What happens in Act III of Shakespeare's "Macbeth"?

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pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is a critical turning point in Act III.  Macbeth experiences his high point as King, at the banquet. 

He decides that Banquo and his son are too much of a threat, so he engages the services of murders to kill them. Macbeth's sense of reality shifts in Act III. 

"To be thus is nothing;
But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be fear'd:..." (Act III, Scene I)

In Act III, Macbeth begins to isolate himself, even from Lady Macbeth, she is no longer his total confidante. She tries to comfort him, but he feels that she does not understand fully the threat from Banquo and Fleance.

"Macb. O! full of scorpions is my mind, dear
Thou know'st that Banquo and his Fleance lives.
Lady M. But in them nature's copy's not
Macb. There's comfort yet; they are assail-
able;" (Act III, Scene II)

"Lady M. What's to be done?
Macb. Be Innocent of the knowledge, dearest
chuck," (Act III, Scene II)

When he sees Banquo's ghost at the banquet, he exposes his troubled mind in front of many guests.  Macbeth loses something from his image as King when he behaves like a madman.

"Macb. Prithee, see there! behold! look! lo!
how say you?
Why, what care I? If thou canst nod, speak too.
If charnel-houses and our graves must send
Those that we bury back, our monuments
Shall be the maws of kites." (Act III, Scene IV) 

dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Scene 1, Banquo says that Macbeth is now Thane, and the witches' prophesy has come true.  He hopes the prophesy about his sons comes true as well, so his sons can be kings.  Macbeth fears this, and hires men to murder Banquo and Fleance.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth talk in Scene 2, and Macbeth does not tell her that he has arranged for Banquo and Fleance to be killed.

The murderers kill Banquo in Scene 3, but Fleance escapes.

In Scene 4, Macbeth is glad that Banquo is dead and plans to deal with Fleance later.  At a banquet that night, and the ghost of Banquo appears twice to Macbeth while he is sitting at the table; only Macbeth, who reacts with terror, can see him.  Lady Macbeth, afraid that he might confess to killing Duncan, tells the guests her husband is unwell and asks them to leave.  Macbeth, wondering why MacDuff did not attend the banquet, resolves to consult the witches to find out what to do next.

Scene 5 introduces a new witch, Hecate.  She is angry that the other witches did not consult her about Macbeth, and as Macbeth prepares to visit the witches again, she begins to cast a spell to lead to his destruction.

In Scene 6, Lennox suspects that Macbeth killed Duncan and Banquo, even though the general concensus is that Fleance killed his father.  Malcolm has gone to England with Macduff to raise an army and try to regain the crown from Macbeth, and Lennox hopes he will return soon and restore peace to Scotland.