contrasting two characters

During
an individual’s life, their passion, determination, and beliefs are often
challenged as they are faced with tempting situations. This can cause an
individual to change his or her perspective on what is good or bad. However,
people fail to realize that a single wrong decision could be the difference
between life or death.  In William
Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the main character, Macbeth, can be seen to have
the contradicting role of the character Banquo due to the differences between
their moralities and loyalty. Shakespeare often uses Macbeth as a
representation of evil, while Banquo is used as a representation of good. In
the play, the distinction between the two is demonstrated by their faith (or
lack thereof) in the witches, their passion for royalty, and their divergent
personalities. 

            The play immediately begins with the
introduction of the theme of the play, reversal of moral order, when the
witches say their famous dialogue, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”
(Shakespeare I.i.11), and an air of finality is provided. The individual belief
of both Macbeth and Banquo regarding the witches is then introduced. After
receiving the prophecies given by the witches, Macbeth begins to question their
credibility, whilst still remaining hopeful that they may be true. Throughout
the play, Macbeth maintains his belief in the prophecies, which goes to show
that Macbeth is susceptible to manipulation, considering it only takes a few
favourable prophecies to convince him. In Macbeth and Banquo’s first encounter
with the witches, Macbeth is intrigued and wanting to find out more information
from the strange women, to further his is

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understanding of
their words. As he says, “Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more: /…Say
from whence you owe this strange intelligence, or why upon this blasted heath
you stop our way with such prophecies greeting? Speak, I charge you” (I.iii.70-78).
Macbeth has a strong belief that the witches are aware of what lays in the
future, further proving his faith in the presence of the witches and the
revelations they bring. The logic behind his easy faith may be because one of
the prophecies is already accurate. As soon as the second prophecy is attained,
Macbeth’s faith in the witches further develops as he is so convinced that the
final prophecy will also come true. He begins to believe that he will one day
rise in power, which results in the murder of King Duncan. The fact that all
three predictions made by the witches assured Macbeth of a pleasant life in the
future, is the reason why his beliefs can be easily manipulated. Although
Macbeth places complete faith in the witches, it is ironic that Macbeth
addresses them as “unpleasant speakers”, which refers to the witches failing to
tell him how to achieve the prophecies. Correspondingly, in spite of knowing
that the witches were suspicious, Macbeth decides to look past any doubts he
had and still place his trust in their prophecies. 

            Banquo on the other hand, being the
foil to Macbeth’s character, is not deceived by the three witches. Banquo is
able to sense evil, whilst Macbeth, evidently is not. Unlike Macbeth, Banquo
does not immediately give in to the prophecies given by the evil spirits,
instead he thinks logically as he questions them and says, “What, can the devil
speak true?” (I.iii.107). A devil is a known symbol of evil and since Banquo
refers to the witches as such, it further proves his lack of faith in their
words. Banquo’s mention of evil should alert Macbeth, but instead Macbeth
decides to disregard his friend’s advice. Banquo observes his stunned companion
when the rise to his power is mentioned. Out of curiosity, Banquo asks the witches
to speak to him as well if they can truly “…look into the seeds of time”. He
says to them, “Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear your favours, nor
your hate” (I.iii.60). The contrast between Macbeth and Banquo is apparent as
Banquo is much more cautious when dealing with the witches, whereas Macbeth is
simply eager to hear more. These witches drive Macbeth to act in relation to
the prophecies; killing to fulfill a prophecy or eradicating threats to his
throne. While Banquo acknowledges the premonitions, he does not imprudently act
on them. Instead, Banquo is hesitant to act on the witches estimates.

            Macbeth’s ridiculous passion for
royalty ultimately fuels his greed for authority. Once Macbeth is aware of the
prophecies, his subconscious begins to get the best of him, making him neglect
his morals and values. This is evident as he says, “if good [being Thane of
Cawdor], why do I yield to that suggestion, whose horrid images doth unfix my
hair, and make my seated heart knock at my ribs, against the use of nature?”
(I.iii.134-137). Shakespeare uses this speech as a key to an understanding of
Macbeth’s character and introduces the internal conflict he is facing, as dark
thoughts begin to appear. His moral awareness prevents him from thinking that murder
is acceptable, nevertheless he intuitively continues to battle with the vicious
images that appear in his mind. The hamartia of the play is reached as
Macbeth’s character is developed and his tragic judgement leads him to consider
the assassination of the king. Macbeth evidently becomes more covetous as he
goes against his teachings and plots the murder of King Duncan, simply because
being Thane of Cawdor and Glamis is not enough for him. Macbeth sets the path
for his own self destruction because he lets his ambition override his moral
conscience. In one of his dialogues, Macbeth says, “Stars, hide your fires! Let
no light see my black and deep desires: The eye wink at the hand; yet let that
be, which the eye fears, when it is done, to see” (I.iv.50-53). At this moment,
Macbeth feels that his evil deed must be accomplished in utter darkness, not
only because it is wicked, but in case it is discovered. His determination
blinds him from realizing what is right and wrong. Lady Macbeth also plays a
significant role in the first murder, as Macbeth’s desire is echoed and
emphasized through her as she encourages him to go through with his first great
crime. Macbeth’s desire to be king changes his mindset greatly as he finds
murder to be a justified solution. His passion for royalty provides a evident
explanation as to why the story of Macbeth has become a tragedy.

            As a result of Banquo’s thought
process, another contrasting quality between the two characters is discovered.
While Macbeth ultimately capitulates to the longing to become king, Banquo’s
doubt does not prompt the desire to fulfill his prophecy. As always, Banquo
proves that he is trustworthy as he remains sincere and faithful to King
Duncan, owing his own success to him, “There if I grow, the harvest is your
own” (I.iv.33-34). Antithetical to Macbeth, Banquo remains humble in his
gratitude to the King, and his increasing importance will only enlarge his
devotion to the King. As mentioned before, the reasoning behind Macbeth’s
submission to temptation is partially due to his wife. This may be the ideal
differentiation factor between Macbeth and Banquo and their desire for power.
While Macbeth has a wife to induce him with his actions, Banquo has a son to
set an example for. Banquo understands his responsibilities as a father and he
knows he has to be a good role model for his son. In spite of having a son,
Banquo is still faced with the struggle of giving into thoughts that emerge as
a result of his passion for royalty. Despite this, he manages to avoid going
down such a slippery slope. At this moment of fragility 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 repose!”
(II.i.6-9). The audience relives this as they came upon this same conflict
before, but instead of Banquo voicing his struggles, it was Macbeth. His honour
stays intact, because although his thoughts turn to evil in the slightest, he
succeeds in preserving his morals and values. When Banquo refers to “merciful
powers” it may be his way of asking for God’s help and guidance to keep his
thoughts virtuous and right-minded. Banquo tends to think things through,
instead of acting absurdly and he does not let his moment of “slipping away” get
the best of him.

            As tragic as Macbeth becomes
throughout the play, his paranoia is also a factor that leads to his ultimate
downfall, physically and morally. After the assassination of the king, Macbeth
becomes overly protective of his position and is paranoid of anybody that may
act as a threat to it or know how he attained it. Moreover, Macbeth suffers
sleep deprivation as his guilty conscience begins to get the best of him. His
main concern is that someone may be plotting his murder as he did to the previous
king and his first suspect is Banquo. Macbeth knows that Banquo voices his
scepticism in regards of the methods he may have taken in order to become King.
He also knows that Banquo possesses nobility that Macbeth has lost, which
inculcates in him not only jealousy, but fear. Macbeth has become so paranoid
that he once again places his faith in the witches prophecies that Banquo’s
descendants will be of royal succession and carries out a plan for the murder
of not only Banquo, but his son Fleance, as well. At another point in the play,
Macbeth’s suspicious attitude comes to life once more, as soon as the next 3
apparitions are given to him by the witches. The first being that Macbeth
should be aware of Macduff, however, the second apparition completely
contradicts this by conveying that anything born of a woman cannot harm him. At
this time, however, children conceived by C-sections were not considered to be
born of woman, and later it is revealed that this is exactly the case of
Macduff’s birth. Although the second apparition at the time should be enough to
reassure Macbeth, he still is hesitant when it comes to Macduff and his
intentions. It is easily perceived that Macbeth’s way of dealing with his fears
and suspicious thoughts is to simply get rid of whatever may be causing them.
He says, “But yet I’ll make assurance double sure, and take a bond of fate:
thou shalt not live…” (IV.i.83-84). Though overall Macbeth gains satisfaction
from the apparitions, he still feels it is necessary to murder Macduff, to
ensure his position at the throne. Macbeth’s suspicion deeply connects to his
faith, as the witches convey his future to him and, he believes them without
doubt.

            Banquo is not only able to maintain
a peaceful sleep because of his disinclination to act and fulfill the
prognosis’, but also because Banquo has a different personality than Macbeth.
Banquo continues to be a foil of Macbeth, and shows the importance of his
values to him. Although he is suspicious of how Macbeth gains his kingship, he
does not let that weaken his loyalty to his friend. Banquo rather voice his
opinion and allow it to be heard, unlike Macbeth, who likes to use his hands
and murder those he finds suspicious. He states, “Thou hast it now, king,
Cawdor, Glamis, all, /…and I fear thou play’dst most foully for’t,”
(III.i.1-3). Despite knowing that Macbeth played a role in the murder of King
Duncan, Banquo’s loyalty remains with Macbeth as he graciously accepts the
invitation to Macbeth’s formal banquet. Banquo frankly displays his intelligence
as he is the only character that understands Macbeth’s foul actions.
Furthermore, once the audience is aware of who each character suspects,
Shakespeare shows the contrast between Banquo and Macbeth. Macbeth’s faith in
the witches contradicts Banquo’s suspicion towards the sisters. He states, “The
instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
in deepest consequence.”(I.iii.124-126). Banquo warns Macbeth of the witches’
prophecies, as he suspects the very nature of them. Oftentimes, beautiful
pictures can be painted by dark forces, though practically, only part of the
picture can become a reality.  Banquo
remains practical concerning the future of his progeny, knowing that believing
the witches and their predictions may cause intense consequences. Banquo
believes in destiny, and he knows that if the prophecy is destined to come
true, it will fulfill itself just as it is planned to.

            In essence, the theme of good vs.
evil is highlighted throughout the play especially by the characters of Banquo
and Macbeth. Some order is restored when Malcolm becomes king, which resolves
the commotion created by Macbeth’s first great crime. The audience is reminded
of the influence faith, passion, and personality holds as to how the story of
life plays out. It is important that every decision is thoroughly thought
through, especially if it involves the life of another human being. Admittedly,
it is tempting to concede the thoughts of darkness and evil, and it is not easy
to proceed. However, as long as the values and morals that make someone a
better person are not broken, one will undergo a renovation enhancing their
character internally, as well as socially. 

 

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