Banquet Scene It is universally agreed that Scene IV in Act III of the play, Macbeth, is the most important scene. This is also the turning point in the story. Commonly known as the Banquet scene, it has become the subject matter for scholarly and critical discussion throughout the world. The subsequent events in the play are set in motion by the frame of mind of Macbeth molded by the developments in this scene. The witches’ prediction too, in the form of Fleance’s escape, gets proved partially in this scene, thereby, precipitating the confusion in Macbeth. Macbeth looks back to his lost days in life, and gives a hint of the inevitable to follow. For the first time he realizes the real trap he is in. Altogether, the tragic hero grows to the highest point in his life, only to slide down. From now on, only the fall can be expected. A brief look at this turning point in the play, at its central point, is the focus of this paper.
The events in the Banquet scene are brief. The guests arrive at the castle for the feast. No sooner are the guests seated in order, the murderer appears with the news of the murder of Banquo. Macbeth’s praises for the “best of the cutthroats” get nullified as he gets the news of Fleance fleeing, giving credentials to the witches’ prophesy. “Then comes my fits again” and “now I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in” to “doubts and fears”. The order and peace is disturbed. The man in him is again questioned as Banquo’s ghost appears or reappears. The guilt in him provokes him to utter the words “What man dare, I dare”. Lady Macbeth draws parallel to his fear by recalling what happened in the dagger scene.
No one present there is able to realize the real fear which upsets the hero. His restlessness and fear is, in fact, with the “horrible shadow”. Though it is the horrible shadow of Banquo which is causing him fits, the actual shadow is his own guilt ridden self. The realization of this is, in a way, the turning point in the life of the tragic hero. His “strange infirmity” is nothing to those who know him. The irony is that only Macbeth knows his real self, not even his wife can know his inner conflict. By killing Duncan Macbeth has not only “killed sleep”, but also the man in him. To cover up this guilt, he makes senseless claims like that he can challenge even a bear, a rhinoceros, or a tiger, But he cannot challenge the shadow. When the shadow is out, “I am a man again”.
In fact, all the words coming out from Macbeth in the Banquet scene spring from his unconscious self. “I am in blood/ Steeped so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Macbeth can neither go back to his old noble self, nor can he escape from his fall. The consequence, he knows, is the perpetual loss of sleep. “Come we’ll to sleep” is easily said, but it echoes the impossibility of a peaceful sleep at this side of his grave. All the witches, including his wife, pushed him to this perilous situation. He is now totally dependent on them: “I will….to the weird sisters”.
Everyone knows that Macbeth is a play about evil and damnation. This is the central theme in the play, though it is motivated by overvaulting ambition. Evil is everywhere, throughout the play. But, it appears in a concentrated form, at the microscopic level, in the fourth scene of Act 111. All the events in this scene heighten this theme, along with the hero reaching his full size. The scene begins by highlighting the importance of order, but it ends in disorder. This represents the overall structure of the play. As already hinted, the most important development is the exhibition of Macbeth’s inner torture, with his own shadows. His realization that “blood will have blood” seems to be the strongest reminder to the readers. The inescapable retribution is given due stress here. No sinner can escape from being punished. This message is clear and absolute. Through flashback the noble past is also reminded here to reflect the intensity of the impending loss. Macbeth, thus, becomes a metaphor for the sin as well as for the retribution. The inner torture is the most unbearable thing for any human being. As A. C. Bradley rightly pointed out, “though Banquo is dead and even his Ghost is conquered, that inner torture is unassuaged” (Bradley, p.177).
Matching to the action in the play is the poetry used in this scene. The poetic language is superb. The images used here, like blood, shadow, and sleep are repeated everywhere in the play. They are the ones with which the emotions of the tragic hero are shaped. There are one hundred and fifty lines (145 to be precise) in the Banquet scene. The word “blood” appears only in the middle. From then onwards, Shakespeare repeats the word about six times, supported with the word “strange”. When there was order initially, Shakespeare is careful in the use of images. The moment chaos sets in, the language correspondingly changes. Finally, the disorder is clearly established. As Macbeth declares that there will be no more scanning of actions, the readers (spectators) can anticipate the “worst”. The mention of Macduff and the necessity of visiting the witches again clearly point out the events which will inevitably follow. There is also the hint of Lady Macbeth loosing her hold on her husband. The tragic fall is set in motion. The sympathy of the readers is retained too, in spite of Macbeth’s evil designs. Altogether, there can be no dispute that Scene 1V in Act 111 is the turning point in the play.
Bradley, A. C. “Shakespearean Tragedy”, Macbeth, Ed. By Sylvan Barnet, New York: A Signet Classic, 1963. P. 166- 182.