Banquo, a general in King Duncan’s army and a friend of Macbeth serve as a contrasting character to Macbeth. In the play, he is introduced to us in the same scene alongside Macbeth and he also sees and receives a prophecy from the three witches at the same time.
But the effect on both of them is dramatically different. Macbeth’s evil is sharply demarked in comparison to the clear conscience of Banquo.
He warns Macbeth after listening to the prophecies by the three witches that “oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us.”
He revolts against the possibility of any such things even in his thoughts. Knowing that his coming generation will be comprised of kings doesn’t spring him into action the way it does in Macbeth.
Banquo is a righteous father and asks for no aid to any hint of ambition which curiously comes to him after listening to the prophecy. He says to the witches that he “neither beg nor fear your favours nor your hate.”
We eventually sympathise with him because of the way he dies without any foreknowledge of his own death while coming to attend the banquet organised by his own murderer.
There is a suggestion in the play to his knowledge regarding misdeeds done by Macbeth when in the Act III Scene 1 he says to Macbeth that “Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all, As the weird women promised, and, I fear, Thou play’dst most foully for’t.”
Significance of Banquo’s Ghost
In an archetypal way, after Banquo’s cold murder, his spirit seems to have transcended his mortal death. At the table, it’s only Macbeth who is able to see him. This dramatic situation reveals the paranoia running under the maintained grandeur of Macbeth.
When Macbeth comes across the witches later alone, to mislead him they show him certain apparitions and a vision of Banquo walking with a mirror next to eight other descendants.
The play is supposedly believed to be performed under the watch of King James to whom Shakespeare’s allegiance was true. King James was in the ninth generation of descendants of Banquo, the historical character hence those eight descendants in the first vision of Macbeth regarding Banquo’s Ghost
Banquo’s Ghost at the banquet table is a subversive attack on the composure of Macbeth. It disarms him of what he manages himself to be and aims at his vulnerability otherwise saved by Lady Macbeth.
It marks the solid return of Macbeth’s conscience, the beginning of his critical suffering for the evil deeds done by him. In a symbolic way, Shakespeare positions him in the very seat of Macbeth which is Macbeth’s greatest fear.
It dismantles his hardly maintained sanity. When Ghost exits finally, Macbeth cries “why, so. Being gone, I am a man again.” In the play, Banquo’s Ghost marks a critical juncture.
The time which Macbeth is supposed to celebrate ironically marks his descend towards his final disintegration and defeat. Banquo’s Ghost reminds Macbeth of everything which he possibly wants to avoid from the bloody past and a future which he fearfully imagines.