Banquo as a Foil to Macbeth: A Study of Honour and Character

Categories: William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth,' written between 1603 and 1606 during the reign of James I, stands as one of his darkest and most powerful tragedies. The play begins by introducing Macbeth as a loyal and honorable hero of Scotland. However, as the story unfolds, Macbeth's character undergoes a gradual transformation driven by a relentless ambition for power, leading him down a path of sinister decisions that ultimately result in despair, guilt, and madness. Among these decisions is the murder of his friend Banquo, based on the witches' prophecy: "Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none" (Act I, Scene iii, Line 67).

This essay aims to analyze how Banquo serves as a foil to Macbeth in terms of honor, specifically focusing on loyalty, allegiance to moral principles, and the ability to discern and act upon what is morally right. The analysis spans from the beginning of the play to Banquo's death in Act III, Scene iii.

Macbeth's Moral Deterioration

Macbeth epitomizes the prince described by Machiavelli, who presupposes that humans are inherently incapable of virtuous actions due to their moral corruption.

Get quality help now
checked Verified writer

Proficient in: Writing

star star star star 4.9 (247)

“ Rhizman is absolutely amazing at what he does . I highly recommend him if you need an assignment done ”

avatar avatar avatar
+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Machiavelli famously asserted, "[...] all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it [...]" (Spencer, 1961, p.117). The Renaissance era, during which 'Macbeth' was written, was marked by a profound conflict between human dignity and human frailty.

The Renaissance period saw a fundamental challenge to established orders—cosmological, natural, and political. This challenge was spearheaded by philosophers of the time, including Machiavelli, who questioned these orders.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

In the play, Macbeth readily embraces the witches' prophecy that he will become king, descending into his dark side to fulfill it at any cost, disregarding the potential risks involved. His decision to murder King Duncan, a grave betrayal, is driven by his ruthless ambition.

In contrast to Macbeth, Banquo represents a moral antithesis. Banquo questions the witches' prophecies and their malevolent intentions, stating, "[...] And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray 's in deepest consequence [...]" (Act I, Scene iii, Lines 123-125). He astutely discerns that malevolence often lures people with insignificant yet truthful information to ultimately betray them in more significant matters.

When Banquo hears the prophecy about his descendants becoming kings, he does not attempt to manipulate fate or shape events to his advantage. Instead, he chooses to allow life to unfold naturally and unselfishly. His lack of avarice and absence of an agenda demonstrate his genuine goodness, as he resists the temptations of evil and remains steadfastly loyal to his moral values.

Macbeth's Erosion of Honour

Prior to the murder of King Duncan, Macbeth engages in a conversation with Banquo, and they agree to discuss the witches' prophecies at a later time. Banquo's unwavering moral character amplifies the depth of Macbeth's treachery. Macbeth himself acknowledges the contrast, stating, "[...] So I lose none in seeking to augment it, but still keep my bosom franchised, and allegiance clear, I shall be counselled [...]" (Act II, Scene i, Lines 25-29). In essence, Macbeth implies that as long as he does not compromise his honor in the pursuit of power and maintains his allegiance to King Duncan, he will heed Banquo's counsel. Banquo's noble character serves to accentuate Macbeth's moral degradation.

After Macbeth ascends to the throne, he perceives Banquo as a threat due to both his moral integrity and the witches' prophecy that Banquo's descendants will inherit the throne. Macbeth expresses his apprehensions, declaring, "[...] our fears in Banquo stick deep, and in his royalty of nature reigns that which be feared; 't is much he dares; and [...] he hath wisdom that doth guide his valour to act in safety [...]" (Act III, Scene i, Lines 48-52). In these lines, Macbeth openly acknowledges his fear of the qualities Banquo possesses—natural nobility, bravery, and wisdom. Macbeth's desire to secure his throne prompts him to arrange for Banquo's murder, and he hires two assassins to carry out the gruesome task.

While the assassins succeed in killing Banquo, they fail to eliminate Banquo's son, Fleance, who escapes. This escape serves as a testament to Banquo's enduring legacy, as his honorable lineage remains intact.


In 'Macbeth,' Banquo emerges as a foil to Macbeth in terms of honor and moral character. The play's exploration of these characters illustrates the stark contrast between their values and actions. Banquo embodies loyalty, integrity, and a commitment to moral principles, resisting the allure of personal gain and maintaining his nobility throughout. In contrast, Macbeth succumbs to his darkest desires and ambition, betraying not only his king but also his friend. His moral deterioration becomes increasingly evident as the play progresses.

Shakespeare's portrayal of Banquo as a character of unwavering honor not only serves to highlight Macbeth's moral decline but also underscores the enduring power of nobility and virtue in the face of temptation and ambition. 'Macbeth' stands as a timeless testament to the complexities of human character and the consequences of abandoning one's moral compass in pursuit of power.

Updated: Nov 06, 2023
Cite this page

Banquo as a Foil to Macbeth: A Study of Honour and Character. (2016, Apr 01). Retrieved from

Banquo as a Foil to Macbeth: A Study of Honour and Character essay
Live chat  with support 24/7

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment