How Does Macbeth Convince The Murderers To Kill Banquo

How does Macbeth convince the murderers that they should kill Banquo and Fleance in act 3, scene 1 of Macbeth?

In act 3, scene 1 of Macbeth, Macbeth convinces two murderers to kill Banquo and Banquo's son, Fleance, by inciting their anger and resentment toward Banquo for denying them promotions and keeping them in lowly, subservient positions. Macbeth persuades the murderers that Banquo is their common enemy, and that by murdering Banquo they can improve their own situations and endear themselves to Macbeth.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth has only recently become King of Scotland after murdering King Duncan, but he decides that in order to keep the throne, and his life, he must murder Banquo and his son, Fleance, to avoid the prophecy that the witches made to Banquo in act 1, scene 3,...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Macbeth has only recently become King of Scotland after murdering King Duncan, but he decides that in order to keep the throne, and his life, he must murder Banquo and his son, Fleance, to avoid the prophecy that the witches made to Banquo in act 1, scene 3, "Thou shalt get [beget] kings, though thou be none" (1.3.70).

To this end, Macbeth enlists the services of two murderers. Macbeth tells the murderers that, as king, he could simply order Banquo executed, but there are "certain friends that are both his and mine" (3.1.132) that he dare not offend so early in his reign by doing so. Instead, Macbeth hopes to keep the business of killing Banquo out of "the common eye" (3.1.136) by employing the two murderers.

It's unclear why Macbeth chooses these two particular murderers, with whom he apparently has some unfortunate history to overcome, rather than any other two murderers in the entirety of Scotland who don't have to be convinced to murder Banquo and Fleance and who wouldn't hesitate to do the deed simply at Macbeth's order or request.

Macbeth had a meeting with these two murderers just the day before in which he set the groundwork for asking them to kill Banquo and Fleance. In this second meeting, Macbeth hopes to raise their anger and resentment toward Banquo to such a level that they won't hesitate to do what Macbeth requests of them.

Macbeth blames the murderers' lack of promotion and advancement on Banquo—"it was he...which held you so under fortune" (3.1.82–83)—although it's likely that Macbeth, not Banquo, interfered with their promotions. Macbeth tries to incite the murderers to consider Banquo their utmost enemy and to take revenge against him for what they believe he's done to them. However, at the same time that Macbeth is trying to solicit their services, he seems to insult them by comparing them to dogs and by casting aspersions on their manhood—in much the same way that Lady Macbeth did to Macbeth when he originally decided not to murder Duncan in act 1, scene 7. It worked for Lady Macbeth then, and it works for Macbeth now.

It appears, however, that the two murderers don't really need much convincing to murder Banquo. Both of them tell Macbeth that they're so down on their luck that they would do anything that Macbeth asks them to do, even at the risk of their own lives.

Macbeth gives them the job of killing Banquo and Fleance and sends them away, telling them that he'll come to them within the hour with specific information about Banquo's location so that they can commit the murders that very evening, "for ’t must be done tonight" (3.1.145).

When the time comes for the murders of Banquo and Fleance (in act 3, scene 3), a third murderer appears who is unknown to the other two murderers. The Second Murderer tells the First Murderer that they shouldn't mistrust the Third Murderer since he says he was sent by Macbeth, and he has the same orders from Macbeth that they do. They fail to realize, however, that it's Macbeth who doesn't trust them to carry out the murders, and he's sent a third murderer to ensure that the murders are committed "with no rubs or botches in the work" (3.1.148).

Nevertheless, even three murderers still manage to botch the work. They fulfill Macbeth's order to kill Banquo, but Fleance escapes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth has apparently had some prior conversation with the two murderers, a conversation to which the audience is not privy, because he refers to that conversation now. Macbeth asks,

Well then, now
Have you considered of my speeches?  Know
That it was he, in the times past, which held you
So under fortune, which you thought had been
Our innocent self. This I made good to you
In our last conference, passed in probation with you
How you were borne in hand, how crossed, the instruments,
Who wrought with them, and all things else that might
To half a soul and to a notion crazed
Say "Thus did Banquo." (3.1.82-91)

He asks if they've thought over what he told them the last time they spoke together. Next, Macbeth tries to confirm that these men understand that it is Banquo who is responsible for their misfortunes even though they thought it was Macbeth at fault. He says that he proved this to them during their previous conversation along with describing how the men were deceived, how they were foiled ("crossed"), what evidence was used against them, who was working against them, and myriad other things that would convince even someone of little understanding that Banquo was to blame.

Thus, we don't really know the exact language that Macbeth has used to convince them since Shakespeare doesn't show us that conversation, but we can get a pretty good idea based on what is said in this scene. Macbeth goes on to ask,

Do you find
Your patience so predominant in your nature
That you can let this go? Are you so gospeled
To pray for this good man and for his issue,
Whose heavy hand hath bowed you to the grave
And beggared yours forever?  (3.1.96-101)

Now Macbeth wants to know if they are so passive that they will just allow Banquo to get away with all that he's done. He pushes, asking if they are really going to pray for this man and his children, this man who is responsible for their poverty and the likelihood that they will go to death early.  He encourages them to be men and to stand up for themselves.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth at this point in the play has lost all of his previous uncertainty related to pursuing his bloodthirsty ambitions. The witches' prophecies had proved correct for his ascension to be Thane of Cawdor, and now through submitting to the temptation to murder Duncan he has become king of Scotland. He is now looking to hire three (unnamed in the play) murderers to do his dirty work of depriving Banquo and his descendants of fulfilling the witches' prophecy of taking the throne. Macbeth's ambitions and lust for power now know no boundaries.

Macbeth convinces the murderers that all their problems in life and the general poverty they live in are not his fault but Banquo's. He therefore urges them on to take revenge for this state of affairs. It is not made clear in the play what exactly either Macbeth or Banquo ever did to cause the murderers hardship in the first place.

Macbeth also challenges the men's masculinity as a spur to action (masculinity is a recurring motif in the play - we see Macbeth's masculinity challenged by Lady Macbeth for example). He does this through the analogy of breeds of dogs, challenging the men to prove themselves as a stronger breed of man, just as there are stronger breeds of dogs - "...And so of men. Now, if you have a station in the file, Not i' th' worst rank of manhood, say 't, And I will put that business in your bosoms..." (Act 3 Scene 1 lines 103-106).

Macbeth therefore uses a two pronged strategy to manipulate the men into fulfilling his own evil purposes.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth is, at this point, utterly convinced by the witches' prophesies and he fears mostly their prediction that Banquo's issue would be the future kings of Scotland. It is for this reason that both Banquo and his son, Fleance, should be assassinated. For this purpose he has summoned these murderers, not killers or assassins in the normal sense, but soldiers who have killed many in battle.

Macbeth had consulted with the assassins the previous day and now uses very persuasive and direct language to convince them to carry through his instructions. Macbeth tells them:

That it was he in the times past which held you
So under fortune, which you thought had been
Our innocent self:"

He tells them that Banquo had withheld their promotion. The men were probably entitled to a higher rank, but had been denied by Banquo's refusal. Macbeth says that the men had believed that he (Macbeth) had been responsible for this injustice, but that he was innocent.  The men had been misled and Banquo was the one who had made false promises and denied them.

It is clear that Macbeth had already spoken about this to these men and this second speech serves as a reminder of the injustice and dishonour they suffered. Macbeth uses rhetorical questions, asking the men whether they are so patient and holy to let Banquo and his issue get away with such a grave injustice, a foul act which put them at a great disadvantage, so much so that they suffered because of it. Macbeth wants to incense them so much that they would murder to regain their honour.

When the first murderer says, "We are men, my liege", implying that they are honourable and courageous and would not run away from a challenge, Macbeth uses allusion, saying that in spite of its nature, a dog will still be called a dog. Macbeth refers to their manhood, that if they have a station in life, they should claim it and he will give them opportunity to do so, unlike an ordinary man. He will love them for carrying out his instruction and getting rid of their common enemy, for he cannot live comfortably knowing that Banquo is still alive.

The murderers state that they are tired of their suffering and would do anything to bring an end to it. Macbeth seeks their assurance that they agree that Banquo is their enemy. The men do so and Macbeth tells them that he cannot be suspected of having had Banquo killed, since Banquo's allies will turn against him. "This business" as Macbeth calls it, must be secret.

In the end he tells the murderers that he will provide exact details where Banquo is to be accosted and that Fleance should also be killed. There should be no loose ends.

The murderers state that they are "resolved". They have made up their minds and will go through with the datardly deed.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth first tells the murderers that Banquo is responsible for their recent misfortune, and then he urges them to get revenge on the man "whose heavy hand hath bowed you to the grave."  They assure him that they are men, implying that a man would not let such a wrong go unpunished, Macbeth goads them further by stating:

Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;

As hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,

Sloughs, water-rugs and demi-wolves are clept

All by the name of dogs.

By using this comparison, Macbeth asks them to prove that they are honorable men and not just male in gender.  Being honorable means taking revenge:  murdering Banquo and his son for the supposed wrongs Banquo has done to them and their family.  No true man would let such wrongs go unanswered.

This type of persuasion is similar to that that Lady Macbeth used earlier in the play when she persuades Macbeth to kill Duncan.  She plays on the idea of true manhood.  According to her, being a man means taking advantage of opportunities for advancement, in this case killing Duncan while he is a guest at the Macbeth castle.

Macbeth assures her that he is surely a true man without killing Duncan:

Prithee, peace!

I dare do all that may become a man;

Who dares do more is none.  (Act 1, scene 7)

Lady Macbeth counters with

When you durst do it [kill Duncan], then you were a man;

And to be more than what you were, you would

Be so much more the man. (Act 1, scene 7)

In each case, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use a stereotype of manhood to persuade.  To them, a true man is ruthless, vengeful, and violent.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Act 3, sc. 1, Macbeth tells the murderers that Banquo was their enemy; that Banquo had made their lives difficult.  Macbeth tells them that Banquo deceived them, used information against them, and did other things to generally make their lives unfortunate. "...Know / That it was he, in the times past, which held you / So under fortune, ..."  Then he uses the tactic of suggesting to them that they aren't real men if they don't get revenge by killing Banquo.  Also that if they love Macbeth and are loyal to him, they will do his bidding and that by doing his bidding, the murderers will be even closer to him.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on