Literature Study GuidesMacbethAct 3 Scene 1 Summary

Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scene 1

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth.

Macbeth | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Macbeth has been crowned king, and Banquo stands alone to contemplate how this follows the witches' prediction. He has suspicions about Macbeth's role in Duncan's death and considers his own part of the prophecy—that he, Banquo, will father many kings.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, with lords and attendants in tow, interrupt Banquo's reflections. They call him their "chief guest" and ask how long he plans to stay with them. Banquo tells them he and Fleance plan to leave the castle in the afternoon to go riding, but he promises to return in time for the banquet. Before Banquo leaves, Macbeth adds fuel to the rumors about Malcolm and Donalbain, saying they have lied their ways into the courts of England and Ireland.

After Banquo departs, Macbeth has two new visitors at the gate. While he waits for them to enter, he considers Banquo's part of the witches' prediction—that Banquo's descendants will rule Scotland. This stirs envy in Macbeth; furthermore, Banquo, if he has guessed the truth, may present an immediate threat. The solution arrives in the form of Macbeth's visitors, two murderers that Macbeth hires to kill Banquo and Fleance on their return home that night.

Analysis

Even though Banquo suspects Macbeth may have had a hand in Duncan's murder, he is oddly unconcerned about his own safety. He freely tells Macbeth the details of his plan to go riding in the afternoon, including his son's plans to accompany him. Because he spends some time thinking about what the witches said about his role as the father of kings, perhaps he believes this gives him protection from harm, or perhaps he is simply reluctant to begin treating his friend Macbeth as an enemy.

The prophecy about Banquo troubles Macbeth as well. He frets that the fates have given him a "fruitless crown," because he has no heirs of his own. He feels cheated by the possibility that he has taken the throne only to have it taken from him by one of Banquo's descendants. Because he does not know how Banquo's descendants might get to the throne, he feels threatened. Furthermore, Macbeth reflects that if the prophecy about Banquo is fulfilled, it means he has committed murder and imperiled his soul only for the benefit of Banquo's descendants. And Banquo, by guessing the truth, may present an immediate threat. In hiring the murderers to kill Banquo, the full extent of Macbeth's change is revealed. Although he is increasingly horrified by his own acts, his behavior becomes even more rash. Before and even after killing Duncan, Macbeth experienced periods of doubt and deliberation about the act and needed his wife to press him forward. In dealing with the murderers, he experiences no such hesitation and does not consult his wife, instead letting his ambition guide him completely. Although he is unwilling to do the killing himself, he seems comfortable with ordering the death of his friend now that he has the power to do so.

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