What are some differences between King Duncan's and Banquo's characters?

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merricat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

King Duncan and Banquo were both honorable men who were fiercely loyal to Scotland. Besides the obvious difference in their ranks, another important difference was their ability to judge a person’s character. Duncan was much more trusting than Banquo and failed to suspect those close to him might have evil intentions. Remember at the beginning of the play that a traitor, the Thane of Cawdor, was executed. Duncan says of him:

"There's no art
To find the mind's construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust."

Duncan never suspected the Thane of Cawdor would align with the King of Norway in order to take over Scotland. Duncan lacks insight into people’s characters and bestows complete trust easily. He makes the same mistake with Macbeth and dies because of it.

Banquo, on the other hand, is more cautious and discerning. When the witches first appear and give their predictions, Macbeth is enthralled and wants to believe them absolutely. But Banquo urges caution:

“But 'tis strange:
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray's
In deepest consequence.”

Later Banquo begins to suspect that Macbeth killed Duncan. He sees beyond Macbeth’s façade. At the beginning of Act III scene i he voices his thoughts clearly when he says: “Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all,/ As the weird women promised, and, I fear,/Thou play'dst most foully for't.” While others believe Duncan’s sons killed him, Banquo is a better judge of character and sees Macbeth’s ambition.

So though both Duncan and Banquo are powerful, intelligent, loyal men, Banquo is slightly wiser when it comes to judging a person and a situation correctly.