Macbeth Comparison - the contrast between Macbeth and Banquo

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Macbeth Comparison Essay

“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare is a play in which a central concern is clarified by the contrast between two characters, Macbeth and Banquo. They are noble and well respected soldiers who react very differently after receiving a prophecy regarding their futures. Through their actions, the dramatist explores the theme of the corrupting power of unchecked ambition, whose negative effects strongly emphasises the contrast between the characters.

Prior to the prophecy, Macbeth and Banquo are introduced as admirable figures in Act 1, scene 2. After leading their men to victory in battle, they are described as “As sparrow eagles, or the hare the lion.” A lion would never fear a hare, so too an eagle a sparrow. This suggests that Macbeth and Banquo are incredibly fearless warriors who can always fight their way to victory on the battlefront. Furthermore, Macbeth is also compared to “Bellona’s bridegroom.” Bellona was the Roman goddess of War, emphasising that Macbeth is a godlike figure of war who is strong and mighty on the battlefield.

We are introduced to the play’s central concern in Act 1, scene 3 when the two characters react very differently to the prophecies given by three witches. After receiving the prophecy, Banquo sees Macbeth “start,” which shows that Macbeth flinches as he feels fear, suggesting he immediately imagines himself as king due to unnatural means. He also seems “wrapt withal,” which suggests he is lost in thought and has fallen into a dreamy state of bliss. This brings about the theme of the corrupting power of unchecked ambition as Macbeth ambition to be king is great enough to make him think of cruel thoughts and render him into a trance. In addition, he commands the witches to stay and tell him more:

“Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more.”

Macbeth is clearly fascinated with the prophecies the witches have told him. He knows that he could only become king through wicked ways, yet he ignores his better judgement and puts his trust in the witches due to his great ambition. Therefore his unchecked ambition leaves him vulnerable to the deadly influence of the witches. This vulnerability illustrates the corruptive powers of unchecked ambition. Meanwhile, Banquo wants the witches to continue speaking because he is curious as to what they want to say, and he is fully aware that they are “devils.” Banquo also gives a warning to Macbeth:

“to win us at our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths;
Win us with honest trifles, to betray us
In deepest consequences.”

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Banquo recognises that the witches could be telling lies in order to win his and Macbeth’s trust to betray them in the future and he warns Macbeth of this. This in fact foreshadows Macbeth’s fate as he puts in faith in the witches, but results in his downfall. Banquo is also warning himself to not listen to the witches, which shows he is cautious and wary of the evil that surrounds him. The fact that he warns himself not to fall into traps and commit evil deeds reinforces his morality and principles.

The contrast between Macbeth and Banquo’s characters is ...

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