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The Staging of “Macbeth” Act 3 Scene 4 (The Banquet Scene)

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  • Category: Macbeth

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Macbeth, having become king, after killing Duncan, has now become obsessed with getting rid of anything that threatens his new position, by murdering them. He is in the banquet hall when the murderer, who he hired to kill Fleance and Banquo, comes and tells him that Fleance has escaped. Throughout this scene he is haunted and tormented by Banquo’s ghost, which only he can see and very nearly reveals all to the lords.

For me this scene shows that all the lies and treachery that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, have had to use to cover up the murders, are clearly putting a strain on their own personal relationship and it is evidently effecting their minds and their way of thinking. More importantly this is the first time that Macbeth appears to ‘lose it’ so obviously in front of so many people and he almost gives everything away but Lady Macbeth is there to cover up for him by having to say things like

‘ My lord is often thus, and hath been since his youth’ (Act 3, scene 4, line 53)

In this line she is referring to Macbeth’s unnatural behaviour and reaction from seeing Banquo’s Ghost. This scene very strongly shows how Lady Macbeth is the more sane and prevailing one and often has to come to Macbeth’s rescue to keep his status as king and more importantly to cover up the deadly lies of death.

Macbeth, in this scene comes across to me as more anxious and weak then he appeared to be at the beginning of the play, when he was courageous and bold. It seems as if he is mentally and physically affected by the heavy burden of all the murders that he has to carry with him every day, and that this is starting to show to others. He is very suspicious and when he sees the ghost he even asked ‘which one of you has done this?’ (Line 48) And this shows his mistrust and nervousness he now has for everyone. Lady Macbeth controls the situation, not very calmly throughout most of the scene until the end when she too loses it and has to send the lords away.

My production of Macbeth will be in a very physical and dancy style to make it not only effective and interesting to watch but also so it might appeal to younger people, which Shakespeare can sometimes fail to do because of its complicated and serious use of language. Images and pictures that the text describes will be physically created mainly by the ‘dancers’ who will represent things like other characters, spirits, animals, trees. Etc. These dancers will only come on during main scenes or long monologues that either Macbeth or Lady Macbeth have because these are pretty much the most important parts, especially in the understanding of complicated and imagery text, which they have a lot of. I will leave it up to the audience to be able to interpret them and their reasons for appearing how they like, but hopefully it will be clear that their main purpose is to create these theatrical images/movements to look effective on stage and this will also help the audience understand the meaning of the text as it will literally put the words into a visible picture.

It will be set in the early 90’s in a very similar style to Moulin Rouge (the film) with the colourful vibrant and animated costumes that it used even though I will make it come across fairly sinister. I have chosen to do it in this style/time because I wanted to do something unusual and different from dull and dreary way that Macbeth is often done and this would also look very effective on stage. The women will wear big, frilly vivid and colourful dresses, excluding Lady Macbeth whose would be less feminine and colourful but still very overstated, to make her stand out from the others and to make her look more ‘evil’. The witches would have dresses from no particular period of time, with similar style/colours to the others but they would be twisted and warped to look different and bizarre. The men will wear smart black suits, and Macbeth will have a long, grand cloak so he stands out from the other men and shows his status above them. The wild colours would also be incorporated into the stage by having bright props, curtains, backgrounds etc.

The stage that the Banquet scene will take place on will be slightly curved around the audience with a small circle of stage coming out from the centre which is where Macbeth and lady Macbeth will sit. On each side of the main stage there will be small tables where the lords and other guests will sit and covering the tables there will be decorated tablecloths. Big coloured drapes will be hanging around the stage and above the tables, which will all be cheerfully lit by tinted spotlights. I want the atmosphere of the stage to immediately appear like a celebration, with no reservations but this will quickly change as Macbeth’s emotions do. The lights will dim; from warm pink colours to cold blue lights so only the centre of the stage is visible, where the main action will take place. The drapes hanging up will appear very thin and almost transparent with pale lights shining through them. All of these things will help create the tense and eerie atmosphere that Macbeth’s fear brings to the scene.

One detail is that all the actors on stage will be wearing plain, white, blank masks and this will look slightly disturbing, but it will also show that in this production and particular scene the lords and others have no real identity, and to show that Macbeth feels as if they are constantly watching and observing his every move, as if they know the truth, which makes him extremely nervous. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth will also wear masks but these will be a lot more elaborate and decorated to show their difference in status form the lords. At some point during the scene they will take of their masks and this is very important because it will represent them revealing their true selves and almost letting out all the lies that they have to cover up by putting on a mask and the fake act.

‘Our self will mingle with society and play the humble host’ (Act 3, scene 4 line 4)

(Lines 1-12)

Macbeth’s first line should be spoken in a loud clear voice with punctuated authority but he should have a friendly smile on his face at the same time. This is important because it shows how he orders and rules by fear, but yet he pretends to be the heroic, gracious king. As he continues speaking to the lords he will talk out to the audience, every now and then turning his head towards the lords, acknowledging that he is speaking to them. As well as a loud, confident voice, a look of content on his face and lots of big hand gestures this will show how he sees himself higher in status then them as he is now king. After he has finished his short speech and quietly talks to Lady Macbeth I want there to be an apparent change in his posture, voice and facial expressions to again stress the fact that he is ‘playing the humble host’ (line 4) and is only his true self with his wife. Lady Macbeth will also go through this change to show that she too or putting on an act.

The first murderer will enter from the side/ below the stage where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are seated, almost from where the seats are. It will not be very obvious to either the characters or the audience that he has entered because he will almost be camouflaged in the shadows and he will be wearing a very minimal dark costume. Macbeth wont actually notice the murderer is has come on until just before he says the line ‘there’s blood upon thy face’ and when he does notice he will instantly jump up, move towards him and then pull him up onto the stage, being very aware of whom may be watching him.

(Lines 12-32)

In this section Macbeth really shows another side of his character that the audience wont have seen so clearly before. His reaction to the murderer is that he should be shocked and instantly become nervous and paranoid, which will be a contrast from the brave confident self he was before. He should show this by looking anxiously looking up at the lords and trying to cover up whom he is talking to by subtly hiding himself and the murderer behind the cloak but when he speaks to him he will lift up his mask onto his head, as if he is revealing his true self, but only to the murderer.

*Dancer = an actor who has no particular character, but represents other main characters emotions or things they describe in the text. They have no setlines and mainly use their bodies to give the audience and clear understanding of what is said. Macbeth will deliver ‘Then comes my fit again’ very slowly and powerfully. His face will be full of fear and his body very rigid, as if he is scared stiff of what these ‘dancers’* (fit) will do to him. When the murderer tells Macbeth that Fleance is escaped his fear and suspicions shall grow even stronger and they shall go beyond the banquet hall, into the outside world. Three more actors/dancers, one dressed in black to show death, one dressed in deep red to show blood and one dressed in green to show anxiety/jealousy, will slowly creep on stage and surround Macbeth on the floor and this will represent his feelings and guilt that are literally hanging

At this point the bright lights will dim to give a more apprehensive atmosphere.

As he continues with the small speech the dancers* will slowly move around him until he says ‘cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in, to saucy doubts and fears’ which is when they will violently pull him down to the ground and use their arms to trap him like he describes. They will also echo these words, tormenting him. Macbeth will then throw them aside when he asks about Banquo and as the murderer replies and describes what he did to him the dancers* will form a small freeze-frame of Banquo’s murder which Macbeth will look onto with an almost satisfied terror. After Macbeth sends the dancers* and the murderer away (the dancers will stay next to the stage) he will quickly put back on his mask and stay where he is looking out towards the audience, only turning his head when his wife speaks to him.

(Lines 33-47)

Banquo’s ghost will never actually be visible as one individual person, (although the dancers will sometimes appear to be Banquo’s ghost they are actually representing the fear that the ghost brings) because I decided that on stage if there was an actual actor playing Banquo then the audience could easily get very confused to which characters could actually see him or not and they would have to depend very much on the reaction of the lords, which would then distract attention away from Macbeth. Of course this would mean that Macbeth will have to be very large and unambiguous with all his actions and reaction to the ghost that only he can see, but hopefully the audience would understand better that the ghost is a figment of Macbeth’s imagination and it shows very well that the sanity of Macbeth is on the edge.

After the murder has left Macbeth will speak very casually and heartily because he thinks that he no longer much to worry about and want to give nothing away to the lords. He will walk back to the front of the table, pick up a goblet, not noticing the imaginary ghost and continue to talk warmly about the absence of Banquo. The lights will dim even more and become red and blue creating a more unsettling atmosphere.

(Lines 48-73)

This is really when Macbeth appears to lose all order and formality and almost forgets that he is king and discards the role that he has been playing. Banquo was a close friend who he betrayed his trust and murdered for his won self-seeking reasons so seeing him and believing that he has come back for him is one of Macbeth’s greatest fears and he instantly puts on an act of defence. As soon as Macbeth sees whom the ghost he should freeze in shock and his face should show look of complete terror and disbelief. He will shout accusingly to the lords when he asks “which one of you have done this”, because he doesn’t want to believe that what he is seeing is actually real and tries to reassure himself.

The lords will begin to stir as they realise that something is not right but Macbeth will not notice this because Banquo’s ghost will have got up and come round the table to face Macbeth, which he will have to show by staring intently to where the ghost is meant to be, using his whole body to show his fear and concentration on the ‘ghost’. As he shouts with ferocity and alarm, the line “Thou canst not say I did it; never shake Thy gory Locks at me!” he will clutch at his sword and stand in a stance as if ready to fight. He will remove his mask and cloak and throw it to the ground beside him, which will represent him revealing his true self and almost letting out the secrets that he hides. This is when Lady Macbeth will leap up, and come over to control the situation and as the lords rise guardedly, there will be a moment of stillness and tension between all.

Lady Macbeth will order the lords to sit and they will do cautiously, confused of what is happening but as she speaks in a soft and reassuring voice they settle back down. As she talks she will desperately pick up the mask and place it on Macbeth’s face, as if putting back on the mask of lies and deceitful.

When she turns to Macbeth her voice and face will change suddenly from the kind, gentle host that she just appeared to be, to a vicious controlling wife but all the time when she is speaking and walking around him, Macbeth will at no point take his eyes off where the ghost is. With the line “This is the very painting of your fear,” she will point towards the dancers who have now crept back on stage and have come together to create a large figure, which will be Banquo’s ghost. The exit of the ghost will be shown by the bright spotlight, which had illuminated them, going down and the dancers going off to the side of the stage.


As Macbeth starts his speech ” Blood hath been shed ere now…” he will walk over to where he saw Banquo’s ghost and hold his hands up to the light, as if looking at the blood on them. He will continue to brood on how the dead return, speaking fast and pacing up and down, moving his hands around wildly with a bemused look on his face. He will then return back to the table (on the side of the audience) having put back on the composed role of king, which will be visible by him standing up straight and hiding any signs of distress.


When Macbeth spots Banquo’s ghost again he will turn around suddenly and violently hurl aside the dancers who had creeped right up to him. He will lean forward towards the audience and shout directly at them, as if Banquo is right in front of him. Throughout his second speech he will move his whole body and head, as if Banquo is circling him, and he will have to make this convincing by staring intently to where Banquo ‘is’. The dancers will then start grabbing at him as he visibly becomes more and more terrified, they will tear at his clothes and pull his cloak off, as if stripping off the layers and revealing the truth. Macbeth will be aware of this happening and will lash out to the dancers to try and stop them but will be unable to touch them, as if there is an invisible barrier. As Macbeth becomes more and more frantic, he will move round faster and faster, panicking, shouting out his lines, with a look of complete terror on his face. The dancers will also start moving around and as they do they will chant, (quietly at first but will become louder) words like Banquo, murder, and jealous. These will all build up an atmosphere of chaos, alarm and distress, which will suddenly turn around as Macbeth collapses to his knees and shouts “Unreal mock’ry hence” and the dancers, move in and build a shell/cage around him with their bodies. Mean while the lords will have risen from their seats and will be watching frantically, and curiously.


As Macbeth says the line ” I am a man again. – Pray you, sit still”, the dancers will make a throne with their bodies that Macbeth will nervously fall back on, as he unsuccessfully tries to regain his confident posture and air of king. Lady Macbeth will then come round to table to Macbeth, angrily pull him up and speak viciously to him, staring piercingly into his eyes. As he speaks back to her he will grab he almost aggressively and hold her face while talking to her. When Lady Macbeth sends the lords away she is at breaking point, and to show this she will scream and choke her lines at them, losing all formality. She will screw up her face and wave her hands around, tearing at her hair and clothes, to show the anguish and distress that she is feeling. As the lords hesitantly leave, she will go to usher them out but is unwilling to leave Macbeth, in case he reveals any more, so she will violently throw her mask at them, which was her last bit of security.


After the lords have left, all lights will go down apart from a broad red spotlight illuminating Macbeth, on his knees and Lady Macbeth, holding him close to her. As he starts with the line “It will have blood they say” (line 123) he will slowly begin to stand up, turning towards and speaking out to the audience. The dancers and Lady Macbeth will watch him intently as he speaks with bitterness and hostility, with a look of disgust on his face. I want the audience to be able to notice the change from fear to malevolence that Macbeth has suddenly gone through. He will no longer be scared of the dancers, which represented his fear, and this will come across by him heartily inviting the dancers to come sit down at the banquet table with him. As he continues talking about how he will kill any one that stands in his way, the dancers will encourage him by muttering agreements, listening intently, and leaning in enthusiastically, spurring him on, no longer frightening him and giving him regrets but doing the opposite and giving him confidence. The scene will end with a freeze frame of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth holding each other and all the dancers closely leaning in maliciously around them.

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