What is significant about the coronation banquet?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The coronation banquet in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Macbeth is significant for several reasons. First of all, at the start of Act 3, Scene 4, Macbeth speaks directly with one of Banquo's murderers , confirming that Banquo is indeed dead. The death of Banquo is supposed to be reassuring...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The coronation banquet in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Macbeth is significant for several reasons. First of all, at the start of Act 3, Scene 4, Macbeth speaks directly with one of Banquo's murderers, confirming that Banquo is indeed dead. The death of Banquo is supposed to be reassuring to Macbeth because it means that Banquo no longer stands in his way of obtaining power, but the reassurance is brief. The knowledge that Banquo is gone lifts worry from Macbeth, but not for long, as Banquo's ghost soon appears at the banquet.

The appearance of Banquo's ghost is also significant because of how the vision of the ghost impacts Macbeth. In the moments before the ghost appears, Macbeth may experience a sense of relief, but it is short-lived. Whether the ghost is a figment of Macbeth's guilt or a supernatural being haunting Macbeth, the significance of the ghost's appearance is undeniable. Macbeth will never be free of his crimes as long as other elements out of his control (like his conscience or the free will of a ghost) continue to show themselves.

Macbeth's reaction to the ghost is visible to others, like Ross and Lennox, and Lady Macbeth has to try to repair the damage done to Macbeth's credibility when Macbeth begins to speak in riddles directly to the ghost of Banquo. These moments are significant because others are able to observe the crumbling of Macbeth's strength and character. His downfall begins just as he is crowned king, in a dramatic and ironic twist.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The coronation banquet in Act 3, Scene 4 of Macbeth seems intended to dramatize the fact that Macbeth and his wife, though they have attained the royal status they so badly wanted, will never be able to enjoy the advantages they thought it would bring. Everything is set up for an evening of regalement and everyone present seems prepared to honor the new king and queen with the greatest show of respect and affection, regardless of what they might really think of them. All of these distinguished men are on their best behavior. However, Macbeth can no longer get any satisfaction or enjoyment out of anything. He is haunted by his guilty memory of what he did to steal the crown and is further haunted by his knowledge that he had his good friend Banquo murdered. Macbeth is also troubled by the knowledge that Banquo's descendants are apparently destined to inherit the Scottish throne rather than his own offspring, should he manage to produce any. Poor Lady Macbeth has gone to a great deal of trouble to arrange a nice party for all of these important men. We have seen how the best-laid plans of hostesses are often thwarted in this life because of arguments or disturbances of one kind or another. She tells her husband:

My royal lord,
You do not give the cheer. The feast is sold
That is not often vouch'd, while ’tis a-making,
’Tis given with welcome. To feed were best at home;
From thence the sauce to meat is ceremony;
Meeting were bare without it.

The great satisfaction this husband and wife expected to experience by becoming king and queen never happens. It is nullified from the very beginning. They are two lonely, isolated people without a single friend in the world. Our great expectations are often disappointed in this life. In the end, Macbeth realizes he made a terrible mistake, as shown in Act 4, Scene 3:

I have lived long enough. My way of life
Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf,
And that which should accompany old age,
As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny and dare not.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team