How do I contrast Macbeth's and Banquo's characters?

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Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Macbeth and Banquo, military leaders in Scotland, have thus far, by all indications, lived their lives in honor and service to their king. This service was the focus of their ambition until the encounter with the Three Weird Sisters.

In the prophecy, Macbeth is predicted to become king, while Banquo is told that it is his children who will ascend the throne. The nature of these prophecies perhaps regulate the reactions of the two different men.

Banquo is not told anything about himself, but only his children. Therefore, he does not have an immediate vested interested in taking action to fulfill the prophecy. Macbeth, however, does have an interest and takes upon himself the responsibility to bring it to fulfillment, rather than let Fate take its course.

Banquo, in discussing the prophecy, expresses doubts as to the validity of such a thing, coming as it does from witches. While he admits that it might contain some element of truth, he is wary that its way is to lead them to evil, rather than success. In this, Banquo shows a level of wisdom and insight that Macbeth does not possess.

Banquo's refusal to take action in fulfilling the prophecy conflicts with Macbeth's choice to do so, aided by his wife. This puts Banquo in a dangerous position, especially since, according to the prophecy, it will be Banquo's children, not the children of Macbeth, who will succeed Macbeth. Unsure of this aspect, Macbeth is taking no chances and murders Banquo as well as Duncan.

markchambers1966 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I liked this question! We need to look at the start of the play when they are both 'captains' and 'worthy' men. They are essentially loyal lords to King Duncan and have helped to defeat the invading forces. Both men are presented therefore as courageous and determined and have the thanks of the old king and the respect of other men. After the witches speak to Macbeth, Banquo bids them speak to him, because he is naturally curious about them and what they may have to say to him. But Banquo does not head into some dreamy state of reflection as Macbeth does, he doesn't lose himself in the prophesy.  What the prophesy does is 'tie' Banquo to Macbeth after the murder of Duncan, he feels Macbeth has a golden motive for the deed and considers that Macbeth may have 'played most foul for it,' but he does nothing, perhaps because he is a  part of the events that are unfolding, and he hopes his child will one day be king. Banquo only appears in the first part of the play as he is murdered before the coronation feast, so he never turns as Macbeth does to evil. He of course never has a Lady Macbeth character in the background to spur him to an evil path and he does sacrifice himself to save his son. Macbeth has no children so has no such attachment for another. Banquo is more of a family man and less motivated by self interest, more for the wider concerns for his sons advancement.

Hope this helps!

kkganey | Student

It is said in the witches prophecy that even though Macbeth will be King, Banquo's sons will succeed him. It also says that Banquo will be lesser but greater than Macbeth. This comes to be true. In the beginning, they are both honorable and trustworthy men who served their King without a second thought. As soon as the witches come forth with their prophecy of both Banquo and Macbeth, both men change. Banquo is wary of what the witches are saying. He admits that there might be SOME truth in what they say, but to not put too much dependence on it because it can only lead to evil. Macbeth on the other hand becomes fascinated and soon obsessed with the prophecy. Macbeth does what he, and Lady Macbeth, feel necessary to follow this prophecy. He not only commits regicide, but orders his best-friend killed because he is the only one who can link Macbeth, motive, opportunity, and murder. Banquo comes across as a more level-headed man than Macbeth. Banquo has no power-hungry wife pushing him as Macbeth does, but he does have a son to think of. The prophecy is the turning point of each character. Macbeth becomes obsessed and Banquo keeps a good head on his shoulders which, unfortunately, end in his murder.