Why is Banquo such an important character in Shakespeares play Macbeth?

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Why is Banquo such an important character in Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’?

Banquo serves as a dramatic foil to highlight the character of the title role of Macbeth. There are superficial similarities between the two characters, but, beneath the surface, there is significant contrast between them. The use of contrast as a dramatic device is an effective way to focus the audience’s attention on the aspects of Macbeth’s character Shakespeare wants to emphasise.

In the beginning of the play, Banquo is presented as a parallel figure to Macbeth. Both have fought courageously for their King and are good friends. Both have promises made to them by the Witches. But there the similarity ends. Banquo is loyal, wise, truthful and honourable. Macbeth is dishonest, power-hungry and weak. It is significant that Macbeth receives the title of the former traitor, Thane of Cawdor. Both are multi-faceted characters, however. Shakespeare was able to create three dimensional roles and Macbeth still has redeeming features: he has pangs of conscience, for example, and it is he who tells us about Banquo’s goodness (his ‘royalty of nature’), showing that he can still distinguish good from evil. Banquo, on the other hand, stays silent about the meeting with the witches and does not reveal his suspicions that Macbeth ‘playdst most foully’ to be King. We wonder if this is because he was told his own sons would be kings. Perhaps he has an ulterior motive in staying silent and is not purely good after all. Shakespeare underlines the lure of power throughout the play.

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The contrast between Banquo and Macbeth is first made apparent in Act 1 scene 3. Their reactions to the Witches’ prophesies are so different. Macbeth is ‘rapt’ according to Banquo. Banquo links the witches with evil: ‘what, can the Devil speak true?’, showing his wisdom and insight, remaining calm and sceptical. Macbeth, in contrast, is already in tune with the witches, which Shakespeare cleverly suggests by his opening line ‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen’, echoing their own words at the end of scene 1: ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’. Banquo foreshadows the future ...

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