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Macbeth Commentary - Act III.

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Act III. Scene I. - Forres. A Room in the Palace.

Macbeth: "Our fears in Banquo / Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature / Reigns that which would be fear'd: 'tis much he dares…Whose being I do fear; and under him / My genius is rebuk'd, as it is said / Mark Antony's was by Caesar."

Banquo is fearful that the Three Witches' prophecies are coming true, questioning whether Macbeth played most foully for it, or killed King Duncan to make prophecy, fact. Meeting with Macbeth, Macbeth continuously asks Banquo of his travel plans and those of his son. Alone, Macbeth fears that Banquo's sons will mean his dynasty will be short-lived; only he will be King and not his sons who will be replaced by those of Banquo's lineage. Macbeth arranges for several murderers to discreetly kill Banquo and Fleance to ensure his sons and not Banquo's become future kings...

The scene begins with Banquo, alone, suspicious of Macbeth and the Three Witches' prophecy:

"Thou [you, Macbeth] hast [has] it now: King, Cawdor, Glamis, all, / As the weird women promis'd; and, I fear, / Thou [Macbeth] play'dst [played] most foully for't [for it];" (Line 1).

Banquo wonders about the prophecies made to him: "But that myself should be the root and father / Of many kings… May they not be my oracles as well, / And set me up in hope? But, hush! no more" (Lines 5-10).

Macbeth invites Banquo to a feast at his castle and obliquely (indirectly) asks his plans for the evening. "Ride you this afternoon?" (Line 19) Macbeth ominously asks. Macbeth tells us that "our bloody cousins are bestow'd / In England and Ireland, not confessing / Their cruel parricide [murdering a father, King Duncan]," (Line 30). This is a reference to King Duncan's two sons being in hiding.

Macbeth asks again of Banquo's travel plans, specifically for his son: "Goes Fleance with you?" (Line 35). Macbeth is now alone with an Attendant. He asks of some men. We learn they are presently waiting outside the palace gate. "Bring them before us" Macbeth commands. (Line 47).

Macbeth now alone, reveals his innermost thoughts in another aside: "Our fears in Banquo / Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature / Reigns that which would be fear'd: 'tis much he dares... Whose being I do fear; and under him / My genius is rebuk'd, as it is said / Mark Antony's was by Caesar" (Lines 49-55).

Macbeth goes on to remark that the Three Witches have "plac'd a fruitless crown, / And put a barren sceptre" (Line 61) in Macbeth's possession. Without a line of kings following Macbeth's line, he fears that being King of Scotland is a farce and in Banquo, Macbeth sees the person stopping his own lineage of kings.

Macbeth is interrupted by the murderers whom he instructs to kill Banquo and son Fleance. He explains to them that their problems are the result of Banquo. Taunting them, he asks them if they are happy to let the source of their pain off so easily. They reply that they are "men," (Line 91).

Macbeth tells the men to do their deed covertly (secretly) to protect Macbeth's reputation. The scene ends with Macbeth resolute of his next murder: "It is concluded [decided]: Banquo, thy [your] soul's flight, If it find heaven, must find it out to-night" (Banquo, you will die tonight to find out if your soul will go to heaven or not tonight), (Line 141).

Act III. Scene II. - The Same. Another Room in the Palace.

Lady Macbeth and Macbeth speak in private. Macbeth is again plagued by a guilt we thought may have vanished: "We have scotch'd the snake, not kill'd it..." (Line 13). Lady Macbeth attempts to strengthen Macbeth's resolve.

Act III. Scene III. -The Same. A Park, with a Road leading to the Palace.

The Three Murderers kill Banquo but his son Fleance escapes and survives. The Three Witches' prophecy of Banquo's sons becoming kings has not been thwarted by Macbeth...

The Third Murderer joins the previous two we know of. When asked who sent him, the Third replies "Macbeth" (Line 2). The Second tells the Third not to distrust Macbeth, he delivers and can be trusted. The Third hears horses.

The Third Murderer adds Banquo's horses have stopped some way from the castle; it is common practice to walk to the castle itself. Banquo and Fleance approach the murderers by torch.

The Three Murderers set upon Banquo. Banquo cries "O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! " (O, treachery! Run Fleance, run, run, run!), (Line 17). Banquo dies, Fleance escapes. The Three Murderers notice this and decide to report "how much is done" (Line 21).

Act III. Scene IV. - The Same. A Room of State in the Palace.

"I am in blood / Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er."

Macbeth and a lady are entertaining at their castle. The First Murderer arrives, announcing that Banquo is dead but Fleance has lived. Macbeth immediately realizes the consequences of this (his descendants may not become kings). Macbeth sees Banquo's Ghost at his party, causing Lady Macbeth to finish their party early to prevent further suspicions about Macbeth's sanity and about their role in recent events (King Duncan's death whilst a guest at their castle). Macbeth makes his famous quote about being too covered in blood to stop...

A banquet is prepared attended by Macbeth, his lady, Ross, Lennox, Lords and some Attendants. Macbeth intends to play host: "Ourself will mingle with society / And play the humble host " (Line 4). Lady Macbeth echoes this sentiment: "Pronounce it for me, sir, to all our friends; / For my heart speaks they are welcome" (Line 7).

The First Murderer enters, informing Macbeth of the deed. He informs Macbeth that "Fleance is 'scaped " (Fleance escaped), (Line 20). Macbeth asks about Banquo to which the First Murderer replies that Banquo is safe: "Ay, my good lord; safe in a ditch he bides, / With twenty trenched gashes on his head; " (Line 24).

Macbeth is all too aware of the consequences of Fleance's escape: "There the grown serpent lies: the worm that's fled / Hath [has] nature that in time will venom breed," (Fleance the worm that escaped will in time breed a venom or line of kings Macbeth was hoping to prevent), (Line 29).

Macbeth whilst eating, is haunted by the Ghost of Banquo. Macbeth's talking to himself begins to unsettle Lady Macbeth. She fears Macbeth may say something suspicious and so she ends the feast early (Line 122).

Macbeth now reveals that he knows Macduff's movements; "I keep a servant fee'd" (Line 132) or has spies to keep him informed of his enemies. Macbeth, still shaken by Banquo's Ghost resolves to see the Three Witches or "the weird sisters:" tomorrow, since Macbeth is eager for reassurance and to know more of his destiny.

Macbeth now famously utters his expression that he has killed so many and is so covered in blood that he can now metaphorically speaking, no longer turn back and seek salvation:

I am in blood / Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er"

(Literal translation: I am in blood so deeply stepped that even if I waded or walked no more, returning would be as tedious or as time consuming and difficult as going over or returning), (Line 136).

Says Lady Macbeth, "You lack the season of all natures, sleep" (Line 141).

Act III. Scene V. - A Heath.

Hecate: "you all know security / Is mortals' chiefest enemy."

Hecate, clearly in a position of command over the Three Witches, scolds her subordinates for helping an unappreciative Macbeth. Hecate instructs the Three Witches to make preparations for her plan to use illusion and the Three Witches' prophecies against Macbeth. The Three Witches, eager to placate their master, eagerly make preparations, doing as they are told...

Again to the prelude of thunder we see the Three Witches. They meet with Hecate, which has been interpreted as the Lord of the Witches but whose exact relationship to the Three Witches is never made explicit. All that we do know is that the Three Witches fear and respect Hecate, doing as she instructs them.

Hecate is angry with her charges. They have meddled with Macbeth without her consultation. She mocks them for helping a man who "Loves for his own ends, not for you" (loves or cares only about himself, not the Three Witches), (Line 13).

Hecate tells the Three Witches too "make amends now:" telling them to leave and meet her "at the pit of Acheron", the name for Hell's river the next morning (Lines 12-16).

By the end of the scene Hecate gains the Three Witches' support for her plan. Her plan is to use illusion to "draw him [Macbeth] on to his confusion:" (Line 29).

Macbeth will then "spurn [ignore] fate, scorn death, and bear / His hopes 'bove [above] wisdom, grace, and fear; / And you all know security / Is mortals' chiefest enemy" (ignore fate, mock or scorn death, become arrogant, take his own opinions above wisdom, grace and fear and you all know that complacency or false security is a person's worst enemy), (Line 30).

The scene ends with the First Witch suggesting haste with their preparations. After all Hecate will "soon be back again" (Line 37).

Act III. Scene VI. - Forres. A Room in the Palace.

We see Lennox and a Lord discuss affairs in their kingdom. Lennox points out that all those who have sided with Macbeth, namely the late King Duncan, "the right-valiant Banquo" (Line 5) have paid dearly for this decision. Lennox slyly suggests that Fleance may be responsible for Banquo's death since he fled afterwards but we quickly realize this is Lennox's way of finding out the Lord's allegiances.

Lennox discusses how terrible it was that Donalbain and Malcolm killed their father King Duncan. Macbeth certainly did grieve... He adds that should Fleance, Donalbain and Malcolm be captured that they would certainly suffer but now Lennox realizing just how dangerous his skeptical words of Macbeth are, changes the subject by asking of Macduff.

We learn from the Lord who now makes his disgust of Macbeth quite clear that an army is being formed in England to fight Macbeth. "The son of Duncan" Malcolm is now at the English court and has been well received by the "most pious Edward" (Line 27). We finally learn that Macbeth knows this and is preparing for possible war. Macduff may be in great danger...

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