Macbeth - How Shakespeare presents the characters in Act 3 Scene 1

How do their words thoughts and actions make the scene such a dramatic and important scene in the play?

In the majority of Shakespeare’s compositions, Act 3 usually consists, in terms of context, the most important scenes in the play. Macbeth is no different; Act 3 and in particular Act 3 Scene 1 is the point in the play where events are rapidly building to a dramatic and tragic climax. In the previous scenes the audience witnessed the violent assassination of the much loved King Duncan by Macbeth followed by the (said / mentioned) murderer’s inevitable election as king.

In a historical context, the general public at the time of the production’s release would have understood the significance and seriousness of Macbeth’s actions more so than modern day audiences. Regicide was not only seen as an evil act against king and country but also against God. The Divine Right of King’s was widely believed; which stated every monarch is selected by God and has sole right to the throne (usurper).

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More notably, genuine threats such as the Gunpowder Plot against the ruler at the time, King James I, made the murder of King Duncan not only more believable but something audiences could actually relate to.

Act 3 Scene 1 commences with a condemning soliloquy by Banquo. He shares with the audience his strong accusations regarding the manner in which Macbeth has become King Speaking dangerously of deceit and treason, ‘Thou played’st most foully for’t’, Shakespeare cleverly aligns Banquo with the audience and in doing so emphasizes the shocking nature of King Duncan’s murder.

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In the soliloquy there is also a reference to the witches’ predictions for Banquo’s descendants, ‘myself should be the root and father of many kings.

‘ This line would have been of great interest to King James I as it suggests he is a descendant of Banquo. Some critics argue that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth to flatter the new king. The direct relation between Banquo and King James is hinted a few times during the play. Add this to the fact Shakespeare altered Holinshed’s version of events that were written years earlier then you could be mistaken for agreeing with the critics. Shakespeare made Macbeth solely responsible for Duncan’s murder when actually Banquo was an accomplice to the murder.

Proud to be in their new role, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth greet Banquo very majestically, ‘here’s our chief guest. ‘ Shrewdly, they attempt to make Banquo feel important and well appreciated, ‘If he had been forgotten, it had been a big gap in our great feast.’ However this was all a big act, as the audience was about to find out. I imagine in this part of the scene Lady Macbeth’s introduction would have been very grand and regal as if she loved her new role. After all, she had finally achieved what she and her husband had always dreamt of, ‘My dearest partner of greatness.’

Shakespeare makes it clear that Macbeth is now king by altering slightly the way in which Macbeth behaves and addresses others. He exposes a kinder, more inviting aspect to his personality by hosting a feast, ‘Tonight we hold a great feast and I’ll request your presence.’ The verb request is significant because it implies the invitational is optional, however I don’t believe anyone would turn down an offer from the King as there may be serious consequences.

Macbeth continues to take great interest in Macbeths proposed journey which causes the audience to suspect that Banquo might be in danger. Arguably for the very first time in the play, we witness the devious and crafty personality of Macbeth. Shakespeare uses a combination of irony and flattery in his writing to hide the fact Macbeth is actually intensively interrogating Banquo, ‘fail not our feast’ and ‘Ride you this afternoon’ are two examples of this. The quote ‘fail not our feast’ is ironic because the audience have been discretely made aware that Macbeth intends to have Banquo murdered whilst he is out riding and will therefore not return for the feast.

After dismissing Banquo, Macbeth makes a rather bold and surprising decision to do the same with his wife, ‘Till supper time alone, while then God be with you.’ I believe this to be the point in the play where the tide turns. Up until now, it has been Macbeth who has relied heavily on his wife. He consulted everything with her.

However, now that he finally has the crown upon his head, I think he feels that she has nothing left to offer. Personally this is pure ignorance on Macbeth’s part and sense this might be a catalyst for his downfall -Macbeth’s hamartia. A hamartia is basically an ‘error in judgement, a cause of a tragic hero’s (in this case Macbeth) misfortune. Lady Macbeth aids his downfall, as she has pushed him to become so ambitious and arrogant that he feels he will be more successful without her. However, Macbeth has other hamartias which are explored further on.

If I was directing this scene, I would strive to get the key point across. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have just been crowned king and Queen of their beloved nation. The ‘honeymoon’ period has just begun and they both absolutely adore their new roles, ‘Thou hast it now King, Cawdor, Glamis, all.’ Therefore, I would endeavour to make sure this comes across to the audience by ensuring the actors were dressed accordingly; royal robes and jewellery etc. Also, the actors should portray a relieved and joyful persona to illustrate the fact that Macbeth and his wife’s efforts have finally been rewarded.

During Macbeth’s soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 1, Shakespeare reveals the character’s true colours. Macbeth explains that despite Banquo being his best friend, he understands that Banquo must be murdered in order for him to remain in power; ‘to be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus.’ This extract would confirm the audiences’ earlier thoughts and feelings about Macbeth’s intentions with Banquo. It also proves that the compassion and sincerity he showed towards Banquo in their last conversation was just an act. Shakespeare compares Macbeth’s feelings about Banquo to an actual event in the past, ‘as it is said Mark Antony’s was by Caesar.’ Macbeth acknowledges Banquo’s integrity but cannot help feeling that perhaps he is the Achilles heel to making him last upon the throne. Just as in Ancient Rome, Mark Antony was said to be in fear of Octavius Caesar.

Throughout the soliloquy you get the sense that Macbeth has constant mood swings. His feelings vary rapidly, from fear of Banquo at the beginning; ‘our fears in Banquo stick deep.’ to pure hatred of Banquo at the end, ‘No son of mine succeeding, for Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind.’ His change in character is particularly noticeable when compared to Act 2 Scene 1. During this soliloquy, Macbeth has little conviction when contemplating the murder of Duncan whereas now he speaks confidently with passion and conviction. Which is startling seen as he is about to have his closest companion murdered.

As the murderers appear on stage, the audience are immediately made aware that Macbeth has already spoken with them “Was it not yesterday we spoke together.” This extract implies that Macbeth had been planning to kill Banquo for a while. This is arguably the first time we see a ruthless side of Macbeth. It proves to the audience that this murder is not just a spur of the moment thing. Shakespeare includes a range of techniques when Macbeth is trying to persuade the henchmen to murder Banquo.

Firstly, Macbeth tries to justify the murder by using reverse psychology on the two men, “Know that it is he who held you so under fortune.” Here; Macbeth is obviously testing the murderers’ character and resolve. He needs to know how willing they are, luckily for Macbeth they are prepared to do anything in the needs of king and country, “I would set my life on any chance.” Secondly, Macbeth questions their courage, to which the murderers’ respond assertively “We are men.”

One thing I cannot comprehend is why Macbeth is even bothering to persuade them. Surely Macbeth has the right to order anyone about never mind two members of the lower class society. After all he is the King. However, I think this represents a key aspect of Macbeth’s personality. I think persuading the murderers’ is his way of persuading him he is doing the right thing. By persuading them, he is at the same time convincing himself that the deed is righteous. This would suggest that Macbeth is not pure evil but instead someone who loves power and is prepared to do anything to remain powerful.

Macbeth changes dramatically as a character throughout the play. Initially, Macbeth was tortured with remorse after Duncan’s murder but upon hearing of Banquo’s successful assassination he is elated. His vaulting aspiration was driving him to desperate measures and he was unable to impede it. Macbeth had already risked his life to obtain the throne so he had no choice but to employ Machiavellian customs to preserve it. Macbeth’s vision of Banquo’ ghost at a royal banquet only steers him closer to insanity. The appearance of Banquo’s ghost at the royal banquet horrifies Macbeth. Shakespeare brilliantly uses irony to make Banquo’s emergence very dramatic, ‘Sweet Remembrancer!

Upon hearing the witches’ prophecies, Macbeth is unleashed down a spiral of swift deterioration that causes him to become blinded by desire. It is clear that Macbeth’s objective was driven by the prophecies made by the three witches; ‘hail to thee Thane of Cawdor that shalt be king hereafter.’ He was willing to do or pay anything to ensure that they actually occur. At first Macbeth is appalled at the witches’ proposal of killing Duncan, his King and fellow countryman, but eventually he surrenders to both Lady Macbeth and the evil forces. Lady Macbeth and the witches overwhelm his morals setting off a catalogue of events resulting in Macbeth’s downfall and second hamartia.

The presence of supernatural forces in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, provides much of the plays dramatic tension and mounting suspense. Several supernatural hallucinations throughout the play profoundly affect Macbeth; culminating with the evil forces overpowering Macbeth and his morals. For example, the prophecies of the three witches and the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. These two points in the play would have been very significant for the audience at the time.

Witches were associated with using uncompromising potions, flying, becoming invisible at will and using disguises for the evil spirits in control of them. In Shakespeare’s time, a large proportion of people believed in witches. Hundreds of thousands of women were accused of employing the mentioned familiars to cause misfortunes and disasters. As a result, many were either executed or tortured. Even King James I was personally frightened of witches, passing a law that condemned anyone connected with witchcraft. In hindsight, it is now clear that witches were just innocent people used as scapegoats for mistakes made by others.

Macbeth is a prime example of Shakespeare’s use of the tragic pattern. The play begins with the rise and fall of a man of high estate. This is followed by a flaw in character, Duncan’s trust in Macbeth for example, ‘a gentleman on whom I built absolute trust.’ Then murder, exile and alienation of enemies and allies; King Duncan’s Murder, the Princes’ flee, murder of Banquo and dismissal of Lady Macbeth. All leading to the gradual isolation of the tragic hero, tragic recognition of the flaw by the tragic hero; ‘and now a wood comes toward Dunsinane’ and eventually the death of the tragic hero. Macbeth is slain by Macduff. Tragic patterns similar to this one are used in every one of Shakespeare’s renowned tragedies.

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Macbeth - How Shakespeare presents the characters in Act 3 Scene 1. (2017, Oct 21). Retrieved from

Macbeth - How Shakespeare presents the characters in Act 3 Scene 1

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