In the banquet scene in Macbeth, what complaint does Macbeth make about murdered men? Is there anything humorous or ridiculous in the complaint?Act 3 Does Shakespeare use humor for comic relief in...

In the banquet scene in Macbeth, what complaint does Macbeth make about murdered men? Is there anything humorous or ridiculous in the complaint?

Act 3 Does Shakespeare use humor for comic relief in this scene?

Expert Answers
Rebecca Owens eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I presume you are referring to these lines from Act 3 scene 4:

Blood hath been shed ere now, i' the olden time,
Ere humane statute purg'd the gentle weal;
Ay, and since too, murders have been perform'd
Too terrible for the ear: the time 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 our stools: this is more strange
Than such a murder is.

I hadn't really considered them as comic before, but looking now, I can see a potential for a comic reading if one were to paraphrase them in part by saying something to the effect of

--back in the good ole days murdered people stayed dead--if you bashed thier brains out that was the end--now here they come with twenty gaping head wounds and knock you off your seat.

Though I can see the potential for a humorous reading, I am still not conviced that this is meant to be funny.  I think Shakepeare  is showing Macbeth's shock at seeing the ghost and how is guilt is affecting his mental state more than making light of murder.

Macbeth is so frightened/shocked by the apparition that he forgets himself and speaks openly of the murder in front of his guests.

His mention of being knocked of his stool probably referrs to Banquo's sons becoming heirs to the throne--they will unseat him and his line. 

For an act by act analysis and a modern translation, see the links below: 

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a way it is humorous, but in a black humor kind of way. He is thinking, oh why can't everyone just go away and leave me alone, why can't I get rid of my problems, even when they are killed they don't go away.

Macbeth has become a helpless victim of his treachery and is now descending into madness right in front of everyone.  This is evident even before the murder of Duncan, when he is stricken with conscience before the murder and then unable to sleep, eat or feel normal once he is crowned king.

Once Macbeth has Banquo killed, and then sees his ghost, he is reacting to, not only the murder of his friend, but the shock he feels at being unable to put to rest the feeling that he can't shake the insecurity he feels over his kingship. He has been haunted since the hallucination of the daggers.  His complaint is ridiculous because he already admitted that one evil act leads to another without knowing when it will end.   So the ghost's appearance is just another ripple effect of the forces of evil being unleashed by Macbeth's act of regicide. Most notably being unleashed on him and Lady Macbeth.


wallinger | Student

Here Shakespeare trrying to mean the murders that had taken place even before the Ten Commandment was given. That is, before God gave the Ten Commandment  to the Israelites through Moses in the Mt. of Sinai Moses where it says, "thou shalt not kill", Moses had killed an Egyptian and Cain had killed his own brother Abel.