In this essay we will investigate how Shakespeare has made a seemingly secondary and irrelevant character such a significant asset in the play Macbeth. We will see how the Scottish culture and their viewpoint on honour, family and the appropriate behaviour of men affects how the light shines on peoples actions positively or negatively. And how a character like Banqou contains all the virtues that were considered desirable at that time period. Affects the viewpoint towards the main character, events and themes in the play.
Banqou is introduced as the near equivalent to Macbeth and this stated very early on by Shakespeare specifically in act I scene II ‘Dismay’d not this
Our captains, Macbeth and Banqou?’. This initiated the balance between Macbeth and Banqou to the audience at the launch of the play. At this point all the audience knows is that they are both brave and valiant captains who withstood a greater army. As a result of this equilibrium between Macbeth and Banqou was intended to enhance the many occurrences that occur in Macbeth. As Banqou further on in the play becomes a tragic hero admirably dying because of his desire not act on what the witches prophesized. While Macbeth is a vile villain that has acted on his whims and desecrated one of the holiest beliefs, of the time that he murdered the king.
This also supported by the following. The difference between how Banqou behaves and how Macbeth behaves leaves a significant contrast between him and Macbeth. Banqou has also been promised the fate of kingdom but he has accepted that statement as talk and he believes that talk will stay talk. But Macbeth was tempted which displays to the audience the traits and the persona of Macbeth and how Macbeth seems feeble and easy to control. Banqou is the polar opposite he takes informed decisions and always stays rash even though he has received fantastic new that he will be the father of kings yet he still takes the information with a strange indifference. This show how wise Banqou is and how his actions are weighed and measured. But Macbeth can be moved to great lengths on a whim.
Banqou is a foil to Macbeth this is evident when Macbeth and Banqou meet the witches Macbeth eagerly accepts the word of the three witches while Banqou remain composed and challenges them to predict his future. When Macbeth is incredibly pleased and hopeful Banqou warns him by saying that gifts of evil often result in disloyalty and dishonesty. While Banqou begs the heavens for help and resists the temptation of evil, Macbeth while Macbeth seeks the gifts of Darkness, and prays that evil powers will aid him.
relates across to the divinity of kings and that a wood has moved.
There is a consistently recurring image that occurs every time Macbeth has been promoted from only just being a thane of Glamis to being also thane of Cawdor that the previous robes of the deceitful previous thane of Cawdor don’t fit Macbeth but Banqou points this out to the audience by saying the following ‘like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould ‘. In essence Banqou is giving the audience to see Macbeth as unfit to become Thane of Cawdor, and that Macbeth can not handle being a thane of two areas.
Banqou is also central in the finale of the play as we learn that Malcolm has been put on the throne and not Fleance. Even though the witches predicted ‘Thou shalt [be]get kings’. This show the evilness and the extent of manipulation that the witches have committed that the descendants of Banqou don’t even reach the throne in Macbeth’s lifetime. But the audience knows that king James the first is a descendant of Banqou but as he is six centuries from the time of which Macbeth and Banqou existed. The only reason Macbeth killed his only friend, ally and confidant is that he feared that his bloodline or him might kill Macbeth’s family and unleash Macbeth’s strangling grasp on the throne. So this emphasises the how manipulative the witches are.
When the audience is first introduced to Macbeth the first line he says is ‘”so foul and fair a day I have not seen’. This is a strange paradox that sets the theme for the play. The day is foul because of the many deaths that occurred in the battlefield. And yet the day is fair because of the recent Scottish victory against the Norwegians and the Irish. The sense of paradox is evident with Banqou as he will die a foul death yet he will be the father of kings ‘Thou shalt [be]get kings’.
Also the phrase is used in the opening scene by the witches when they say “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” and that sets the tone to the play, but as Macbeth isn’t weary about the witches gathering he hasn’t heard the witches speaking these words but the audience has, this has caused dramatic irony. This starts the audiences confusion towards which side does Macbeth belong to, is a loyal kinsman or a deceitful serpent.
Banqou’s significance as a character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth is important as a character he is in a third of all the scenes1 yet he has fewer lines than the insignificant Ross. I believe that he is significant character as he provides different shades of comparison to the audience. And even in the finale the realisation that Banqou heir wear the crown centuries later provides irony and pity for Macbeth.