Act 3 Scene 2 Macbeth Essay Prompts

Summary: Act 3, scene 1

In the royal palace at Forres, Banquo paces and thinks about the coronation of Macbeth and the prophecies of the weird sisters. The witches foretold that Macbeth would be king and that Banquo’s line would eventually sit on the throne. If the first prophecy came true, Banquo thinks, feeling the stirring of ambition, why not the second? Macbeth enters, attired as king. He is followed by Lady Macbeth, now his queen, and the court. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth ask Banquo to attend the feast they will host that night. Banquo accepts their invitation and says that he plans to go for a ride on his horse for the afternoon. Macbeth mentions that they should discuss the problem of Malcolm and Donalbain. The brothers have fled from Scotland and may be plotting against his crown.

Banquo departs, and Macbeth dismisses his court. He is left alone in the hall with a single servant, to whom he speaks about some men who have come to see him. Macbeth asks if the men are still waiting and orders that they be fetched. Once the servant has gone, Macbeth begins a soliloquy. He muses on the subject of Banquo, reflecting that his old friend is the only man in Scotland whom he fears. He notes that if the witches’ prophecy is true, his will be a “fruitless crown,” by which he means that he will not have an heir (3.1.62). The murder of Duncan, which weighs so heavily on his conscience, may have simply cleared the way for Banquo’s sons to overthrow Macbeth’s own family.

The servant reenters with Macbeth’s two visitors. Macbeth reminds the two men, who are murderers he has hired, of a conversation he had with them the day before, in which he chronicled the wrongs Banquo had done them in the past. He asks if they are angry and manly enough to take revenge on Banquo. They reply that they are, and Macbeth accepts their promise that they will murder his former friend. Macbeth reminds the murderers that Fleance must be killed along with his father and tells them to wait within the castle for his command.

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Summary: Act 3, scene 2

Elsewhere in the castle, Lady Macbeth expresses despair and sends a servant to fetch her husband. Macbeth enters and tells his wife that he too is discontented, saying that his mind is “full of scorpions” (3.2.37). He feels that the business that they began by killing Duncan is not yet complete because there are still threats to the throne that must be eliminated. Macbeth tells his wife that he has planned “a deed of dreadful note” for Banquo and Fleance and urges her to be jovial and kind to Banquo during the evening’s feast, in order to lure their next victim into a false sense of security (3.2.45).

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Summary: Act 3, scene 3

It is dusk, and the two murderers, now joined by a third, linger in a wooded park outside the palace. Banquo and Fleance approach on their horses and dismount. They light a torch, and the murderers set upon them. The murderers kill Banquo, who dies urging his son to flee and to avenge his death. One of the murderers extinguishes the torch, and in the darkness Fleance escapes. The murderers leave with Banquo’s body to find Macbeth and tell him what has happened.

Read a translation of Act 3, scene 3 →

Analysis: Act 3, scenes 1–3

After his first confrontation with the witches, Macbeth worried that he would have to commit a murder to gain the Scottish crown. He seems to have gotten used to the idea, as by this point the body count has risen to alarming levels. Now that the first part of the witches’ prophecy has come true, Macbeth feels that he must kill his friend Banquo and the young Fleance in order to prevent the second part from becoming realized. But, as Fleance’s survival suggests, there can be no escape from the witches’ prophecies.

Lady Macbeth, located somewhere else in the castle, is troubled and sends a servant to get her husband. Macbeth enters and admits he too is unsettled, as his mind is ‘full of scorpions’ as the issue of act of regicide cannot be escaped due to impending threats to his throne; he has thus spent every waking moment fearful and every moment in sleep confronted by nightmares, leading him to be envious of Duncan who contrastingly sleeps peacefully in death. He reveals that as a result he must commit ‘a deed of dreadful note’ concerning Banquo and Fleance; he instructs her to act in a caring manner towards Banquo at the evening feast so as to for him to assume all is normal and fall into a false sense of security.


Macbeth’s admittance that his mind is ‘full of scorpions’ ensures that he will remain tragic in some form. While he has done wrong, his being someway affected and troubled by this reminds us that some pity should be shown as this has been brought about by influences beyond his control. Meanwhile, it almost appears as though the marriage of the Macbeths is like a seesaw, having to remained balanced at all times; Macbeth has become more brazen (although it must be noted that he has doubts and thus resembles Lady Macbeth who urged him on earlier but would not commit the act herself due to Duncan representing her father), and his wife has lessened in this department. Her comment that ‘Naught’s had; all’s spent’ echoes Macbeth’s words immediately after the murder when he realized the irreconcilable nature of his act; Lady Macbeth now realizes that any association with his act will be equally punishable, symbolized by her constant torment over this. It is somewhat poignant when she remarks ‘What’s done is done’; this echoes Macbeth’s earlier desire when speaking of the act of regicide: ‘If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well/ It were done quickly’. Much like Macbeth just wanted the murder over with and to deal with consequences later, Lady Macbeth now realizes that this did not work out the way they planned, and they are only left with the consequences which cannot be escaped from.

Points of note

Lady Macbeth resembles Macbeth of earlier, needing to be convinced. She worries over the consequences of their actions, realizing ‘Nought’s had, all’s spent/ Where our desire is got without content./ ‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy/ Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy… Things without remedy/ should be without regard; what’s done is done.’ Interestingly, while Macbeth seeks to calm her by mentioning his plan for Banquo he does not divulge the full details of this; there is a distance forming between the two and it appears as though Macbeth is cutting Lady Macbeth out. It will be interesting to see how she reacts to this later.

Macbeth can be criticized in this scene. He is supremely cold, talking ill of the dead, displaying how the act of regicide no longer affects him and just how far he has descended into immorality; he speaks of Duncan, remarking ‘Treason has done his worst… nothing/ can touch him further’. He plans to strengthen his wrongfully attained position with further immorality, declaring ‘Things had begun,/ make strong themselves by ill’ which shows how irreconcilable his position is; he does not consider redemption and can only embrace more wrongdoing to strengthen his newfound position, as this is his sole consideration now.

Related Notes

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