Significance of the Banquet Scene in Macbeth
The famous Banquet Scene in Macbeth (Act 3, Scene 4) is the discovery scene too (discovery of Macbeth’s guilt). Macbeth arranges the coronation banquet. The guests have come and are in their seat according to degrees. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth play the royal host and hostess, Macbeth appears more active and voluble while Lady Macbeth sits in her chair listless and passive at the beginning.
As the banquet proceeds, the first murderer appears at the door and Macbeth goes to hear the report that Banquo is killed but Fleance has escaped. The murderer is disposed of When Macbeth is about to take his seat, he finds to his great horror and surprise that the ghost of Banquo is seated in his place. Macbeth is terribly shaken. He looks to the air and asks the ghost not to shake his blood-stained head at him. He becomes distracted, but Lady Macbeth reasons with him and explains away the strange aberration to the guests. She tells Macbeth that it is his imagination. But Macbeth continues his ravings. He cannot understand how a murdered man can come out of the grave. When the ghost vanishes, he is himself again and apologizes to the guests.
The ghost re-enters and Macbeth is again thrown out of himself. He makes boastful utterances. He is ready to face a fierce Russian bear or the horned rhinoceros or the Persian tiger. He is prepared to meet any other shape than that which appears to him. He cannot endure the sight of the ghost. He asks the ghost to go. Macbeth speaks of the sight which makes him pale while it keeps Lady Macbeth unperturbed. Lady Macbeth unceremoniously dismisses the party wishing them all happy good night.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are left alone. He is himself again while she is completely exhausted. Macbeth’s conscience stings him and he is full of scorpions. Macduff has stayed away from the banquet and so he considers him to be the worst of these scorpions. He resolves to defend crime by crime and proposes to meet the witches.
The dramatic tension of the Banquet scene is cleverly maintained and balanced by Lady Macbeth’s resourcefulness in explaining Macbeth’s distraction and the violence of Macbeth’s visionary experience, an immediate and unexpected revelation of his guilt. Macbeth’s hypocrisy is shown by his first reference to Banquo (the graced person), Lady Macbeth’s cleverness by her telling the company that her husband will be worse if anyone speaks to him. Her reproaches to Macbeth are similar to these immediately after the murder. His private guilt is revealed publicly.
Banquo’s ghost appears when Macbeth mentions him. The irony is that only Macbeth can see the vision (‘What sights, my Lord’, asks Rosse). The scene is saturated with irony. Banquo complies with Macbeth’s wishes “Fail not our feast”, to which Banquo replies, “My Lord, I will not”. And he does not fail. It is ironical also in that the murder of Banquo which is intended to bring him security results in the discovery of his guilty.
Rosen speaks of another kind of irony which consists in “the terrible discrepancy between Macbeth’s expectation and the occasion’s actuality”. The ghost symbolises the grim Nemesis that overtakes Macbeth.
The Banquet scene throws light on the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Macbeth’s mental powers have undergone degeneration. His mind is completely unhinged, Conscience speaks to him through the terrible vision of the ghost. It is the gristly incarnation of his conscience – stricken soul. “He has had some strange childish notion that the second murder would not afflict his conscience if he did not wet his hands in Banquo’s blood“ (Grierson) But the notion proves wrong. We see Macbeth consolidating power by the network of spies, but the mention of Macduff means that the opposition is gathering head. Lady Macbeth’s reference to the season of all Nature’s sleep echoes Macbeth’s invocation to sleep. The banquet scene shows that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are “yet but young in deed”.
In this scene, Shakespeare has presented the supernatural just as a modern writer will make use of abnormal psychology. Scenically, the ghost of Banquo is not a pure hallucination like the dagger. The reality of air-drawn dagger is questioned by him. According to Foreman’s account and stage directions of the Folio, the ghost was visible to the audience. This establishes the objectivity of the ghost. Yet its psychological aspect cannot be ignored. “Shakespeare took ghosts, as he took witches from popular superstition and psychologised them, so far as the conditions of the stage allowed.” The ghost is indeed real but “of all Shakespeare’s ghosts it is the most ghostly”. (Grierson).
In the Banquet Scene, the attention is focused on the scene, the attention is focused on the psychological aspect of the plot – on Macbeth’s nervous tension and mental tortures and the lord’s growing suspicion of his innocence”. “Macbeth has now reached the highest point of all his greatness only to be pursued and tortured by the Nemesis of his own imagination”. (Cunningham). Moreover, the ghost scene builds up the tragedy’s atmosphere of gloom and terror.