In William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, how might one compare and contrast the characters of Banquo and Macduff?
In William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, Banquo and Macduff can be compared and contrasted in a number of ways, including the following:
- Banquo first appears as the friend of Macbeth, and some critics think he shares with Macbeth the trait of ambition. Macduff, however, never seems ambitious for himself.
- Banquo suspects that Macbeth may have killed Duncan in order to become king, and Macduff very quickly has the same suspicions.
- Macbeth succeeds in having Banquo killed so that Banquo will not pose a threat to his own power; he fails, however, to have Macduff slain, and it is Macduff who ultimately kills Macbeth.
- Macbeth succeeds in having Macduff’s family slain, but he fails to have Banquo’s son slain.
- Banquo is present at the banquet Macbeth holds after Duncan’s death – or, at least he is present in Macbeth’s own mind and imagination. Macduff, however, deliberately does not attend the banquet.
- Macduff’s opposition to Macbeth puts Macduff’s family at danger; Banquo’s potential as a rival to Macbeth puts Bandquo’s son at danger.
- Both Banquo and Macduff are mentioned in prophecies by the witches – prophecies that trouble Macbeth. As a result of these prophecies, Macbeth takes hostile action against both men.
- Macduff is widely seen as one of the most virtuous characters in the play. Banquo is also considered a virtuous character, but his virtue has come into greater question than Macduff’s.
- Both Banquo and Macduff triumph over Macbeth in ways that Macbeth does not suspect. Thus, Banquo, because his son survives Macbeth’s attempted murder of them both, becomes the ancestor to a long line of kings, just as the witches had prophesied but not in the ways Macbeth had expected. Likewise, the witches had prophesied that Macbeth would never be slain by a man born of a woman. He therefore assumes, during his closing battle with Macduff, that he is invincible:
Macbeth. Thou losest labour:
As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air
With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed:
Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield,
To one of woman born.
He is surprised, therefore, when Macduff replies:
Macduff. Despair thy charm;
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb
In other words, Macduff was born as a result of a Caesarian section. In short order, then, Macduff not only slays Macbeth but beheads him. Macduff is a hero in the play in ways that Banquo never has a chance to be.