Key scenes for Macbeth

Banquo, being invited to the banquet, lying killed, and appearing as a ghost to Macbeth

The banquet (Act three, Scene four)

Macbeth is tense and anxious as he enters the banquet. It's important to think about this point because it will help you to understand how his mind could conjure up the terrible image of the ghost.

Macbeth is sick with worry and guilt about Banquo's murder. This is important. Banquo was his best friend, and Macbeth has ordered him to be killed. He needed both Banquo and Fleance dead, but Fleance has escaped. This throws Macbeth into a panic.

Macbeth is acting secretly. He is not communicating with Lady Macbeth. This is an important point. Macbeth has started to exclude his wife from his decisions. Acting alone puts extra pressure on him - and on their relationship.

The banquet is supposed to confirm Macbeth as a fitting king. This is the first public function since Macbeth's coronation, and he needs the important guests, who are potentially his enemies, to feel at ease because he is in control. When it starts to go wrong, he is desperate to calm them.

The effect of the ghost on Macbeth (Act three, Scene four)

Macbeth's reaction to the ghost occurs in three distinct phases.

He is terrified and cowers from it. At first Macbeth is terrified, because he simply cannot understand the reappearance of Banquo. Why do the dead not stay dead?

He challenges it. The second time the ghost appears, Macbeth takes it on - he confronts the ghost to overcome his feelings of terror and guilt. He seems to win - the ghost disappears.

Macbeth puts his faith in the supernatural, his marriage is no longer the source of his strength. This is a real turning point. It's as if he gives up trying to control things, and makes up his mind to go back to the witches. It's an admission he is beaten. We seem to know the play will end tragically from this point.

Lady Macbeth's death (Act five, Scene five)

How is Macbeth affected when he learns of his wife's death?

Macbeth seems suddenly weary when Lady Macbeth dies. His reaction is strange - quiet, subdued and thoughtful.

His power and motivation seem to vanish. It's as if Macbeth no longer sees any point trying to hold onto the kingship. He cannot understand why he ever wanted it.

He realises this is the end and his own death is near. We get the impression he now knows he will die, even though the witches seem to have told him otherwise. The strange thing is, he just seems to accept it.