Discussion Topic

Macbeth's complaint about murdered men in the banquet scene and its potentially humorous or ridiculous nature

Summary:

In the banquet scene of Macbeth, Macbeth's complaint about murdered men returning from the dead can seem both humorous and ridiculous. His paranoia and hallucinations, especially seeing Banquo’s ghost, highlight his guilt and fear, but the absurdity of arguing with a specter can also appear comical to the audience.

Expert Answers

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

What complaint does Macbeth make about murdered men in the banquet scene of Macbeth?

In Act Three, Scene 4, Macbeth complains that the murdered men, particularly Banquo, have come back from the dead to haunt and terrify him. After briefly learning that the assassins were able to kill Banquo but not his son, Fleance, Macbeth comments that he is experiencing feelings of fear and uncertainty again. Macbeth then attends a feast with the nobles and begins to hallucinate. Macbeth is terrified when he sees the ghost of Banquo sitting at the table. Upon noticing Banquo's ghost, Macbeth begins speaking to the apparition which worries his wife. Macbeth then complains to his wife that the murdered men no longer stay dead in their graves and insist on haunting the living. He says,

"The time has been that, when the brains were out, the man would die, and there an end. But now they rise again with twenty mortal murders on their crowns and push us from our stools. This is more strange than such a murder is" (3.4.81-86).

Macbeth then gives a toast and Banquo's ghost returns once more. Macbeth commands the ghost to leave and stay in its grave. After Banquo's ghost exits, Macbeth explains to his guest that he is ill and the feast ends. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What complaint does Macbeth make about murdered men in the banquet scene of Macbeth?

Macbeth complains that dead men used to stay dead, but now they rise from the grave and annoy him.

When Macbeth and his guest gather for a banquet, he first stops to talk to the murderers to make sure Banquo and Fleance are dead.  They tell him Banquo had his throat cut, but Fleance escaped.  He is annoyed, but he goes back to his party.  Unfortunately, he finds out the table’s full.  The ghost of Banquo is sitting in his seat!

Macbeth panics.  His guests and his wife do not see the ghost, so that don’t understand what he’s talking about.  Lady Macbeth tells him he needs to cut it out, but he complains that dead men just aren’t staying dead anymore.

The time has been,

That, when the brains were out, the man would die,(95)

And there an end; but now they rise again… (Act III, Scene 3, p. 41)

As funny as this line is, it demonstrates that Macbeth is slowly losing it.  He is becoming more and more out of touch with reality, and more and more paranoid.  It is not guilt that forms the ghost, but fear.  He sees Banquo as a threat, and is worried that he did not properly vanquish it by killing him.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What complaint does Macbeth make about murdered men in the banquet scene of Macbeth?

MacBeth seeks to secure his power by murdering all those who could challenge him. In act 3, he schemes to have Banquo and his son Fleance murdered, and in scene 4, we learn that Banquo has been killed, but his son has escaped. Macbeth's conscience will not let him rest east, however.

At the banquet, Macbeth laments to his guests the absence of Banquo, even though he knows that Banquo has been murdered. Banquo is present at the banquet, however, in the form of his ghost, which sits at Macbeth's place at table.

Macbeth's complaint about murdered men is that they seldom stay murdered. On one level, we can understand this as a comment on Banquo himself: even after death, his ghost continues to plague Macbeth. But on another level, this is a comment on the nature of guilt; in murdering Banquo, he has killed the man but not the idea he represented. Macbeth's guilt can never be expunged, no matter how many he kills.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What complaint does Macbeth make about murdered men in the banquet scene of Macbeth?

Macbeth's complaint about murdered men happens during the banquet scene in Act 3.  It is Act 3, Scene 4.  His complaint is that murdered men no longer seem to stay dead, because they come back to haunt him in ghostly form.  

 . . . the times have been,
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end; but now they rise again,

The scene starts off with Macbeth talking to the murderers that he sent after Banquo and Fleance.  They succeeded in killing Banquo, but Fleance escaped.  The murderers exit, and Macbeth is beckoned to have a seat at the banquet table.  Unfortunately for Macbeth, he believes that the table is full, because he sees Banquo's Ghost sitting in Macbeth's spot.  

To the audience, the line about dead men and ghosts might seem morbidly humorous, but more importantly it signifies that Macbeth is starting to lose his grip on reality.  It's more than likely guilt driven, but perhaps the ghost is a sign of Macbeth's fear and paranoia of being found out and losing his throne.  

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Macbeth's banquet scene, what complaint does Macbeth make about murdered men? Is it humorous or ridiculous?

In a way it is humorous, but in a black humor kind of way. He is thinking, oh why can't everyone just go away and leave me alone, why can't I get rid of my problems, even when they are killed they don't go away.

Macbeth has become a helpless victim of his treachery and is now descending into madness right in front of everyone.  This is evident even before the murder of Duncan, when he is stricken with conscience before the murder and then unable to sleep, eat or feel normal once he is crowned king.

Once Macbeth has Banquo killed, and then sees his ghost, he is reacting to, not only the murder of his friend, but the shock he feels at being unable to put to rest the feeling that he can't shake the insecurity he feels over his kingship. He has been haunted since the hallucination of the daggers.  His complaint is ridiculous because he already admitted that one evil act leads to another without knowing when it will end.   So the ghost's appearance is just another ripple effect of the forces of evil being unleashed by Macbeth's act of regicide. Most notably being unleashed on him and Lady Macbeth.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Macbeth's banquet scene, what complaint does Macbeth make about murdered men? Is it humorous or ridiculous?

I presume you are referring to these lines from Act 3 scene 4:

Blood hath been shed ere now, i' the olden time,
Ere humane statute purg'd the gentle weal;
Ay, and since too, murders have been perform'd
Too terrible for the ear: the time has been,
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end; but now they rise again,
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,
And push us from our stools: this is more strange
Than such a murder is.

I hadn't really considered them as comic before, but looking now, I can see a potential for a comic reading if one were to paraphrase them in part by saying something to the effect of

--back in the good ole days murdered people stayed dead--if you bashed thier brains out that was the end--now here they come with twenty gaping head wounds and knock you off your seat.

Though I can see the potential for a humorous reading, I am still not conviced that this is meant to be funny.  I think Shakepeare  is showing Macbeth's shock at seeing the ghost and how is guilt is affecting his mental state more than making light of murder.

Macbeth is so frightened/shocked by the apparition that he forgets himself and speaks openly of the murder in front of his guests.

His mention of being knocked of his stool probably referrs to Banquo's sons becoming heirs to the throne--they will unseat him and his line. 

For an act by act analysis and a modern translation, see the links below: 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on