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The banquet scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (3.4), which occurs shortly after Macbeth has secretly arranged the murder of Banquo, is one of the most revealing scenes in the entire play, especially for what it reveals about the personalities of Macbeth and his wife. Among its revelations are the following:
- Macbeth opens the scene by referring hypocritically to proper rank (3.4.1). Ironically, of course, he has violated proper hierarchy by killing his own king.
- Macbeth plans to “play the humble host” (3.4.5), a phrase that implicitly reminds us of his own murderous pride and of his own earlier violation of the duties of a true host.
- Macbeth’s pleasure in Banquo’s death, expressed privately to one of the men who has killed him (3.4.15) again reveals his hypocrisy. Macbeth also reveals here a pleasure and humor about murder that show his moral degeneration (3.4.17).
- Immediately after taking sickening satisfaction in news of his former friend’s death, Macbeth is shaken and surprised to learn that his friend’s son has escaped being killed (3.4.21-25). His unstable emotions are thus revealed.
- Macbeth’s references to Banquo and Fleance as serpent-like and venomous ironically reflect on his own increasingly evil character (3.4.29-31).
- Lady Macbeth hypocritically praises courteous “ceremony” towards guests (3.4.36), despite having earlier provoked Macbeth to kill the king, the greatest guest they could possibly have had.
- Macbeth hypocritically praises Banquo publically (3.4.-40-43), even though he has just secretly joked about Banquo’s murder.
- Macbeth, shocked to see the ghost of Banquo (which no one else can see), immediately displays anger, suspiciousness, and paranoia (3.4.49).
- Speaking to the ghost of Banquo, Macbeth hypocritically denies his guilt for Banquo’s murder (3.4.50-51). His words also suggest terror at the sight of Banquo’s ghost.
- Lady Macbeth tries to “cover” for her husband, but her concern for him is, of course, also rooted in self-centered self-concern (3.4.53-53-58).
- Her abrupt question to her husband – “Are you a man?” (3.4.58) – can be read as expressing both power over him and fear of others; it is simultaneously a rebuke, an insult, a dig at his masculinity, and an unintentionally ironic reminder of his lack of common humanity.
- By accusing Macbeth of behaving like a woman (3.4.60-68), Lady Macbeth unintentionally reminds us that she herself rejects all the virtues traditionally associated with her own gender.
- Macbeth’s almost hysterical fear of Banquo’s ghost (3.4.68-73) greatly contrasts with the smug self-confidence he showed as the scene opened.
- Lady Macbeth’s references to “folly” and “shame” (3.4.73-75) call unintended attention to her own irrationality and shamelessness.
- Ironically, what Lady Macbeth perceives as her husband’s weakness is actually evidence that he still has some strength of conscience left, as when he refers to
. . . murders . . . performed
Too terrible for the ear. (3.4.77-78)
- At the same time, Macbeth is less moved by his conscience than by his selflish but frustrated self-concern (3.4.78-83).
Obviously this analysis could be even more detailed, but even an analysis of just the first half of the scene shows how many different emotions and character traits Shakespeare manages to reveal.
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