Last Updated on September 11, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 884
Act 3, Scene 4
In the great hall of his palace, Macbeth welcomes the guests who have come to share his feast. As he does so, the first murderer enters, and Macbeth goes to speak privately to him. The first murderer gives Macbeth the news that he has killed Banquo but that Fleance managed to get away. Macbeth is frustrated by Fleance’s escape but reasons that since Fleance is still a child, he can afford to deal with him later. He returns to the feast.
Macbeth gives a toast, and Lennox invites him to sit down. Ross repeats the invitation, but Macbeth can see no open place to sit. He then observes with horror that the seat they have reserved for him is occupied by the ghost of Banquo. Since no one else can see the ghost, Macbeth’s appalled reaction seems like madness to the thanes. Lady Macbeth steps in and assures them that Macbeth often has these fits, which are not serious and which quickly pass. She rebukes her husband, but he protests that he can scarcely be expected to retain his composure when corpses refuse to stay in their graves.
The ghost leaves and Macbeth recovers, making excuses for his behavior. However, the ghost returns almost immediately, and this time, there is no hiding Macbeth’s terror and fury. Lady Macbeth hurriedly asks all the guests to leave. When they are alone, Macbeth asks if his wife has noted Macduff’s absence. He says this insult is intentional, which he knows because he keeps a network of spies to inform him of such matters. He also tells her that he intends to visit the witches tomorrow, to find out what they can tell him. He has resigned himself to the fact that he will need to shed more blood to stay in power and no longer cares much about doing so.
Act 3, Scene 5
The three witches appear on the heath to the sound of thunder. There they encounter Hecate, the ancient Greek goddess of sorcery and necromancy, the queen of all witches. Hecate is angry with the witches for having exceeded their authority in dealing Macbeth without consulting her. However, she says, they can make amends for this lapse. The next morning, Macbeth will come to see the witches. When he does so, Hecate will provide a show of spirits which will draw Macbeth on to his doom. The witches make haste to prepare for this meeting.
Act 3, Scene 6
In the palace at Forres, Lennox discusses recent events with another lord. He expresses his disbelief in the guilt of Malcolm and Donalbain, asking whether Fleance is also to be accused of killing his father, since he too has fled. He then asks what has happened to Macduff. The lord says that Malcolm is now living at the English court, where he has been welcomed by the King of England. In defiance of Macbeth’s rule, Macduff has followed Malcolm to England, where he hopes to raise an army against Macbeth. Both lords express their support for Macduff and complain of Macbeth’s tyranny.
Act 3, scene 4 shows Macbeth’s reign rapidly descending into chaos almost as soon as it has started. Rather than quelling rebellious behavior, Macbeth’s tyrannical rule serves only to inspire disloyalty and suspicion in his thanes. At the end of the scene, Macbeth casually mentions that he has a spy in the house of every thane to inform him of any possible disloyalty and that he has already singled out Macduff as a potential rebel. The early establishment of this network of spies—before any real challenge to Macbeth’s rule has been mounted—demonstrates the depth of Macbeth’s suspicion and paranoia.
At the feast, Macbeth makes a great effort to play the role of the generous, jovial host to curry favor with his thanes. Almost as soon as the feast begins, however, the first murderer enters, and Macbeth is forced to go and whisper in private about his treacherous schemes. Returning to the feast, he tries once again to live up to the image of the magnanimous king, when the ghost of Banquo arrives, reminding him even more vividly of his crimes. His response to the ghost provokes alarm among his guests, and the only explanation Lady Macbeth can furnish on the spur of the moment is not a comforting one. The king, she says, is subject to fits, which often strike him, but quickly pass. In a feudal society, where the power of the king is absolute, any sign of such infirmity or derangement is a matter of life and death. The king must be strong and sane, protecting his realm from foreign invaders and dealing justly with his subjects. Duncan was an exceptionally good king in these respects. By contrast, Macbeth’s screaming and gibbering at an empty stool shows his thanes that he is likely to be an exceptionally bad one. Unsurprisingly, act 3 ends with Lennox and another lord inside the palace walls talking of how they do not believe Macbeth’s explanation of Duncan’s murder and hoping that Macduff will raise an army in England to defeat Macbeth. These two noblemen represent the growing discontent with Macbeth, a ruler who has been quick to exhibit a fatal combination of instability and despotism.
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