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Macbeth: Banquet Scene

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Macbeth: Banquet Scene

The Banquet scene in "Macbeth" is one of the most moving scenes and so far as the tragedy of ‘Macbeth' is concerned, it is tremendous in impact and intensity, dramatic in impact. The scene shows a perceptible degeneration of Macbeth's mental powers which is the inevitable consequence of his murderous deeds. It is the crisis of the play where from the reversal of Macbeth's fortune begins. The scene records Macbeth's guilty conscience taking the most horrible form in the shape of Banquo's ghost. It also shows Macbeth's gradual overcoming of the qualms of conscience.
Shakespeare has used ghosts in his other main tragedies like "Julius Caesar" and "Hamlet". In the opening scene of "Hamlet" the ghost is seen by Mercellas, Barnerdo, Horatio and finally by Hamlet. The ghost that appears in Gertrude's bed chamber is a projection of Hamlet's stricken conscience and is seen by Hamlet alone. Likewise in the Banquet scene, Banquo's ghost is seen by Macbeth alone. That they see ghosts is both with Macbeth and Hamlet the strongest proof of their imaginative faculty. In fact Shakespeare's world of spirit appears as the physical embodiment of the images conjured up by lively fancy and the presence of the apparition is felt only by those who have an excitable imagination.
However, the ghost in the Banquet scene of ‘Macbeth' is not merely a stage device, but an integral part of the tragedy. The ghost in ‘Macbeth' can be interpreted as the subjective projection of Macbeth's own troubled sense of morality.
This scene has been preceded by the murder of Banquo. After his murder, feasting at Macbeth's palace is significantly emphasized. Hospitality is bounteous. But the appearance of the murderer withdraws Macbeth's attention. The murderer appears with ominous tidings helping to set the tempo of the play. In reply to his: "My lord, his throat is cut That I did for him"- Macbeth replies in a tone naively innocent irony: "Thou art the best o'th' cut-throats Yet he's good that did the like for Fleance If thou did'st it, thou art the nonpareil".
This statement of his provides a clear psychological analysis of his character. This Macbeth is a man who is rapidly passing out of the range of sympathy. However, when the murderer reports that Fleance has managed to escape, safety eludes his grasp, and fear again seizes him.
Against this life force of feasting, social friendliness and order, comes a death, a ghost smashing life forms with phantasms of evil and guilt, an unreality, a nothing, like the air drawn dagger creating chaos of order and reality. It is the conquest of the real and the life giving by the unreal and deathly.
Macbeth has not murdered Banquo with his own hands but has procured it, because there is some strange notion in his mind that the thought of a dead man will not haunt him this time like that of Duncan if the deed is done by some other hands. But with the appearance of Banquo's ghost instead of peace descending on him from the depths of his nature, his half-murdered conscience rises, and the horror of the night of hi first murder returns to him.
Indeed the terrible vision has thrown Macbeth into a state of frenzy and it is really a subjective projection of his own guilty conscience. We get a deep impression of the moral side of his character as well. Before the murder of Duncan, Macbeth refers to "the compunctious visiting of nature", after the murder of Banquo , the ghost incarnates it. It brings out the magnitude of his crime and his awareness of it. Macbeth has disturbed the moral order of universe and the ghost is the embodiment of that disorder and confusion.
The Banquet scene reflects in a good deal, a perceptible change of Lady Macbeth. He is now a spent force: exhausted so much so of life's torment, that she requests Macbeth to welcome her guests on her behalf- "Pronounce it for me sir, to all our friends For my heart speaks they are welcome". The last flicker of her strong nature is nevertheless shown here. But we feel that Lady Macbeth who had once abjured all pity and unsexed herself, who had invoked the spirits, who had banished all scruples out of Macbeth's mind- is no more. She has ceased to be the dominant force behind all Macbeth's actions. No longer, does she know his innermost secrets. Yet in this scene, she puts on the sternest control upon her nerves to save him from blunders. But soon afterwards we find her completely overtaken retribution in the ‘Sleep walking scene'.
Thus in the ultimate analysis the Banquet scene remains to be the most poignant moment in the tragedy of Macbeth. It destroys his soul and hardens him gradually into a criminal.
His wife, who has so long seen as a great partner of his deeds, slides to the background. With one bold stroke in the scene Shakespeare has affected a perfect balance between visual interest and psychological significance of the play. Dealing with the age old concept of supernatural and blending it with the happy audacity of his genius he has given to the Banquet scene a meaning, a dimension.

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