Macbeth was written by Shakespeare between 1603 and 1606, during James I’s reign. It is considered one of his darkest and most powerful tragedies. The story begins as one of a loyal and honourable hero of Scotland. However, Macbeth 's character changes gradually during the play. A powerful ambition for power causes him to make sinister decisions that bring him only despair, guilt and madness. One of these decisions is to kill his friend Banquo because the witches that appeared at the beginning of the story said in their prophesy: “Thou shalt get kings, tough thou be none” (I, iii, line 67). They mean to say that even though Banquo will not be a king himself, he will be the father of future kings. By taking this into account, I am going to analyse how Banquo serves as a foil to Macbeth in terms of honour. Foil, in literature, is a character that is compared or contrasted to a second character so as to highlight the characteristics of the other. I consider honour in terms of loyalty, allegiance to moral principles and the ability of knowing and doing what is morally right. I am going to explore this hypothesis by taking account of the beginning of the play up to Banquo’s death, in Act III, scene iii.
Macbeth is the epitome of the Prince described by Maquiavelli who takes it for granted that man is incapable of good action, since he is morally evil. Maquiavelli stated that: “[...] all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it [...]” (Spencer, 1961, p.117). The Renaissance is characterised by a basic conflict between man’s dignity and his misery. Each one of the interrelated orders that set up the frame of the Elizabethan’s way of thinking is being gradually destroyed mainly by three philosophers of that time (Maquiavelli was one of them) who has questioned the cosmological, natural and political orders. Macbeth eagerly accepts the witches’ prophecy, that he will become king, as true,
References: • Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Third edition. England. Longman. 1965. • Spencer, Theodore. Shakespeare and the Nature of Man. Second edition. New York. Macmillan. 1961.