Macbeth, unaware of the bungled assassination in the forest, led his guests into the banqueting hall. The nobles commented amongst themselves on the King’s high spirits.
“You know your ranks, gentlemen. Take your places. From the beginning of the feast to the end I give you a hearty welcome!” Macbeth said.
“Thanks to Your Majesty!” the lords said together.
“I will mingle, playing the humble host. Our hostess will remain seated but later we will require her participation.”
“Pronounce the heartfelt welcome on my behalf, sir, to all our friends,” said Lady Macbeth from the throne.
The lords bowed to the Queen.
“See, they show their heartfelt thanks. Now where I can sit? Both sides are even, I will sit in the middle.”
As the lords sat down Macbeth intended to take his place but he then saw the first murderer waiting for him at the entrance of the chamber.
“Be mirthful, I will pass this drinking cup around the table.”
After encouraging the guests to sup from the cup Macbeth walked to the murderer in the corner of the hall.
“There’s blood on your face!”
“It’s better outside you than inside him. Is he dead?”
“My lord, his throat is cut. I did it.”
“You’re the best of the throatcutters! As good as Fleance’s killer, too? If it was you, you have no equal!”
“Most royal sir – Fleance escaped.”
“Here my trouble returns. My reign would be as strong as marble, as free as the air. But, no, now I’m confined, conquered by nagging doubts and fears. But Banquo is dead?”
“Yes, my good lord. He’s in a ditch with twenty trench-like gashes in his head. Even the least of them would have been fatal.”
“Thanks for that. The mature serpent is dead but the worm that fled will in time be capable of a venomous bite even if he has no teeth at present. Go, tomorrow we’ll talk again.”
Macbeth stood looking lost, detached. Lady Macbeth, anticipating problems prompted him.
“My royal lord, you are not playing the host. The feast is like a tavern meal. Mere eating is best done at home. Ceremony is the sauce for the meat. It’s not much of a feast without it!”
“Remind me!” Macbeth turned to the company: “Now, a toast! Digestion, don’t quibble with appetite! Here’s to them both.”
As he was making his toast the ghost of Banquo entered and took Macbeth’s seat at the table. The ghost had its back to Macbeth and of course was invisible to the guests.
Lord Lennox said: “Do please sit, sir.”
“We would have our country honoured under one roof if only Banquo was present. I’d rather scold him for thoughtlessness than ponder a mischance,” said Macbeth.
Lord Ross said: “His absence, sir, is neglect of a promise. Meanwhile would Your Highness grace us by taking Banquo’s seat at our table?”
“The table’s full.”
“Here’s a place reserved for Banquo, sir” said Lennox.
“Here, my good lord. What causes Your Highness such distress?”
Macbeth was white and shaking with fear.
“Which of you has done this?”
“What, my good lord?” the guests muttered, bewildered.
The musicians stopped playing and an eerie tension descended on the gathering. Macbeth stood silent and stunned as the bloody ghost began to make gestures.
“You can’t say it was me! Don’t shake your gory locks at me!” Macbeth countered the accusations of Banquo’s ghost.
Lord Ross said, “Gentlemen, rise. His Highness is not well.”
Lady Macbeth was immediately aware that everything they had achieved was in danger.
“Sit, good friends. My lord is often like this and has been since his youth. Pray, keep your seats. This fit is fleeting and he will be well again in a moment. If you make too much of it you’ll offend him and prolong the fit. Eat and ignore him.”
The Queen smiled uneasily, as the guests hesitantly returned to their food. She spat in Macbeth’s ear, “Are you a man?”
“Yes, and a bold one who dares to look on that which would appall the devil!”
“Is that so? This is a figment of your fear. This is the floating dagger which you said led you to Duncan! Oh, you and your fears are the stuff of old tales told at a winter’s fire. Shame on you! Why do you make such faces? You are only looking at a chair!”
“Look at the seat. Look at it! What do you say to that?” Macbeth said to his wife.
He turned again to the ghost: “Why? What do I care if you can nod and speak? If tombs and graves are going to send back those we have buried then it would be better if we left the bodies to feed the birds of prey!”
The ghost disappeared.
“Folly is preying on your manhood?” Lady Macbeth sneered.
“As I stand here I saw him!” Macbeth persisted.
“Enough of this nonsense!” Lady Macbeth impateintly barked.
Lady Macbeth eyed the guests, wondering how suspicious this scene had made them. Macbeth meanwhile moped to himself: “Blood has been shed before now, in olden times before legal statutes shaped society. And since then political murders have continued, some too terrible to talk about. Has the time passed when smashed brains meant a man would die? Now they rise again, despite twenty mortal gashes, and steal seats. This is stranger than murder.”
“My worthy lord, your noble friends are asking for you!” Lady Macbeth said delicately.
“I’m forgetting. Don’t worry about me, most worthy friends. I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing to those who know me. A toast! Love and health to all! Then I’ll sit down. Give me some wine! More, more!”
Macbeth recovered his joviality quickly enough to surprise his wife but no sooner had normality returned to the feast than the ghost returned. Macbeth wasn’t yet aware of Banquo and continued his chatting: “I drink to the general joy of the whole table, and to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss. Would he were here! To all and him we thirst, and to everyone else!”
“Our duties, and the toast!” said the company.
“Go away!” Macbeth’s sudden yell silenced the company. “Out of my sight! Let the earth hide you! Your bones are marrowless, your blood is cold. Your glaring eyes can’t see me!”
This time Lady Macbeth controlled the incident immediately: “Think of this, good noblemen, as a thing of habit. That’s all it is. But it spoils our pleasure.”
Macbeth was now oblivious to everyone else. His mind thought only of the ghost: “Whatever man dares, I dare! Approach me like a Russian bear, a horned rhinoceros or a fierce tiger! Take any shape but that of a ghost and my firm nerve will not tremble. Or come alive again and dare me to a duel in the desert with your sword. If I tremble deride me as a girl! Go away, horrible shadow! Unreal mockery! Go away!”
The ghost disappeared. The moment it vanished Macbeth recovered. “Why then once it is gone I am a man again!”
Macbeth only then was aware of the confusion and embarrassment in the banqueting hall.
“Pray you, stay seated,” he said to the lords.
“You’ve spoiled the enjoyment, ruined the spirit of the feast with your ludicrous antics!” Lady Macbeth bawled.
“Can such things overcome us without provoking astonishment?” Macbeth asked. “You make me question my sanity. You can see such things and your cheeks say as bright as rubies while mine are blanched with fear.”
Lord Ross asked: “What things did you see, my lord?”
Once again Lady Macbeth intervened: “Please don’t talk about. It will only make him worse. Questions enrage him. Now goodnight! No protocol, please go at once.”
“Good night, and may sleep bring some peace to His Majesty,” Lord Lennox said, speaking for all.
“A kind goodnight to all!” Lady Macbeth said as she rushed them out.
After escorting the guests out she returned to find her husband moping.
“It will have blood. Blood will have blood, they say. Gravestones have been known to move and trees to speak. Magpies, crows and ravens have seen the deeds of even the craftiest murderer. What time of night is it?”
“Almost morning. Who knows?” said Lady Macbeth, exasperated.
“What have you got to say about Macduff ignoring our invitation?”
“You asked him to come?”
“I hear rumours. I will send for him. There’s not one of them who doesn’t have a servant who is fed by me, so to speak. Tomorrow I will go to the weird sisters. They must speak more. Now I must know everything, good or bad, by any means. Nothing will stand in my way. I’m in a deep swamp of blood, continuing is just as tedious as turning back. I have things in my head which have to be acted upon before they are thought about.”
“You lack the refreshment of nature – sleep.”
“Come, we will sleep. My self-abuse is only the behaviour of the novice. In these pursuits we are still young in deed.”