Banquet Scene Essay
Act III Scene IV, popularly known as the Banquet Scene sees Macbeth and his wife playing as the perfect host and hostess in the solemn banquet following Macbeth’s coronation in Act II Scene IV. Macbeth plays the humble host and mingles with the assembly giving ‘first and last the hearty welcome’. Lady Macbeth is gracious and dignified and though not as effusive as Macbeth, assures her guests a warm reception. Macbeth proposes a toast to all and bids his nobles to ‘be large in mirth’.
No one can have the slightest suspicion that this benevolent royal figure is even now resolving in his mind the success of his latest crime- the murder of Banquo for which he has hired special assassins. Macbeth has learnt to dissemble well and has come a long way from the time when his face ‘was as a book wherein men may read strange matters’. H is fast growing used to crime and so when earlier on the occasion of Duncan’s visit he had left Lady Macbeth to entertain the guests, now it is he who is more active while his wife is strangely subdued in what should be her moment of triumph.
Her pensiveness indicates the delayed reaction which is suppressed within her but which is already beginning the disintegration of her personality. The attitudes of the two characters at the beginning of the feast reveal how wrong Lady Macbeth was in her estimate of the two characters. Lady Macbeth is not as hard and callous as she has tried herself to make out and her inner disorientation is clear from the fact that her mind is not on her guests so that she has to be reminded of her duties. The first murderer now appears at the door to report Banquo’s death and his son Fleance’s escape.
Macbeth is not unduly disturbed by the blood on the man’s face and quite matter-of-factly enquires “Is he despatched? ” and then on receiving a reply congratulates the murderer on his success. There is not the slightest trace of remorse in him. However, he is already troubled with insecurity and Fleance’s escape makes him once more ‘cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d, bound in / To saucy doubts and fears’. His tormenting imagination will give him no rest and will continue to punish him for the crimes it has itself provoked by making him determined to find security.
So now he is once more anxious for ‘the worm, that’s fled, / Hath nature that in time will venom breed’. He returns to the table subdued and his wife, keenly observant as always, at once spots the change. From her previous meetings with Macbeth she has her suspicions of what could have so upset her husband and she quickly seeks to divert his mind by reminding him of the guests. Macbeth quickly pulls himself together and wishes all good digestion and health. He regrets Banquo’s absence and suggests a faint annoyance at it.
As he goes to his seat he finds Banquo’s ghost occupying it and although he is unnerved he displays remarkable self-possession. Imagining that the others can also see the ghost, he feels it necessary to pretend absolute ignorance of Banquo’s death which has obviously occurred and thus clear himself. Needless to say, no one has any idea when he cries out “which of you have done this? ” However understanding dawns when he admonishes the apparently empty chair “Thou canst not say I did it: never shake / Thy gory locks at me”.
This display of innocence merely arouses suspicion of his guilt and so Macbeth betrays his terrible secret. Lady Macbeth catches on at once and rushes to the rescue with all her old resourcefulness and initiative. She passes off the unusual scene as an aberration common from Macbeth’s youth and bids the guests ignore it as attention will only make matters worse. Meanwhile she (ii) takes Macbeth aside and uses all her strength of will to restore him to balance.
She says that his cowardice is something to be ashamed of – “Are you a man? she defuses his imagination-“This is the painting of your fear. / This is the air drawn dagger, which you said, / Led you to Duncan…… When all’s done, / You look but on the stool. ” She makes him doubt the ghost’s reality and shows herself stronger than Macbeth in a crisis. As soon as Macbeth challenges the ghost’s existence, the ghost vanishes but Macbeth cannot get his mind of it. Lady Macbeth, seeing that Macbeth is restored, now turns gentler and lets him release his fears and tension and then gently leads him back to the feast.
Her hold over him is still extremely strong. Macbeth begins acting again and apologises for his strong infirmity. He then drinks a toast to all including the missing Banquo who he wishes were present. This is a subtle touch to allay suspicions but the mention of Banquo makes the ghost return. It is purely subjective phenomenon evoked by his guilt and the more thought of Banquo conjures up his spirit. This time Macbeth slips even more than before and quite forgets himself as he bids the ghost to come in any other form but its present one which he finds unbearable.
With a stupendous assertion of his will he dismisses the ‘horrible shadow! Unreal mock’ry’ and the apparition vanishes like a summer cloud. Macbeth is too deeply shaken to even attempt a cover-up and expresses amazement that his wife seem so unaffected at ‘such sights’ as leave his cheeks ‘blanch’d with fear’. Ross, his suspicion aroused asks innocently “What sights my Lord? ” But the queen realising danger dismisses the gathering at once before Macbeth can answer the question and incriminate himself. Lennox’s parting wish is pointedly ironic and expressive of his growing suspicion.
Obsessed with guilt Macbeth feels that the ghost has left a message – “It will have blood, they say: blood will have blood. ” Macbeth knows that ‘murder will out’ and at once decides to guard against that eventuality by consolidating his absolute power. He decides to visit the witches in order to know the worst and for survival he has to continue his criminal acts. This is best reflected in his speech: “I am in blood stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er”.
His wife superficially attributes his restlessness to the lack of sleep and comprehends nothing of his mental torment. Macbeth however realises that his insecurity and fear exist only because he is ‘but young in deed’ and not quite used to crime. His determination to harden himself by extending his criminal career arouses a sense of tragic waste and pity for he is a man driven into further evil by his fear of retributions for past sins. Lady Macbeth shows no enthusiasm for Macbeth’s hopes and schemes and listens apathetically to his plans.
She is singularly detached and cannot second him, lacking not loyalty but strength. Thus the importance of the temptation scene reverses here. It is not she but Macbeth that has the greater capacity for evil. Though Macbeth is desperate, he indulges in no self-pity or recrimination. He assumes full responsibility for his own actions. Yet the two begin to be alienated as the separating power of mutual guilt begins to work. From now on Lady Macbeth can no longer be Macbeth’s partner and significantly this is the last time we see them together.