Below, we’ll take a look at Banquo’s and Fleance’s importance to Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth”. There are a lot of different ways to analyse his character and different ways to bring them into the analysis of other themes, so even if you don’t get a Banquo or Fleance-focused question, you can still use them or write about them in your essay.


Thanks for reading!

If you find this useful, you can look at our complete Macbeth course here. Use the code “SHAKESPEARE” to receive a 50% discount!

This course includes: 

A full set of video lessons on each key element of the text: summary, themes, setting, characters, context, attitudes, analysis of key quotes, essay questions, essay examples
Downloadable documents for each video lesson 
A range of example B-A* / L7-L9 grade essays, both at GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-Level (age 16+) with teacher comments and mark scheme feedback
A bonus Macbeth workbook is designed to guide you through each play scene!


BANQUO

  • Macbeth’s long term friend and ally – another lord and war general in the King’s army. 
  • Morally superior to Macbeth – he mistrusts the witches and doesn’t act on their prophecies, he is not tempted by evil. He calls them ‘instruments of darkness’, showing that he knows they are forces of evil, and that darkness works through them. 
  • Banquo has thoughts of ambition, such as when he says ‘Speak then to me’ to the witches in 1.3, showing that he also is interested in their prophecies and his future. Yet, crucially, he is passive – he does nothing to act on their words.
  • You could argue that even though he dies, his descendants become kings so in a way he has succeeded where Macbeth has failed because his bloodline lives on as monarchs. Macbeth is jealous of Banquo’s lineage coming to power, he states that the witches “hailed him [Banquo] father to a line of kings. / Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown / And put a barren scepter in my grip” in Act 3.1, resolving that all his actions to take power from Duncan will really benefit himself only in the short term, and Banquo’s family instead will profit in the long run. 
  • One of the most important quotations for Banquo is the stage direction ‘ENTER THE GHOST OF BANQUO and sits in Macbeth’s place’ in 3.4 – though he has died, he is still a presence in the play – an especially haunting presence for Macbeth, who failed to kill his son Fleance and therefore failed to eradicate the witches’ prediction that Banquo’s sons will take over from Macbeth as King. We could interpret Banquo’s ghost as a vision in Macbeth’s mind, or a genuine apparition from beyond the grave – either way, it shows that the murder of his friend weighs heavily on Macbeth’s conscience and hangs over his reign as king, serving as a reminder that he will one day die and fall from power, leaving no heir to continue after him. 
  • Many critics think of Banquo as a foil to Macbeth – a character that exposes Macbeth’s weaknesses as he is in a similar situation but acts very differently. However, he is not exactly the opposite of Macbeth either – he does seem interested in the prophecies, but chooses to wait and see whether they come true rather than altering his behaviour to suit them.
  • King James I was thought to be related to Banquo, considering himself one of his descendants – therefore Shakespeare portrays him in a positive light. When King James, the patron of the play, watches the action he is reminded of his own family’s history.
  • You could also interpret Banquo as imperfect – he is good himself, but he doesn’t do anything to stop Macbeth even when he doubts him, and doesn’t accuse him after Duncan’s murder despite saying to himself “I fear thou playd’st most foully for’t”; i.e. he fears Macbeth won the throne unfairly. Notice the adverb ‘foully’ which recalls the Witches’ utterance ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’ in 1.1.

KEY DEBATES 

  • Is Banquo a good or bad character? 
  • Does Banquo ultimately fare better than Macbeth, as his sons become kings? 
  • What is the function of Banquo appearing as a ghost? 
  • Banquo appears to distrust the witches, but does that mean he doesn’t believe them?

FLEANCE

  • Banquo’s son, a minor character in the play but an important historical figure.
  • Macbeth orders him to be murdered along with his father, but he escapes. 
  • While Banquo fights the murderers in 3.3 he shouts at Fleance to run, saying ‘thou mayst revenge’, suggesting the idea of revenge and justice, and creating the potential for a further cycle of violence. This parallels Macduff’s own revenge subplot. 
  • In the play, we don’t know what happens to him but we assume he is safe.
  • Also based on a real-life Scottish figure – in the historical source that Shakespeare read (Hollinshead’s Chronicles), Fleance escapes Macbeth and lives in Wales, he then fathers a boy who returns to Scotland and establishes a line of Scottish kings – fulfilling the Witches’ prophecy in 1.3.
  • Remember that King James I – who the play is written for – is historically descended from this line, so in a sense, the play is about his own family’s history. 
  • We can say that Fleance is a very minor character in the play, but very important in terms of the play’s function – to prove that good characters will triumph over evil and to convince the audience that true Kings will always be reinstated on the throne, even if they are temporarily beaten by evil and ambitious usurpers.

Thanks for reading!

If you find this useful, you can look at our complete Macbeth course here. Use the code “SHAKESPEARE” to receive a 50% discount!

This course includes: 

A full set of video lessons on each key element of the text: summary, themes, setting, characters, context, attitudes, analysis of key quotes, essay questions, essay examples
Downloadable documents for each video lesson 
A range of example B-A* / L7-L9 grade essays, both at GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-Level (age 16+) with teacher comments and mark scheme feedback
A bonus Macbeth workbook is designed to guide you through each play scene!