Banquo's Ghost

Act 3 Scene 4 – Key Scene

In this scene, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth host a banquet for the Scottish thanes. A murderer tells Macbeth that he has been successful in killing Banquo, but that Fleance escaped. During the banquet, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo sitting at his place at the table. He is horrified. Lady Macbeth reassures the guests that it is a momentary fit and tells Macbeth to stop. The ghost disappears and Macbeth is calm. However, moments later, the ghost appears again. Macbeth is so distressed that Lady Macbeth tells the thanes to leave. Macbeth decides to visit the witches the next day.

You can take a look at the scene here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time, don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look

    Take a look at the scene. What stage directions are there in the text? Who speaks the most? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in black), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in green) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.

    Which of you have done this?
    What, my good lord?
    Thou canst not say I did it – never shake
    Thy gory locks at me.

    You, Banquo’s ghost, cannot accuse me of killing you.

    Gentlemen rise, his highness is not well.

    What do you think Ross and the thanes think about Macbeth’s unexpected behaviour?

    Lady Macbeth
    Sit, worthy friends, my lord is often thus,
    And hath been from his youth. Pray you keep seat,
    The fit is momentary, upon a thought
    He will again be well. If much you note him
    You shall offend him and extend his passion;

    Feed, and regard him not. Are you a man?

    If you make a fuss of him, you will make things worse.

    This question is directed at Macbeth. How public do you think this question is? How could you stage this question and the conversation that comes afterwards, without the thanes overhearing?

    Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that
    Which might appal the Devil.
    Lady Macbeth
    O proper stuff.
    This is the very painting of your fear:
    This is the air-drawn dagger which, you said,
    Led you to Duncan.
    O these flaws and starts,
    Impostors to true fear, would well become
    A woman’s story at a winter’s fire,
    Authorised by her grandam
    – shame itself,
    Why do you make such faces? When all’s done
    You look but on a stool.

    Ridiculous! This is all imaginary. This is exactly like when you had a vision of a dagger before you killed Duncan.

    This feeling is completely unreal in comparison to real fears.

    A fairy tale.

    Prithee, see there.
    Behold. Look. Lo, how say you?
    Why what care I, if thou canst nod, speak too.

    If charnel houses and our graves must send
    Those that we bury back, our monuments
    Shall be the maws of kites.

    Macbeth is responding to the ghost’s movements. What do you think the ghost is doing? Can the audience see the ghost or is it all in his imagination?

    If buried bodies rise, there will be no bones left in the graves - like in the stomach of a bird of prey.

    BANQUO’S GHOST vanishes.
    Lady Macbeth
    What, quite unmanned in folly?

    Have you completely lost sense of who you are as a man, with your silliness?

    If I stand here, I saw him.
    (Text edited for rehearsals by Polly Findlay and Zoe Svendsen)
  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out? What do you think are the key moments in this scene? What does it reveal about Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as characters?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of Macbeth at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for this scene feel right to you?