Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Macbeth | Act 3, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth host a banquet for the lords at court. As the king and queen greet their guests, one of the murderers arrives with blood on his face. Macbeth talks to him, and the murderer tells him that Banquo is dead but that Fleance escaped. Macbeth decides to pursue Fleance later; he returns to the banquet.

During the banquet, Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost enter and sit in his own place at the table. The others do not see the ghost, so they are confused when Macbeth asks which of them has "done this" (placed Banquo's ghost at the table). The lords think Macbeth is ill when he addresses the ghost directly. Lady Macbeth tries to cover for him, but she scolds him for being unmanly and letting his fear and guilt get the better of him. Macbeth speaks again to the ghost, and the ghost leaves. Macbeth then tries to cover up by proposing a toast to Banquo.

Shortly after, the ghost returns, and when Macbeth sees it again, he orders it to leave. By this point, his behavior has ruined the banquet. Even though the ghost leaves and Lady Macbeth makes more excuses for Macbeth, saying he is ill, the party breaks up. After the lords leave, Macbeth tells his wife he fears Banquo's revenge and asks why Macduff didn't attend the banquet. Both these events, the ghost and Macduff's absence, make Macbeth nervous, so he resolves to visit the three witches the following day.

Analysis

Macbeth is confident in his actions when he sends the murderers to pursue Banquo, and that confidence continues even after the murderer tells him Fleance has escaped. Although Macbeth has not yet eliminated the threat of Banquo's offspring, which makes him nervous, he is thankful to know that Banquo can't expose him now. He plans to go after Fleance again later. However, Macbeth's confidence evaporates entirely upon seeing Banquo's ghost seated at his table. He is so undone, he forgets who is watching and talks to the ghost, denying to the apparition that he had anything to do with its death.

Lady Macbeth believes the vision is like the dagger Macbeth saw before he stabbed Duncan—a product of his fear and doubt. She scolds him for his lack of courage and compares these visions to a grandmother's fireside story. However, like the dagger, it is unclear whether this is a figment of Macbeth's mind or a supernatural influence. Lady Macbeth was willing to believe in spirits and the witches' prophecies when they suited her, but now that those same spirits are creating inconvenience for her, she prefers to think of them as products of her husband's weakness. His weakness forces her to take charge by making excuses for Macbeth's illness, but even as she does so, she can tell their position is slipping.

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