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Act 3 Summary

Scene 1

Banquo paces the royal palace in Forres, considering the prophecies of the witches and Macbeth's coronation. He muses that the witches correctly predicted Macbeth would become king, which means that it is possible their prediction that Banquo's line will sit on the throne might come true as well. Macbeth enters with Lady Macbeth and invites Banquo to attend the feast they are hosting that evening. Banquo accepts their invitation and informs Macbeth that he plans on going for a ride on his horse this afternoon, which gives Macbeth an opportunity to carry out his plan. Macbeth then mentions they need to discuss the issue of Malcolm and Donalbain, as the brothers have fled Scotland and may be plotting against the crown. Macbeth dismisses his court as Banquo exits and is left alone in the hall with a single servant.

The servant informs Macbeth about some men who have come to see him, and Macbeth orders that the men be brought to him. He begins a soliloquy in which he considers Banquo, specifically the fact that Banquo is the only man in Scotland whom he fears. He recalls that in their prophecy, the witches "hailed [Banquo] father to a line of kings / Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown." This means Macbeth will not have an heir, and Banquo's family line is destined to take over the throne. Banquo commented on this same part of the prophecy earlier in this scene; however, Macbeth considers it with trepidation, while Banquo considered it with a sense of ambition.

Macbeth then meets with the two men he has hired to murder Banquo. He reminds them of the ways Banquo has wronged them in the past, and they assure him that they are ready to fulfill his orders. Macbeth tells the murderers to kill Banquo's son, Fleance, as well, and to wait in the castle for his command.

Scene 2

In another part of the castle, Lady Macbeth discusses her unhappiness. She remarks, "Naught's had, all's spent, / Where our desire is got without content." She summons her husband, who confirms that he, too, is unhappy with the results of the murder of Duncan, because there are still other threats to the throne. Lady Macbeth tells her husband to be happy and enjoy the feast tonight, and he asks her to do the same. He tells her to be especially jovial toward Banquo to lure him into a false sense of security before Macbeth enacts his plan.

Scene 3

At dusk, the two murderers from scene 1, joined by a third murderer, wait in the woods outside of the palace. Banquo and Fleance return from a ride on their horses, and the murderers attack them. Banquo is killed after telling Fleance to flee and avenge his death. One of the murderers accidentally extinguishes the torch they had lit, and Fleance uses this opportunity to escape. After Banquo is dead, one of the murderers remarks, "There's but one down. The son is fled." The murderers go to tell Macbeth what has happened.

Scene 4

The first murderer arrives at the feast hosted by Macbeth to tell him what transpired, and Macbeth remarks that his fear and anger have not subsided, because Fleance escaped and "the worm that's fled / Hath nature that in time will venom breed." Macbeth returns to the feast but finds the ghost of Banquo...

(The entire section is 833 words.)