1997 AP Question: Novels and plays often include scenes of weddings, funerals, parties, and other social occasions. Such scenes may reveal the values of the characters and the society in which they live. Select a novel or play which includes such a scene and, in a focused essay, discuss the contribution the scene makes to the meaning of the work as a whole.
William Shakespeares Macbeth is a tragic play involving a man so driven for power that the lengths he will go to achieve it will drag him into a pit of evil that he will never be able to climb back from. We see Macbeths ultimate point of collapse in the banquet scene of the play, just after Banquo has been killed. This scene is the turning point in the play, where we witness firsthand the reality of Macbeths inner turmoil and his disturbed soul which he can no longer hide.
The scene takes place in the banquet hall of the palace where King Macbeth has just entered with his wife, nobles, lords, and attendants. Everything is described to be in perfect order, in sharp contrast with the previous scene in which Banquo was killed with the darkness surrounding him. The room is bright and the table is beautifully prepared. Macbeth seems to be in complete control of the situation, though the audience knows the unrest he is feeling inside. As Macbeth and his queen mingle with their guests, one of the three murderers enters with blood on his face. Macbeth soon learns that they succeeded in killing Banquo but his son Fleance escaped. He becomes pale at the news and replies:
Then comes my fit again. I had else been perfect, whole as the marble, founded as the rock, as broad and general as the casing air. But now I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in to saucy doubts and fears. (p. 101)
Macbeth is stunned and begins to unravel with the news but he tries to regain his composure in order to give a toast to his guests. Macbeths semblance of equanimity is, much like the banquet, a false appearance of order and control.
As Macbeth is giving his toast, the ghost of Banquo enters the hall, unnoticed by everyone else, and sits in his seat. When Macbeth has finished and is asked to sit, he says that that table is full; of course everyone thinks that he is mad because they cant see Banquos ghost sitting in Macbeths seat. The king makes himself look even worse when he publicly incriminates himself by saying to the ghost, Thou canst not say I did it. (p. 103) Although no one in the hall, including his wife, knows that he has had Banquo killed, they all know that someone killed Duncan and they believe the King just admitted to it.
The nobleman Ross is able to recognize that something is wrong and tells everyone that they can leave but Lady Macbeth, always wanting to be in power, takes control of the situation and tells everyone that her husband is just having one of his common fits and that it will be over shortly. Meanwhile, she ridicules her husband, asking him such questions as Are you a man? (p. 103) Macbeth grows defensive and says that he has just looked at something that the devil himself is afraid to look at. He also explains how strange of an occurrence it is to see a ghost. His wife continues to taunt him though and the entire dialogue serves as a flashback to an earlier scene where she was trying to convince him to kill Duncan.
In an attempt to restore his male ego which is being crushed by the queen, Macbeth challenges the ghost to speak: If thou canst nod, speak too. (p. 105) The apparition obviously becomes nervous because it disappears for a few minutes. Macbeth again tries regaining his composure; he apologizes to his guests and attempts to complete his toast. He even goes as far as mentioning Banquo and how he misses him in his absence. I drink to th general joy o th whole table and to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss. Would he were here! To all and him we thirst, and all to all. (p. 105)
Banquos ghost returns though and in order to prove his manliness, Macbeth challenges it to a fight.
What man dare. I dare. Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear, the armed rhinocerous, of th Hyrcan tiger; take any shape but that, and my firm nerves shall never tremble. Or be alive again and dare me to the desert with thy sword. If trembling I inhabit then, protest me the baby of a girl. Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mockry, hence! (p. 107)
Macbeth says that he will fight the ghost in any form other than that of a ghost, even if it becomes the real Banquo again. This is a slight hint of the brave and noble warrior that Macbeth used to be and is used to show what he has diminished into. The queen is very upset that Macbeth has ruined the banquet and after all of the guests leave she chastises him for the chaos that he caused.
The terrible ending of the banquet scene is in complete contrast with the orderly beginning, just as Macbeths cowardly self is in complete contrast with the valiant and righteous warrior that he used to be. Macbeth reveals to the audience the depth of his tortured mind when he says:
It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move and trees to speak; augurs and understood relations have by maggot pies and choughs and rooks brought forth the secretst man of blood. (p. 109)
Macbeth is terrified of what he has done and knows that his sins will have their vengeance. The banquet scene is filled with symbolism and irony and is used to show what Macbeth has deteriorated into since the beginning of the play. There is no hope left for his ravenous soul; the witches planted a seed of greed into his mind and no one is able to save him.