Banquo

Banquo strides defiantly away from the castle behind him, holding his sword and shield.

Character attributes

Banquo is Macbeth’s best friend, and the Witches promise him that his descendants will be future kings of Scotland. This prediction puts him in mortal danger with Macbeth. Macbeth is so worried about losing the throne that he is willing even to kill his best friend in an attempt to cheat fate. Banquo reappears after his death as a disapproving ghost at Macbeth’s banquet.

Character attributes

  • Sceptical – he doesn’t trust the Witches’ predictions.
  • Suspicious – he suspects Macbeth of murder and is worried about his own safety around his old friend.
  • Loyal – he doesn’t tell anyone else about the Witches’ predictions, even when King Duncan is killed.

Friends

Banquo is friends with:

  • Macbeth - is a great friend to begin with. They have fought bravely beside each other in battle. Macbeth doesn’t want to kill Banquo, but the Witches have said that Banquo’s children will be kings. This threatens Macbeth’s position as king. He sees Banquo’s murder as the only way to cheat fate.
  • Fleance – his son.

Changes in character

  • Banquo begins as Macbeth’s loyal friend, but he begins to suspect that Macbeth is up to no good after he becomes king.
  • Alive, Banquo is a good man, but his ghost haunts Macbeth at the banquet, frightening him terribly. The ghost might not really be Banquo, but a figment of Macbeth’s imagination.
  • Banquo begins as a humble thane, but his descendants become kings of Scotland – leading down to King James himself.

Character analysis

Question

How does Shakespeare show that Banquo is sceptical?

Banquo warns Macbeth:

Banquo
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 1 Scene 3

Banquo’s warning is a prediction in itself. This is what happens to Macbeth. Some of the predictions come true, so Macbeth is taken in even more by the Witches, and this leads to his eventual destruction. In plays, this kind of innocent insight into the future events of the play is called dramatic irony.

Question

Where do we see Banquo becoming suspicious of Macbeth?

Banquo thinks to himself that Macbeth played ‘st most foully (Act 3 Scene 1) for the throne.

Banquo has good reason to suspect Macbeth of murder. He knows that the Witches’ predictions would have given Macbeth a motive for murdering King Duncan.

Question

Is Banquo a loyal character?

Banquo is loyal to Macbeth until his death. He is also more loyal to Duncan than Macbeth is.

Minutes before Macbeth murders the King, he makes a vague promise to Banquo:

Macbeth
If you shall cleave to my consent, when ‘tis,
It shall make honour for you.
Act 2 Scene 1

Banquo replies that he will always be loyal to Macbeth as long as he’s not asked to do anything that goes against his heart and conscience. This puts him in direct contrast with Macbeth. The Witches made Banquo promises too, but he did nothing in response to those promises, so he seems far more noble than his friend.

Listening task

In Act 3 Scene 1, Macbeth mulls over his personal reasons for having his good friend, Banquo murdered.

Question

Can you find words or phrases that tell you that Macbeth knows that Banquo is a respected and noble person?

Macbeth says that Banquo has a noble heart:

Macbeth
in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be feared.
Act 3 Scene 1

Macbeth is afraid of Banquo’s goodness because he himself has done something that he knows would appal his friend.

Question

Does Macbeth think that Banquo is going to kill him?

Macbeth is fairly certain that Banquo won’t kill him. He says:

Macbeth
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour
To act in safety
Act 3 Scene 1

This means that Macbeth believes that Banquo won’t do anything rash and will tread carefully to keep himself safe. He still remains a threat though, and so do his children.