William Shakespeare
Contributed by Sharon Fleming
Act 3 Scene 4

Back at his palace, Macbeth entertains the Scottish thanes. Just before their feast begins, one of the assassins appears at a side door. He informs Macbeth of his mission’s successes and failures. After receiving this information, Macbeth returns to the table and makes a toast to Banquo, his missing friend. Just then, the Banquo’s ghost appears and disappears before Macbeth, throwing him into a fit of despair. Lady Macbeth asks the thanes to leave so she can comfort with her husband. However, her efforts are futile, and Macbeth appears paranoid, immediately plotting another murder. Since Macbeth feels betrayed by Macduff, he decides killing him is the best course of action. He also decides to meet with the three witches again, hoping they will give him good news about the future.


Macbeth's statements that “you know your degrees” and “the two sides are even: here [he] sit[s] i’th’midst” propose a reestablishment in Scotland, yet the group of onlookers realizes this is not reality. The two sides are not even because Banquo is missing. Macbeth has distorted degrees and ranks in his murder of King Duncan and usurping of power. Moreover, as in Act I Scene VI, Lady Macbeth's expressions mask her emotions. Indeed, the Macbeths are acting in suspicious ways. Their confidence dissipates when the assassin arrives with bad news.

Macbeth assures the murderer he is pleased with his work. However, when Macbeth learns the killers did not manage to destroy Fleance, his language changes abruptly. He says, “But now I am cabin'd, cribbed, confin'd, bound in / To saucy doubts and fears” to demonstrate his frustration as well as his restraint toward the killer (25-26). His facial expression emphasizes his disappointment with the turn of events.

While the king is supposed to be enjoying his place at the tale of the banquet, Macbeth has been reduced into a shell of his former self. The ghost of his former friend complicates enjoyment. Every time Banquo’s ghost appears before him, Macbeth becomes traumatized. He wonders why it should happen that the dead “be alive again,” to inflict problems on those who survive. Besides, he says, the bones of the dead should be “marrowless” and their blood “cold.” These statements suggest Macbeth is frustrated with his new circumstances.

At the banquet, Lady Macbeth remains calm. Unlike her husband, she is not able to see the ghost. As such, her husband’s behavior concerns her. While it is apparent that Lady Macbeth is trying to calm Macbeth down, her tone also reveals her anger with the situation. She says that, “When all's done, / You look but on a stool.” However, Macbeth accuses Lady Macbeth of trying to “keep the natural ruby of your cheeks, / When mine is blanched [whitened] with fear” (116-117). This reinforces the misunderstanding and miscommunication between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, which eventually divides them beyond repair.

When the thanes depart, Macbeth regains some of his confidence. He decides to see the three sisters for a consultation. This time, Macbeth goes without the witches’ invitation, and it is an act of desperation. He intends to seek to reverse their prophecy regarding Banquo. In his short speech after the banquet, Banquo’s statements are dominated by the word “blood,” signaling the fact that Macbeth has started sliding down an irreversible path of bloodshed.

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