Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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In Act 3 of Macbeth, what are some examples of puns?

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Thomas Mccord eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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You can find numerous examples of puns in Act III of Macbeth, in which Shakespeare plays on the dual meanings of particular words for a comic or dramatic effect.

First of all, take a look at this pun from Act III, Scene I:

Which still hath been both grave and prosperous.

In this quote, Macbeth is saying that he would have liked to have had some advice from Banquo at his council because Banquo's advice is always "grave", meaning serious. However, this word also conjures the image of a burial, and this is important because it foreshadows the murder of Banquo which takes place soon after.

In addition, there is another pun in Act III, Scene III.

Who did strike out the light?

In this quote, spoken by the third murderer, Shakespeare plays on the word, "strike." At first glance, it seems that the murderer is referring to the putting out of a light but, given the fact that Banquo has just died, Shakespeare is also referring to a physical strike, as in the fatal blow dealt to Banquo. By punning this word, Shakespeare emphasizes the violence which has just taken place. 

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A pun is a play on words through use of double meaning that is used for humorous effect.   In a tragedy it adds lightness to a dark scene and is known as “comic relief.”

In the beginning of Act 3, Macbeth is talking to Banquo about the banquet that night.

We should have else desired your good advice,

Which still hath been both grave and prosperous

In this day's council; but we'll take tomorrow. (3:1)

Macbeth’s use of the word “grave” here [grave: serious] is a particularly good pun because he is planning to kill Banquo and put him in his grave.

The best pun in Act 3 appears after the murderers return to Macbeth.


My lord, his throat is cut; that I did for him.


Thou art the best o’ the cut-throats! Yet he's good

That did the like for Fleance. If thou didst it,

Thou art the nonparell.(20) (3:4)

Macbeth uses the fact that the murderer cut Banquo’s throat to make a pun about the murderer being cut-throat, which means ruthless.

In a dramatic and tragic play such as this, there needs to be some little jokes to cut the tension.  In fact, the play is quite humorous throughout because of puns.  Other instances of examples of comic relief puns are with the porter in Act II and the reaction to Banquo’s ghost later in Act III.  The puns allow the audience to fully experience the drama through cutting the tension every once in awhile.

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