Duringan individual’s life, their passion, determination, and beliefs are oftenchallenged as they are faced with tempting situations. This can cause anindividual to change his or her perspective on what is good or bad. However,people fail to realize that a single wrong decision could be the differencebetween life or death. In WilliamShakespeare’s Macbeth, the main character, Macbeth, can be seen to havethe contradicting role of the character Banquo due to the differences betweentheir moralities and loyalty. Shakespeare often uses Macbeth as arepresentation of evil, while Banquo is used as a representation of good. Inthe play, the distinction between the two is demonstrated by their faith (orlack thereof) in the witches, their passion for royalty, and their divergentpersonalities. The play immediately begins with theintroduction of the theme of the play, reversal of moral order, when thewitches say their famous dialogue, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”(Shakespeare I.
i.11), and an air of finality is provided. The individual beliefof both Macbeth and Banquo regarding the witches is then introduced. Afterreceiving the prophecies given by the witches, Macbeth begins to question theircredibility, whilst still remaining hopeful that they may be true. Throughoutthe play, Macbeth maintains his belief in the prophecies, which goes to showthat Macbeth is susceptible to manipulation, considering it only takes a fewfavourable prophecies to convince him. In Macbeth and Banquo’s first encounterwith the witches, Macbeth is intrigued and wanting to find out more informationfrom the strange women, to further his isunderstanding oftheir words.
As he says, “Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more: /…Sayfrom whence you owe this strange intelligence, or why upon this blasted heathyou stop our way with such prophecies greeting? Speak, I charge you” (I.iii.70-78).Macbeth has a strong belief that the witches are aware of what lays in thefuture, further proving his faith in the presence of the witches and therevelations they bring.
The logic behind his easy faith may be because one ofthe prophecies is already accurate. As soon as the second prophecy is attained,Macbeth’s faith in the witches further develops as he is so convinced that thefinal prophecy will also come true. He begins to believe that he will one dayrise in power, which results in the murder of King Duncan. The fact that allthree predictions made by the witches assured Macbeth of a pleasant life in thefuture, is the reason why his beliefs can be easily manipulated.
AlthoughMacbeth places complete faith in the witches, it is ironic that Macbethaddresses them as “unpleasant speakers”, which refers to the witches failing totell him how to achieve the prophecies. Correspondingly, in spite of knowingthat the witches were suspicious, Macbeth decides to look past any doubts hehad and still place his trust in their prophecies. Banquo on the other hand, being thefoil to Macbeth’s character, is not deceived by the three witches. Banquo isable to sense evil, whilst Macbeth, evidently is not. Unlike Macbeth, Banquodoes not immediately give in to the prophecies given by the evil spirits,instead he thinks logically as he questions them and says, “What, can the devilspeak true?” (I.iii.107).
A devil is a known symbol of evil and since Banquorefers to the witches as such, it further proves his lack of faith in theirwords. Banquo’s mention of evil should alert Macbeth, but instead Macbethdecides to disregard his friend’s advice. Banquo observes his stunned companionwhen the rise to his power is mentioned. Out of curiosity, Banquo asks the witchesto speak to him as well if they can truly “…look into the seeds of time”. Hesays to them, “Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear your favours, noryour hate” (I.
iii.60). The contrast between Macbeth and Banquo is apparent asBanquo is much more cautious when dealing with the witches, whereas Macbeth issimply eager to hear more. These witches drive Macbeth to act in relation tothe prophecies; killing to fulfill a prophecy or eradicating threats to histhrone. While Banquo acknowledges the premonitions, he does not imprudently acton them.
Instead, Banquo is hesitant to act on the witches estimates. Macbeth’s ridiculous passion forroyalty ultimately fuels his greed for authority. Once Macbeth is aware of theprophecies, his subconscious begins to get the best of him, making him neglecthis morals and values. This is evident as he says, “if good [being Thane ofCawdor], why do I yield to that suggestion, whose horrid images doth unfix myhair, and make my seated heart knock at my ribs, against the use of nature?”(I.iii.134-137).
Shakespeare uses this speech as a key to an understanding ofMacbeth’s character and introduces the internal conflict he is facing, as darkthoughts begin to appear. His moral awareness prevents him from thinking that murderis acceptable, nevertheless he intuitively continues to battle with the viciousimages that appear in his mind. The hamartia of the play is reached asMacbeth’s character is developed and his tragic judgement leads him to considerthe assassination of the king. Macbeth evidently becomes more covetous as hegoes against his teachings and plots the murder of King Duncan, simply becausebeing Thane of Cawdor and Glamis is not enough for him.
Macbeth sets the pathfor his own self destruction because he lets his ambition override his moralconscience. In one of his dialogues, Macbeth says, “Stars, hide your fires! Letno light see my black and deep desires: The eye wink at the hand; yet let thatbe, which the eye fears, when it is done, to see” (I.iv.50-53). At this moment,Macbeth feels that his evil deed must be accomplished in utter darkness, notonly because it is wicked, but in case it is discovered.
His determinationblinds him from realizing what is right and wrong. Lady Macbeth also plays asignificant role in the first murder, as Macbeth’s desire is echoed andemphasized through her as she encourages him to go through with his first greatcrime. Macbeth’s desire to be king changes his mindset greatly as he findsmurder to be a justified solution.
His passion for royalty provides a evidentexplanation as to why the story of Macbeth has become a tragedy. As a result of Banquo’s thoughtprocess, another contrasting quality between the two characters is discovered.While Macbeth ultimately capitulates to the longing to become king, Banquo’sdoubt does not prompt the desire to fulfill his prophecy. As always, Banquoproves that he is trustworthy as he remains sincere and faithful to KingDuncan, owing his own success to him, “There if I grow, the harvest is yourown” (I.iv.
33-34). Antithetical to Macbeth, Banquo remains humble in hisgratitude to the King, and his increasing importance will only enlarge hisdevotion to the King. As mentioned before, the reasoning behind Macbeth’ssubmission to temptation is partially due to his wife. This may be the idealdifferentiation factor between Macbeth and Banquo and their desire for power.While Macbeth has a wife to induce him with his actions, Banquo has a son toset an example for. Banquo understands his responsibilities as a father and heknows he has to be a good role model for his son.
In spite of having a son,Banquo is still faced with the struggle of giving into thoughts that emerge asa result of his passion for royalty. Despite this, he manages to avoid goingdown such a slippery slope. At this moment of fragility he says, “A heavysummons lies like lead upon me, and yet I would not sleep.
Merciful powers,restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose!”(II.i.6-9). The audience relives this as they came upon this same conflictbefore, but instead of Banquo voicing his struggles, it was Macbeth. His honourstays intact, because although his thoughts turn to evil in the slightest, hesucceeds in preserving his morals and values. When Banquo refers to “mercifulpowers” it may be his way of asking for God’s help and guidance to keep histhoughts virtuous and right-minded. Banquo tends to think things through,instead of acting absurdly and he does not let his moment of “slipping away” getthe best of him. As tragic as Macbeth becomesthroughout the play, his paranoia is also a factor that leads to his ultimatedownfall, physically and morally.
After the assassination of the king, Macbethbecomes overly protective of his position and is paranoid of anybody that mayact as a threat to it or know how he attained it. Moreover, Macbeth sufferssleep deprivation as his guilty conscience begins to get the best of him. Hismain concern is that someone may be plotting his murder as he did to the previousking and his first suspect is Banquo. Macbeth knows that Banquo voices hisscepticism in regards of the methods he may have taken in order to become King.
He also knows that Banquo possesses nobility that Macbeth has lost, whichinculcates in him not only jealousy, but fear. Macbeth has become so paranoidthat he once again places his faith in the witches prophecies that Banquo’sdescendants will be of royal succession and carries out a plan for the murderof not only Banquo, but his son Fleance, as well. At another point in the play,Macbeth’s suspicious attitude comes to life once more, as soon as the next 3apparitions are given to him by the witches. The first being that Macbethshould be aware of Macduff, however, the second apparition completelycontradicts this by conveying that anything born of a woman cannot harm him.
Atthis time, however, children conceived by C-sections were not considered to beborn of woman, and later it is revealed that this is exactly the case ofMacduff’s birth. Although the second apparition at the time should be enough toreassure Macbeth, he still is hesitant when it comes to Macduff and hisintentions. It is easily perceived that Macbeth’s way of dealing with his fearsand suspicious thoughts is to simply get rid of whatever may be causing them.He says, “But yet I’ll make assurance double sure, and take a bond of fate:thou shalt not live…” (IV.i.83-84).
Though overall Macbeth gains satisfactionfrom the apparitions, he still feels it is necessary to murder Macduff, toensure his position at the throne. Macbeth’s suspicion deeply connects to hisfaith, as the witches convey his future to him and, he believes them withoutdoubt. Banquo is not only able to maintaina peaceful sleep because of his disinclination to act and fulfill theprognosis’, but also because Banquo has a different personality than Macbeth.
Banquo continues to be a foil of Macbeth, and shows the importance of hisvalues to him. Although he is suspicious of how Macbeth gains his kingship, hedoes not let that weaken his loyalty to his friend. Banquo rather voice hisopinion and allow it to be heard, unlike Macbeth, who likes to use his handsand murder those he finds suspicious. He states, “Thou hast it now, king,Cawdor, Glamis, all, /…and I fear thou play’dst most foully for’t,”(III.i.1-3).
Despite knowing that Macbeth played a role in the murder of KingDuncan, Banquo’s loyalty remains with Macbeth as he graciously accepts theinvitation to Macbeth’s formal banquet. Banquo frankly displays his intelligenceas he is the only character that understands Macbeth’s foul actions.Furthermore, once the audience is aware of who each character suspects,Shakespeare shows the contrast between Banquo and Macbeth. Macbeth’s faith inthe witches contradicts Banquo’s suspicion towards the sisters. He states, “Theinstruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’sin deepest consequence.
”(I.iii.124-126). Banquo warns Macbeth of the witches’prophecies, as he suspects the very nature of them. Oftentimes, beautifulpictures can be painted by dark forces, though practically, only part of thepicture can become a reality. Banquoremains practical concerning the future of his progeny, knowing that believingthe witches and their predictions may cause intense consequences. Banquobelieves in destiny, and he knows that if the prophecy is destined to cometrue, it will fulfill itself just as it is planned to.
In essence, the theme of good vs.evil is highlighted throughout the play especially by the characters of Banquoand Macbeth. Some order is restored when Malcolm becomes king, which resolvesthe commotion created by Macbeth’s first great crime.
The audience is remindedof the influence faith, passion, and personality holds as to how the story oflife plays out. It is important that every decision is thoroughly thoughtthrough, especially if it involves the life of another human being. Admittedly,it is tempting to concede the thoughts of darkness and evil, and it is not easyto proceed. However, as long as the values and morals that make someone abetter person are not broken, one will undergo a renovation enhancing theircharacter internally, as well as socially.