Quiller-Couch says that Banquo serves as a foil to Macbeth. He brings the character of Macbeth into greater relief. Macbeth and Banquo are to an extent complementary to each other in revealing each other’s character.
Banquo like Macbeth is a mighty warrior and fearless hero. He wins equal laurels in quelling the rebellion by the Thane of Cawdor. The captain who brought the news of the war described both Banquo and Macbeth as Bellona’s bridegroom and valour’s minion. He, too, like Macbeth. “meant to bathe in recking wounds, or memorize another Golgotha.” The king gives him equal honour when he says,
That hast no less deserved, nor must be known
No less to have done so, let me infold thee
And hold thee to my heart.
Macbeth himself acknowledges the courage and valour of Banquo. He even feels a bit envious of the noble qualities in him.
It is much he dares,
And, to that dauntless temper of his mind
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour
To act in safety.
He is usually supposed to be very gentle, innocent and noble. But the truth is that in him, too, germs of guilt and ambition lay latent. When the witches met Macbeth and Banquo on the deserted heath, his heart was probably free of the germs of guilt. He was honest and innocent and this is why he behaved so boldly with them. He was surprised at Macbeth’s horror at the pronouncement of such happy prophecies.
Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair?
His innocence and purity of heart infused courage and boldness in him and so he asked the witches,
If you can look into the seeds of time.
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear,
Your favours nor your hate.
But Banquo cannot long resist the power of the evil Germs of guilt and ambition imperceptibly penetrate into his heart. Macbeth clearly suggests what slumbered in his heart when he tells Banquo.
Think upon what hath changed, and at more time,
Let us speak our free hearts each to other,
Banquo promptly replies “very gladly.”
Again on a second meeting Macbeth says to him.
If you will cleave to my consent when its,
It shall make honour for you.
Banquo at once replies,
So I lose none
In seeking to augment it…………
The cursed thoughts weigh heavy on his heart: he tries to resist them but he does not succeed. He says.
A heavy summons lies like lead upon me And yet I would not sleep: merciful powers Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
Gives way to in response.
The poison works in him rapidly, so that the Banquo he (Macbeth) kills not the innocent soldier who met the witches and doffed their prophecies aside. nor the man who prayed to be delivered from the temptation of his dreams.”
Also Read :
- Compare Hamlet with Macbeth, Othello and other Tragedies
- “The Pardoner’s Tale” is the finest tale of Chaucer
- Prologue to Canterbury Tales – (Short Ques & Ans)
- Confessional Poetry – Definition & meaning
- Line By Line Explanation Of The Poem The Eve of St. Agnes
He displays rare virtues of restraint and tactfulness after the murder of Duncan. Banquo had already known, at least vaguely the cursed thoughts germinating in the mind of Macbeth. He knew that in entering the castle of Macbeth, Duncan was entering into the jaws of death. He could have warned the king and saved his life if he had willed. But he did no such thing because he had yielded to evil. He dreamt of the distant future that his sons would reign after Macbeth. He could have revealed the mystery of the king’s murder but he held his tongue tied because that way he would be defeating his own end. He exposes the secret of his heart in the following soliloquy after the murder of the king.
Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all
As the weired women promised, and, I fear.
Thou playdst most foully for it; yet it was said
It should not stand in thy posterity,
But that myself should be the root and father
Of many kings.
This soliloquy clearly suggests that Banquo is selfish, ambitious and sinful like his rival Macbeth.
Banquo’s restraint and temperance after the murder of Duncan deserve praise. It is admirable that having known the murderer and the cause of murder, he behaves cooly and quietly. He is really the man and not Macbeth, “who could look like the time to beguile the time.” He really looks like an innocent flower but he was the serpent under it. He does not fail to flatter Macbeth after his accession to the throne of Scotland Banquo says,
Let your highness
Command upon me; to the which my duties tie
Are with a most indissoluble
For ever knit.
But his over-consciousness makes Banquo suspicious and restless. His mind is filled with misgivings. He cannot sleep at night. He is haunted by the darkness of the night and keeps his sword in his hand even at mid-night. He fears.
There’s husbandry in heaven
Their candles are all out.
Surely his fears were not ill founded. He suspected Macbeth and Macbeth got him killed. Thus, Banquo begins as a noble and virtuous man, a faithful general and formidable warrior. But germs of evil and guilt penetrate into his heart and through imperceptible degrees lead to sin whose “wages is death.” So Bradley suggests that Banquo’s life and fall make us realize the “incalculability of evil.” Evil does exist-evil that is potent enough to duffle and corrupt the purest and the holiest of men. In Bradley’s words, “Banquo’s story, if truly apprehended produces this impression quite as strongly as the more terrific stories of the chief characters, and perhaps even more clearly, in as much as he, nearer to average human nature, has obviously at first quite conscience’ and uses with evident sincerity the language of religion.”