Macbeth: Banquet Scene

In order to satisfy the popular taste of the contemporary audience for melodramatic presentation of materials on the stage, Shakespeare presents a popular spectacle on the stage in the form of Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth, which subsequently has come to generate numerous debates, readings and, of course, presentation on both the stage and the celluloid. Whether the ghost of Banquo is subjective or objective is variously debated, and the best way to judging this is to appreciate the scene from the chair of an audience at the theatre, not from the easy chair of a reader at home. On the stage the ghost is visible only to Macbeth and the audience, both of whom understand the cruelty involved in the act of murder, while the other characters are supposed to be unaware of its presence. In this perhaps it becomes possible to understand that Banquo’s ghost plays an important and integral role in the development of the tragic action of the play and in bringing about the nemesis of Macbeth. The Banquet Scene (scene iv, Act III) opens at the royal hall of Scotland with the banquet ready celebrating Macbeth’s coronation. The audience find the couple now at the height of double-dealing, and detect in the opening words of the new king tinge of irony: “You know your own degrees…” The fact is that it is Macbeth who has forgotten his degree, his limitation as a human being. Therefore, the arrival of Banquo as a ghost is necessary to expose this treacherous person. But before that, treachery has been highlighted in the act of offering the banquet. One may detect here an ironic reversal of the Last Supper offered by Christ, the Saviour. In fact, Macbeth’s act of murdering the king and thus violating the moral order is re-enacted in his consecration of such a sacred tritual as offering a communal feast, a ritual which has been looked upon as a gesture of faith and fraternal bond existing in the community everywhere and always in the human culture. Fittingly enough, the announcement of the banquet is disturbed and delayed by the arrival of the first murderer at the door. It should be noted here that Macbeth becomes alarmed at the sight of blood on the face of the murderer. It may be surmised whether the blood of Banquo, and the news of the escape of Fleance, leaving behind the possibility of the fulfilment of the Witches’ prophecy, unhinge his mind for the moment. He says himself, “…now I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confined, bound in Saucy doubts and fears.” But the dramatic irony becomes most effective when the audience watch the blood ghost of Banquo enter the stage and sit at Macbeth’s appointed chair and Macbeth, unaware of its presence, wishes: “Were the graced person of our Banquo present.” As he becomes aware of its presence, the whole scheme goes awry for Macbeth. Though the queen tries hard to stop the involuntary confessions, the situation goes beyond her control. Here the audience can notice that the lady is not the kind of stuff now as she had been before while goading Macbeth into murdering the king. Though she does not reflect upon her self, it can be said that right from this point the weakening of her character begins—though she succeeds in giving the correct psychological explanations behind her husband’s hallucinations: “This is the very painting of your fear”, the ‘strange’ will very soon infect her and bring in her nemesis. As Lady Macbeth pushes him towards the corner of the stage, Macbeth bursts in mixed reactions of fear, anger, irritation, uneasiness, submission, philosophical ruminations and apprehension of retribution. He now understands that in the moral universe, tumbled upside down by him, death to a person does not put an end to all, that dead men “ …rise again, With twenty mortal wounds on their crowns, And push us from our stools…” On the stage these reactions or confessions are made dramatically more effective by the loud choric answer of the lords: “Our duties, and the pledge”, an answer which does not have any significance for Macbeth when sees the ghost re-enter the hall. From Macbeth’s confessions it becomes clear that he is afraid of the ghost because it bears the evidence of his gruesome murder, thereby exposing his hypocrisy and moral flaw. Macbeth now understands the truth that “…blood will have blood”, that is, murder begets murder; but he falsely draws the conclusion to his own purpose, that is, further murders will become necessary to protect his throne. The king of Scotland, however, talks of the dilemma of ambition, which was typical the Renaissance and is symptomatic of the modern age: “…I am in blood Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go ov’r:” And herein lies the tragic appeal of the drama to a modern reader/audience. It is in this scene that Macbeth emerges as a confirmed murdered with “strange things…in head”. In other words, the ghost of Banquo leads Macbeth unwittingly to his tragic downfall.

Comments

JAYDEEP SARANGI said…
"Macbeth: Banquet Scene" by T T MUKHERJEE leaves a few possibilities open...can there be subjective difference between the ghost and the witches in the play?
Is there any basic difference in them?
It is useful to understand the nature of the ghost...we again find in "Hamlet"....
DR J SARANGI
JAYDEEP SARANGI said…
"Macbeth: Banquet Scene" by T.T.Mukherjee seems to be of hreat use for the lovers of literature;rich with literary flavour...only if the author could refer to related Elizabethan texts where ghosts figure as important.I don't see any objective reality of Banquo's ghost whic is only seen by Macbeth.Macbeth, a violator of the moral order ,becomes an agent of evil like the witches.Ghost in "Macbeth" is different from witches...ARE THEY CONTROLLING AGENCY to determine the fate of Macbeth? Dr Jaydeep sarangi
JAYDEEP SARANGI said…
"Macbeth: Banquet Scene" by T.T.Mukherjee seems to be of hreat use for the lovers of literature;rich with literary flavour...only if the author could refer to related Elizabethan texts where ghosts figure as important.I don't see any objective reality of Banquo's ghost whic is only seen by Macbeth.Macbeth, a violator of the moral order ,becomes an agent of evil like the witches.Ghost in "Macbeth" is different from witches...ARE THEY CONTROLLING AGENCY to determine the fate of Macbeth? Dr Jaydeep sarangi
I wrote it for the students who would just be able to write the answer in the exam, not for a deeper analysis. Nor did I try to explore new meanings. Whatever I have written can be found in writings of famous critics.
But since you have raised the question I will add something to consider from the psychological point of view:
1. Generally we ignore the impact of the bloody battles on Macbeth and Banquo (his case being different owing to his having a different personality). Actually battlefield experiences may result in, as was the case with many World War soliders, disorders leading to delusions. This happens, as one of the many possible causes, when the person in course of time may find himself/herself caught up in guilt-shame cycle. Macbeth's case is more terrible since the murders of Duncan and Banquo involve sin. He knows very well how a mudered person would look like if he/she arises. I agree with you that the ghost does not have any objective reality.
2. The ghost is different from the witches in the very nature of it; it is more like a 'holy' ghost whereas the witches are malvolent forces.It is not at all a controlling agency.
3. Again I do not think the witches are the controlling agency. If that was the case, everybody's fate would have been shaped by them.
Finally I would request you to read the following essay written for the students. http://westbengalsscenglish.blogspot.com/2008/09/character-of-macbeth-as-tragic-hero.html
BISWADEEP BASU said…
I THINK THE BANQUET IS A SYMBOL OF MACBETH AS RULER. HE STARTS WELL, GIVING HEARTY WELCOME TO ALL, A DEMOCRACY AND MINGLING WITH SOCIETY, A POLITENESS. BUT HIS FEAT!!!!!!!!!LADY M SAYS 'MY HUSBAND IS OFTEN THUS". BUT WILL YOU SIT IN A BUS WHOSE DRIVER TURNS MAD FOR ONE MINUTE WHILE DRIVING? THE LORDS LOOK ON MACBETH AS A KING WHO GOES MAD SOMETIMES.
Réxx Kñight said…
But sir, you did not mention the Supernatural Element, or rather, importance used by Shakespeare in this scene.
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