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

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.