Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Banquo privately comments on the fact that Macbeth has now attained all that the weïrd sisters suggested, “and I fear / Thou play’dst most foully for ‘t” (III.i.2-3). But then so too are the prophecies about his line likely to come true, so although Banquo is often seen as the model of honor, gleeful avarice is not out of the question here. He takes the road Macbeth did not: passivity in the face of predictions.
Modern editors have removed the anachronistic Lady Lennox from the play’s stage direction list of people who enter (Whalen 68). In fact, the Thane of Lennox and Rosse as Thane of Angus are both anachronistic (Asimov 159), but de Vere was friends with the contemporaneous Lennoxes.
Macbeth is planning a party and hopes Banquo will be coming, but Banquo’s taking a day trip, so Macbeth settles for a meeting tomorrow (III.i.22). He asks if Banquo’s son Fleance will accompany him. “Ay, my good lord. Our time does call upon ‘s” (III.i.36).
Macbeth provides the classic murder mystery set-up: “Let every man be master of his time / Till seven at night” (III.i.40-41). And he will spend this time “alone” (III.i.43). Macbeth secretly rankles at the thought that Banquo’s “unlineal” hand (III.i.62) will snatch the throne he killed for, and his “manliness” is occasionally called into question by his wife, so this is disappointingly standard male idiocy about breeding. Shakespeare has
manufactured [a] legend of Banquo, and it doesn’t really fit. Even Shakespeare can’t make it fit. Why should Macbeth be so upset over the possibility that Banquo’s posterity will succeed to the throne? Macbeth has no children of his own and therefore there is none of his posterity to be cheated. (Asimov 180)
Macbeth meets with two down-and-out men commissioned to murder Banquo and Banquo’s son Fleance. Apparently he already met them yesterday (III.i.73), and he now fans the fires of their blame on Banquo for making their lives a misery (no doubt similar to Claudius’ inciting of Laertes against Hamlet). He uses the trick he learned from Lady Macbeth: questioning their manhood (III.i.90ff). And in another blur of sex and violence, enlisting these murderers is even called “mak[ing] love” (III.i.123). In a bout of micromanaging, Macbeth mentions three or four times that he will presently acquaint these two with their ideal locations, that he’ll call upon them soon (III.i.128, 138, 139). The emphasis on dogs in this scene and others may relate to Henry III’s great love for them (Clark 821).
Historical Macbeth had many years of peaceful reign (Asimov 177), but in the play, “stress is hardening Macbeth” (Asimov 181). Lady Macbeth, worried that her husband is spending so much time alone brooding, tries to reassure him with a perpetually banal adage: “Things without all remedy / Should be without regard: what’s done, is done” (III.ii.11-12); “Neither then nor now is the psychology of this advice very sophisticated” (Macrone 181). Macbeth indicates that there is more to be done, though, and he is obviously keeping her out of the loop on this latest treachery and will impress her later with his accomplishment. Another tender Macbeth term of affection emerges when he alludes to this next murder / love token: “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, / Till thou applaud the deed” (III.ii.45-46). Macbeth gives a splendid apostrophe to the dusk:
Come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day,
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale! Light thickens, and the crow
Makes wing to th’ rooky wood;
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
While night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.
Thou marvel’st at my words, but hold thee still;
Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.
Surprisingly, a third murderer shows up, presumably since Macbeth didn’t trust just the two. But some interesting details come into play. This third guy’s first word is “Macbeth.” He hears horses before the others (and Macbeth seemed to have keen hearing recently). He knows Banquo’s habits (III.iii.12), then catches himself and backpedals: “So all men do” (III.iii.13). He recognizes Banquo before the others (III.iii.14) and asks, “Who did strike out the light?” (III.iii.19) — reminiscent of Claudius in Hamlet at a moment of guilt, and of Othello. The third murderer is the one to be concerned, or worse, at Fleance’s escape (III.iii.20). So, although most productions fill this role with one of Macbeth’s henchment, is this Macbeth himself, micromanaging further?
The first murderer reports the murder of Banquo to Macbeth, who shifts into the mode of dramatic poeticism over the escape of Fleance, which seems to be news to him (but it’s the kind of yammering that led to Lady Macbeth fainting in the previous act — perhaps to shut him up from protesting too much). And another problematic plot point: why should Fleance have fled instead of eventually making it back to daddy’s good friend Macbeth to have him track down the murderers (Asimov 182)?
Macbeth greets his guests and soon sees the Ghost of Banquo, “an embodied conscience, not to be stilled even by death” (Wells 288), at a feast among the lords. Lady Macbeth tries to smooth things over, implying that her husband has had fits of irrational ranting for most of his life: “my lord is often thus, / And hath been from his youth” (III.iv.52-53). She privately asks Macbeth, “Are you a man?” (III.iv.57) and accuses him of being “unmann’d in folly” (III.iv.72). But the horrors persist, leading to Macbeth’s nostalgic lament for the good old days: “The time has been / That when the brains were out, the man would die, / And there an end” (III.iv.77-79). Lady Macbeth tries to keep the party going, and Macbeth momentarily gathers his wits: “I am a man again” (III.iv.107). But he continues to rant until Lady Macbeth, realizing that “He grows worse and worse” (III.iv.116), must demand that the lords leave hastily (before Macbeth says too much). “Stand not upon the order of your going, / But go at once” (III.iv.118-119).
“It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood” (III.iv.121). He brings up the issue of the absence of Macduff with Lady Macbeth, acknowledging about the lords that, like Burghley in “Shake-speare’s” time, “There’s not a one of them but in his house / I keep a servant fee’d” (III.iv.130-131). Macbeth recognizes that “I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far, that should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (III.iv.135-137). So he might as well go after Macduff — the source of his next paranoid suspicions.
Strange things I have in head, that will to hand,
Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.
Goddard (110) points out the similar lines from Hamlet:
And now I’ll do ‘t. And so he goes to heaven;
And so I am reveng’d. That would be scann’d.
“The murderer of Duncan inherits Hamlet’s sensibility, his nervous irritability, his hysterical passion, his extraordinary gifts of visualization and imaginative expression” (Goddard, II 111). This is why Macbeth is the tragic figure here and the play. But Macbeth ends this scene saying to his wife, “We are yet but young in deed” (III.iv.143).
This scene most feel is not by Shakespeare due to the tetrameter and the superfluity of Hecate, of the scene itself, and the inclusion of a song from a Thomas Middleton play. Hecate feels that she was professionally slighted by the other witches.
Lennox and another lord report suspicions about Fleance, since he has fled, similar to suspicions about Duncan’s sons, the older of whom has made appeals to “the most pious Edward” the Confessor of England (III.vi.27). They seem to be exchanging the party line about all these matters, and they seem to know more than they feel safe saying openly.