Macbeth

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Banquo Character Analysis

A Scottish nobleman, general, and friend of Macbeth. He is also the father of Fleance. The weird sisters prophesies that while Banquo will never be King of Scotland, his descendants will one day sit on the throne. Banquo is as ambitious as Macbeth, but unlike Macbeth he resists putting his selfish ambition above his honor or the good of Scotland. Because he both knows the prophecy and is honorable, Banquo is both a threat to Macbeth and a living example of the noble path that Macbeth chose not to take. After Macbeth has Banquo murdered he is haunted by Banquo's ghost, which symbolizes Macbeth's terrible guilt at what he has become.

Banquo Quotes in Macbeth

The Macbeth quotes below are all either spoken by Banquo or refer to Banquo. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Ambition Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Macbeth published in 2003.
Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray's
In deepest consequence.
Related Characters: Banquo (speaker), Macbeth, Weird Sisters
Page Number: 1.3.135-138
Explanation and Analysis:

Macbeth and Banquo have just learned that Macbeth has become Thane of Cawdor, which confirms the first part of the witches’ prophecy. In response, Banquo notes that the stories told by the witches may be attempts to manipulate Macbeth.

These lines pose an important question about the role of supernatural forces in this tragedy: Are the witches dictating these mens’ destinies or do men maintain the ability to avoid or affect the prophecies being presented? When Banquo says they “win us to our harm,” he contends that the witches are actively exploiting him and Macbeth, yet he also notes that they “tell us truths”—which would seem to imply that nothing they recount is false. The resolution comes in a similarly paradoxical phrase: “Honest trifles” that “betray.” What Banquo means is that aspects of the witches’ prophecies are genuine, but that those components are ultimately insignificant. He believes that these “instruments of darkness” will use the prophecies to gain control over him and Macbeth and then later manipulate them.

Banquo thus argues that he and Macbeth should resist believing the witches too much, even though they have thus far been correct in their prophecies. This belief posits a worldview in which humans can act freely from the influence of supernatural forces—choosing to believe them or not. Macbeth, on the other hand, represents the position that direct adherence to their prophecies will allow him to thwart his fate. Shakespeare thus uses these two characters mixed responses to present two different ways of viewing the supernatural forces in his work: as either maneuvering or merely recounting fate.

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Banquo Character Timeline in Macbeth

The timeline below shows where the character Banquo appears in Macbeth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 2
Violence Theme Icon
...of Cawdor. Two Scottish nobleman have been especially brave, Macbeth (the Thane of Glamis) and Banquo. Macbeth killed Macdonald ("unseemed him from the nave to th' chops" (1.2.22)). (full context)
Act 1, scene 3
Fate Theme Icon
Macbeth and Banquo enter. The witches hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and "king hereafter"... (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Macbeth and Banquo are shocked. Macbeth asks Banquo if he now thinks that his children will be king.... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
As Banquo talks with Ross and Angus, Macbeth ponders the prophecy. If it's evil, why would it... (full context)
Act 1, scene 4
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
...executed. Duncan notes that you can't always trust a man by his outward show. Macbeth, Banquo, Ross, and Angus enter. Duncan says that even the gift of Cawdor is not as... (full context)
Act 1, scene 6
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain, Banquo, Lennox, Macduff, Ross, and Angus arrive at Inverness. Duncan comments on the sweetness of the... (full context)
Act 2, scene 1
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
It is after midnight in Inverness. Banquo talks with his son Fleance and notices the stars aren't shining. He prays for angels... (full context)
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Macbeth enters. Banquo tells Macbeth his sleep has been troubled by dreams of the weird sisters. Macbeth claims... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Manhood Theme Icon
Banquo says he'll be receptive to what Macbeth has to say provided he loses no honor... (full context)
Act 2, scene 3
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...horror and runs onstage. Macbeth and Lennox ask what happened, then run to Duncan's chamber. Banquo, Malcolm, and Donalbain wake. Lady Macbeth enters, pretending not to know what happened, and expressing... (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
In the royal palace of Forres, Banquo states his suspicion that Macbeth fulfilled the witches' prophecy by foul play. But he notes... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Macbeth enters, with other thanes and Lady Macbeth. He asks Banquo to attend a feast that evening. Banquo says he will, but that meanwhile he has... (full context)
Violence Theme Icon
Manhood Theme Icon
The two men (identified in the stage directions as "murderers") enter. Macbeth tells them it's Banquo's fault they're poor, then questions their manhood for bearing such offenses. The murderers agree to... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...But then Macbeth moans, "O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!" (3.2.37) because Banquo and Fleance are still alive. (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Banquo and Fleance enter. The murderers attack. Banquo is killed, but Fleance escapes. The murderers return... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...that one of the murderers is standing at the door. The murderer tells Macbeth that Banquo is dead but Fleance escaped. Macbeth comforts himself that Fleance will not be a threat... (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Manhood Theme Icon
...guests. He echoes her story about his fits, then leads a toast to the missing Banquo. (full context)
Act 3, scene 6
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...talk sarcastically about Macbeth and the too great similarities between the murders of Duncan and Banquo, with Donalbain and Malcolm accused of the first and Fleance blamed for the second. (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Macbeth wants to know one more thing: will Banquo's heirs have the throne? The witches perform a final conjuring. Eight kings appear walking in... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...and gentlewoman watch as Lady Macbeth then relives conversations with Macbeth after the murder of Banquo and hears an imaginary knocking and rushes off to bed. The doctor says the disease... (full context)