How does Macbeth react to the witches' predictions, and what strong feelings is Banquo experiencing in Macbeth?

Macbeth responds to the witch's predictions with fascination in Macbeth. When Ross and Angus arrive, that fascination starts intensifying, as murderous temptation is already setting in. Banquo, on the other hand, is depicted as entirely revolted by and mistrusting of the witches. However, this lends additional levels of complexity to Banquo's characterization, given that he actively requested that the witches speak to him as well.

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In act 1, scene 3, Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches, who greet Macbeth by three separate titles: Thane of Glamis (his current title), Thane of Cawdor (the title he is about to receive), and King. They later turn their attention to Banquo, calling him "Lesser than Macbeth, but...

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In act 1, scene 3, Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches, who greet Macbeth by three separate titles: Thane of Glamis (his current title), Thane of Cawdor (the title he is about to receive), and King. They later turn their attention to Banquo, calling him "Lesser than Macbeth, but greater" (act 1, scene 3) and identifying him as a father of kings.

During this entire sequence, Banquo is ill at ease with the witch's eerie presence. Even then, however, after the witches greet Macbeth (while remaining silent when regarding himself), Banquo requests that they speak to him as well, to which the witches make their response.

Macbeth, meanwhile, is shown fascinated with the witches and their prophesy: note how, after they have made that initial prophesy, Banquo himself states that Macbeth "seems rapt withal" (act 1, scene 3). However, Macbeth also is depicted as overwhelmed by these revelations, questioning the witches as to how he can possibly become Thane of Cawdor and king, but the witches disappear without providing an answer.

With the arrival of Ross and Angus, one of the witches' prophesies is confirmed, as Macbeth is named Thane of Cawdor. By this point, Macbeth seems to be reeling, and already he is contemplating murderous thoughts (although, at this point, he seems uneasy with these turnings of his mind). Still, from the very beginning, he has taken the witches seriously, and now that one of their predictions has come true, he becomes all the more fixated on their powers of prediction.

Banquo, on the other hand, shows a far more God-fearing mindset where the witches are concerned. (It is worth noting that Shakespeare lived in an era which saw far more powerful stirrings of religious devotionalism than modern western society.) Banquo does not trust the witches or their motivations, which is a sensible position to hold from the perspective of a culture that believes in the presence of witchcraft. However, to a certain degree, this revulsion possibly makes Banquo's reaction to the witches more ambiguous than Macbeth's. After all, remember that for all the witches might have disturbed him, he asked them to speak to him as well. This is a detail well worth thinking carefully upon.

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Macbeth is interested in the witches’ predictions, and Banquo is suspicious.

When the witches first meet Banquo and Macbeth on the heath, Macbeth is just a valiant soldier and Banquo is his friend.  They have just come from a battle where they were in charge, and very successful. 

From the start, Macbeth is curious about the witches, and Banquo is suspicious.  He immediately questions their “wild” attire and their looks, saying they have beards but otherwise look like women.  He starts by asking not “who” they are, but “what” they are, and says they “look not like the inhabitants o' the earth” (Act 1, Scene 3).

Live you? or are you aught

That man may question? You seem to understand me,

By each at once her chappy finger laying

Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,

And yet your beards forbid me to interpret

That you are so. (Act 1, Scene 3)

Macbeth asks them to talk, if they can, and also asks what they are.  They don’t answer that question, but immediately begin hailing him as the “thane of Glamis,” which he is, proving they know him.  Thus establishing their identity, they proceed to give him and Banquo prophecies. 

The different reactions Banquo and Macbeth have to the prophecies are telling.  It shows their different personalities. 

Macbeth is told three prophecies.  The first two are told to him by the Second and Third Witch.

Second Witch

All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!

Third Witch

All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter! (Act 1, Scene 3)

Macbeth has a funny reaction to those.  He “starts,” or is so surprised that he seems almost afraid.  Banquo completely misinterprets that, asking him why he sees to fear the predictions.  Macbeth is not afraid. He is completely shocked.  There may be a little projection going on here.  Banquo is probably afraid of the thought of Macbeth being king!  He is worried that Macbeth is taking these prophecies too seriously, and trying to get him to lighten up.

While Banquo ponders the fit of fantasy Macbeth seems enraptured in, the witches have a prophecy for him too.  He will be both lesser and greater than Macbeth.

Third Witch

Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none:

So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo! (Act 1, Scene 3)

Banquo’s sons will be king?  Macbeth asks the witches to stay, and tell him more, now that he has regained his senses, but they leave.

Once the witches leave, Banquo and Macbeth discuss the prophecies a little.  Banquo tells Macbeth they are silly, and they have lost their reason if they pay attention to them.  He is hoping Macbeth will forget all about it.  Then they go appear before King Duncan.  There, they learn that Macbeth is not the heir to the throne, as he was led to believe.  It is Duncan’s son, Malcolm.

Duncan has two sons, Malcolm and Donalbain.  Macbeth well knew this.  Macbeth is just a distant relative of Duncan, and he knew that he would never be next in line for the throne unless something happened to both of the sons first.  The witches have really gotten into his head though!  When he finds out that Malcolm is officially named the heir, he loses it!  In an aside, he displays his angry ambition.  He rails against Malcolm, the Prince of Cumblerland.

The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step

On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,

For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;

Let not light see my black and deep desires… (Act 1, Scene 4)

From here on, Macbeth will stop at nothing to be king.  Banquo’s protests fell on deaf ears.  Later, he will secretly wonder if Macbeth killed Duncan.  Macbeth will also wonder if Banquo is suspicious of him, and have him killed.  Their friendship is at an end.

Banquo was a good person.  He did not have ambition.  He was suspicious of the witches, and it got him killed.  He tried to help his friend, and warn him not to listen to the witches, but it did no good.  Macbeth was too tempted by what they offered him.

The witches did not turn Macbeth into a murderer, or make him into a tyrant.  If he hadn’t had the slumbering beast of ambition inside him for them to awaken, their prophecies would have been nonstarters.  All they did was pass Macbeth the ball.  He is the one who took the game into extra innings.

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