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In act 3, scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, the title character offers a number of reasons to justify the killing of his friend Banquo. Among those reasons are the following:
- Because of the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s descendants will become kings of Scotland, Macbeth cannot feel entirely safe as king until Banquo and Banquo’s son are killed (“To be thus [that is, king] is nothing, but [that is, unless] safely thus” (3.1.48).
- Banquo’s character is so inherently noble that he may prove more popular and admired than Macbeth and thus be a threat to Macbeth’s power:
. . . in his royalty of nature reigns that
Which would [that is, must] be feared (3.1.50-51)
- Banquo is not only a good man but a daring, brave, wise, and prudent man who knows how to act in his own best interests – interests that may not coincide with the interests of Macbeth (3.1.51-54).
- Banquo’s responses to the witches suggest that Banquo may have ambitions of his own which might conflict with the ambitions of Macbeth (3.1.57-59).
- The witches had “hailed [Banquo as a] father to a line of kings” (3.1.60). In contrast, their prophecies regarding Macbeth’s power had been limited and equivocal (3.1.61-64).
- If the prophecy concerning Banquo is true, then Macbeth has killed Duncan to benefit Banquo – an outcome Macbeth wants to prevent (3.1.64-70). Macbeth may thus go to hell only to benefit Banquo, a prospect that Macbeth cannot accept.
When the two murderers appear, Macbeth offers even further reasons for killing Banquo, including the following:
- Macbeth claims that Banquo has opposed the good fortune of the murderers (3.1.76-78). He thus pretends that killing Banquo is in their own best interests.
- Macbeth claims that although he could easily banish Banquo,
. . . yet I must not,
For [that is, because of] certain friends that are both his and mine,
Whose loves I may not drop . . . . (3.1.121-22)
In other words, it would not be politically prudent for Macbeth to banish Banquo, and so Banquo must be killed.
- Finally, Macbeth mentions “sundry weighty reasons” for wanting Banquo killed (3.1.126), which may include some of the reasons already mentioned above.
In this scene, Macbeth reveals himself as jealous, envious, fearful, insecure, vengeful, and conniving – not an attractive picture at all.
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