Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 3
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
This scene, short as it is, contains the climax of the drama. So far everything has been in Macbeth's favour, and, outwardly at
least, his career has been one unbroken series of successes. The escape of Fleance is his first piece of bad luck. From this time on,
however, everything goes wrong with Macbeth. The various incidents that contribute to his downfall will be pointed out as they
occur in the course of the action. It is enough, here, to call the
attention of the student to the fact that this scene is the turning-point of the drama.
It has been rather foolishly asserted that the Third Murderer who appears in this scene is Macbeth himself. Had Shakespeare meant
this, we may be sure that he would have given the audience a hint to that effect. The speeches of Macbeth to the First Murderer in
the next scene show conclusively, I think, that he was ignorant of the details of the assault on Banquo, which would not have been
the case had he himself been one of the murderers. We may perhaps take the Third Murderer to be the "perfect spy" of iii.
I. 130 whom Macbeth sends at the last moment as a re-enforcement
to the ambush.
2. needs not our mistrust, we need not distrust him. The Second Murderer says these words to the First, who is evidently suspicious
of the newcomer. He goes on to say that the third man has repeated Macbeth's instructions as to the time and place of the deed
exactly as they were given in the first place, "to the direction just," which shows that he comes straight from the king.
3. offices, business.
7. timely, appropriate to the time, welcome.
8. The subject of our watch, the man we are waiting for.
9. Give us a light, Banquo says these words to one of his
servants. He sends them on the winding road with the horses
while he and Fleance take the straight path through the woods to
the palace. Fleance carries the torch to light them on their way.
10. the note of expectation, the list of the expected guests.
11. about, the long way around.
15. stand to't, get ready.
16. It will be rain to-night. This remark of Banquo's shows how
utterly unprepared he is for the treacherous assault.
17, 18. It is characteristic of the brave and self-possessed Banquo, that even at this terrible moment he thinks of his son, and
contrives to get him away in the hope that he may revenge his father's death.
19. Was't not the way? Was not that the right thing to do?
20, 21. lost Best half of our affair, left the best part of our
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_3_3.html >.
"Absent and alone four or five hours, how had Macbeth been employed? With such a dreadful matter at issue, he could not have been resting or engaged in any other business. He must have been taken up with the intended murder some way or other; and, for ourselves, we cannot conceive of his going to the banquet with the barest chance of his plot miscarrying, and of Banquo's arriving in the midst of the gaiety, with the narrative of the inexplicable and alarming attempt. But if he waited away till his mind would be relieved by a knowledge of the assassination, this could not have been, unless he was personally engaged in it, because it was after he went that he was told." Allan Park Paton. Read on...
Did You Know? ... Shakespeare presents Banquo as being noble and good throughout the play, unaware of the ominous plot concocted by Macbeth and his Lady. As with most of the changes implemented by Shakespeare from the original source, Banquo's portrayal serves all three purposes: dramatic, thematic, and political. Read On...