquo's ghost appears at the banquet because Fleance remains alive, leaving him, "cabin'd, confind'd bound in to saucy doubts and fears" (3.4.23-24)
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