In William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, how might one compare and contrast the characters of Banquo and Macduff?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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 
Untimely ripp'd.

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.


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