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.