Last Updated on October 5, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 585
Extended Character Analysis
Banquo is a general in the Scottish army and Macbeth’s friend. He is with Macbeth when the witches deliver their prophecy. When he asks them to tell him about his own future, they inform him that though he will never be king, his children will be. Ever the loyal kinsman, Banquo refuses to assist Macbeth in his plot against the king and views the witches as evil beings. However, their prophecy with regards to Banquo’s children becoming kings is enough to pique Banquo’s curiosity, even as it puts him and his son, Fleance, within the dangerous territory of Macbeth’s ambition. Ultimately, Banquo dies in defense of his son, ensuring that his legacy continues at the cost of his own life.
Banquo is at first suspicious of the witches, believing them to be instruments of darkness. However, in act II, scene I, it is made clear that Banquo is not entirely without ambitions of his own. His dreams have been plagued by “cursed thoughts” to the point that he has to entrust his weapons to Fleance. The implication is that Banquo has also considered murdering Duncan. This interpretation is further supported by Banquo’s musings in act III, scene I, which seem to indicate a readiness to serve Macbeth and benefit from Macbeth’s foul deeds.
Banquo’s primary role in the play is as a foil to Macbeth. Macbeth and Banquo both hear tantalizing prophecies about the future that stoke their ambitions. However, while Macbeth turns to evil in order to make the prophecies come true, Banquo maintains enough personal integrity to resist temptation. Banquo is wary of Macbeth after hearing the prophecy, realizing that his own “cursed thoughts” with regards to Duncan are also plaguing Macbeth. Due to his knowledge of the witches’ prophecies, Banquo is among the first to suspect Macbeth of the murders. However, rather than telling his suspicions to the other Scottish lords, Banquo remains silent, indicating a degree of moral ambiguity. Banquo is too good of a man to kill his king, but he is not so good of a man that he can disdain such a tantalizing prophecy entirely.
The nature of Banquo’s ghost is up for interpretation. By one reading, the ghost is a literal manifestation of Banquo, come to haunt Macbeth for his part in Banquo’s murder. If the ghost is read as real, then its presence is Banquo’s way of reminding Macbeth that for all his treachery, Macbeth still sits on a “fruitless” and “barren” throne. It may also represent Banquo’s posthumous attempt to implicate Macbeth in the murders, as his ghost frightens Macbeth into confessing his guilt aloud before the assembled lords. However, the ghost is more commonly read as a manifestation of Macbeth’s fear and guilt over the murders and Fleance’s escape. That the ghost takes Macbeth’s seat showcases Macbeth’s own insecurity with regards to his kingship and childless marriage.
Regardless of whether the ghost is real or a figment of Macbeth’s imagination, it serves to highlight his deteriorating mental state. It also raises suspicions amongst the assembled lords, destabilizing Macbeth’s already tenuous rule. Although Duncan’s death shakes Macbeth, it is Banquo’s death that truly destabilizes him. Macbeth fears Banquo, because Banquo is ultimately a better man than Macbeth; Banquo was confronted with the same temptation and chose the path of loyalty and goodness, refusing to betray his king as Macbeth did.
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