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Possibilities for the third murderer

The identity of the third murderer is one which may forever be a
secret from modern readers. There are many suggestions as to who
this person may have been, but only Shakespeare's original audience
and cast can tell us for sure, I'm afraid. There are, however,
a number of interesting theories as to who the murderer was:

A SERVANT (possibly Seyton). Macbeth sent him because he wanted to
check up on the men he hired. They were not, after all, hit men, but
disenfranchised men who at first had blamed Macbeth for their
problems prior to Macbeth's meeting with them and his subsequent
argument that Banquo was the cause of their woes, not Macbeth. If
you look at the dialog, the third murderer asks the kinds of
questions a servant would ask... who is responsible, etc... and
knows the things a servant would know, such as where the horses
are taken and how guests get to the castle from a given point.
Another argument for the servant is that Shakespeare needed another
person on the stage to help get Banquo's body off the stage, so
he just wrote in a third murderer on the spur of the moment.

MACBETH HIMSELF. Macbeth, by this time, was paranoid and was most
definitely anxious to make sure that Banquo was killed. Banquo's
skill as a warrior nearly paralleled Macbeth's (they were both
generals in Duncan's army), so two commoners would not really be
a match for Banquo's skill as a fighter. It was imperative that
Macbeth follow up and make sure the job was done right. The only
one he could really trust to do that was himself. Further, look
at the words of the Banquo as he is dying, "... O Slave!..."
Perhaps Banquo has recognized Macbeth in the darkness and calls
him a "slave" to his ambition and to the prophecies of the
witches. It is the third murderer who knows the ways of Banquo
when he comes to visit, which Macbeth would surely know. He tries
to cover this knowledge to keep his identity secret from the two
he has hired by saying, "so all men do..." to make them think it
is not just Banquo who travels this way to the castle. Finally,
it is the third murderer who noticed that Fleance had escaped.
This would have been paramount to Macbeth. Later, when the first
murderer reported to him at the banquet, Macbeth would have to
pretend to be shocked at the news. (Note: there is no marking in
the First Folio--the original publication of Shakespeare's plays--
to indicate that his lines are an aside... these are the markings
of a textbook's editor, not Shakespeare's declaration.

LADY MACBETH. She too thought about Banquo and the threat he was
to their rule. She asked, "Is Banquo gone from court?" and she
expressed the same dissatisfaction as Macbeth in her lines, "Naught's
had, all's spent,/ Where our desire is got without content./'Tis safer
to be that which we destroy/Than by destruction dwell in doubtful
joy." Later in the same scene, she wanted to know her role in the
murder when she asked, "What's to be done?" Also, she too thought
about the necessity of killing the pair (Banquo and Fleance) when
she said, "But in them nature's copy's not etern." She was well
aware of the threat, and to make up for her inability to kill Duncan
earlier ("Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done
i."), she went out to be part of this assasination.
Another interpretation that holds Lady Macbeth is the third
murderer has her going out to STOP the murder if she can. She has
told Macbeth "You must leave this." She urged him to get sleep, to
rest, to be bright and jovial again, and she knew that more killing
would not help Macbeth to get well again. During the murder scene,
Lady Macbeth might well be the one to extinguish the torch so that
she can help the innocent Fleance escape. Although she could not
prevent the murder of Banquo, she does save Fleance.

LENNOX. Lennox is a political power-seeker, and we saw him on
stage every time we saw Duncan on stage. He is one of those people
who gravitates to power and gets as close to it as possible so that
he can feel it and share it as much as possible. Once Macbeth is
king, then Lennox is around him all the time, too. At the banquet
when Macbeth saw Banquo's ghost, he was the one to invite Macbeth
to sit next to him. He was the one to have the last word even
when Lady Macbeth shouted for everyone to leave the room: "Better
health attend his majesty." Macbeth brought Lennox in to a place
of great trust, as can be seen when Macbeth went to see the witches
again: he took Lennox with him. At the end of the play, when the
power changed sides, so did Macbeth. He was with the forces
fighting against Macbeth. Therefore, Lennox would do ANYTHING to
be in the glow of the power. In order to secure a better position
with Macbeth, he became the third murderer. Macbeth asked him to
go because he needed a warrior to make sure the job got done; he
could not trust the two men he had hired to kill the great warrior,
Banquo, without the help of another thane/warrior. Lennox was the
one for the job. Macbeth knew he would do anything to stay near
the power, and he took advantage of this.
Another take on Lennox as the third murderer has him as a spy
in Macbeth's castle, loyal to the forces opposing Macbeth. Lennox had
been loyal to Duncan and ended up as one of the leaders of the
forces opposing Macbeth in the end of the play. In fact, it was Lennox
who knew where every soldier was, so he must have had the master
plan for the battle in his possession. (When the question was
asked in the end, "Who knows if Donalbain be with his brother?" it
was Lennox who knew for certain that he was not. Lennox had a list
of all the gentry. A political power-seeker would not earn that
kind of position so quickly in the rebellion, so he must have
been against Macbeth all along. His negative opinion of Macbeth
was clearly expressed in Act III, scene vi, when he calls him a
"tyrant" and rails against him openly to the unnamed Lord. Macbeth
himself talks about how he has spies in every one else's castle:
"There's not a one of them but in his house/ I keep a servant feed"
(Act III, scene iv). Therefore, Lennox is a spy in Macbeth's castle.
In the position of trust he has managed to obtain, he is sent out
at the last minute to help with the killing of Banquo. Although
he does not want to blow his cover, he cannot let Banquo die.
However, the light is extinguished, the two murderers set upon
Banquo immediately, killing him before Lennox can stop them, so
he does the best that he can by helping Fleance to escape. He
then returned to the banquet, where he would not have been missed.
He maintains his close link to Macbeth, but does not give him any
information that would help Macbeth. Note the fact that he does
not tell Macbeth about Macduff's flight to England until his hand is
forced by the two or three riders who came by in Act IV to report
the information to Macbeth. The audience knows, though, that he
already knew this from the conversation he had earlier with the
unnamed Lord. He kept this information from Macbeth because he
was a spy.

WHY IT IS NOT THE SERVANT: If it had been the servant, Shakespeare
would not have made such a big deal about the mystery of the
arrival of the third murderer. Eight of the 22 lines in the scene
focus on the identity and arrival of the murderer, a rather
significant emphasis in such a short scene. Were it just a servant,
there would not have been such attention drawn to his presence.
Besides, the servant was not even in the room when Macbeth talked
to the two murderers earlier. Macbeth made a special point of
sending the servant out of the room while he talked with the men.
Had the servant been the third murderer, Macbeth wouldn't have
felt the need to send him away during the conversation.

WHY IT IS NOT MACBETH: Macbeth needed an alibi. He could not know
when Banquo would return to the castle, so he couldn't afford to
be out there waiting for Banquo's return. As he himself explained
to the two murderers earlier, he needed to keep the affection of
those who were friends to both Banquo and Macbeth, so he could not
afford to have the smallest suspicion about his whereabouts at
the time of Banquo's death. He HAD to be in the hall, not out
killing Banquo.

WHY IT IS NOT LADY MACBETH: First of all, she also had to be
present at the banquet as the hostess. Earlier in the play, when
Macbeth had slipped out of the banquet held for Duncan, she had
scolded him for leaving. "Has he asked for me?" "Know you not he
has?" She was quite mindful of etiquette, and we even see that
during this banquet scene, so she knew she HAD to be present.
Besides, she didn't even know about the plan. She asked Macbeth,
"What's to be done?" and he told her nothing. He told her to "be
innocent of the knowledge..." Earlier in that same conversation,
he told her to pay special attention at the banquet, presenting "him
eminence, both with eye and tongue." He knew perfectly well that
Banquo would be dead, yet he told his wife to give him extra
attention. Lady Macbeth did not even know about the plan, so she
could not have been the third murderer.

WHY IT IS NOT LENNOX: Spy or not, Lennox would not have been involved in
a plot to kill Banquo. Macbeth did not even trust the servant to
overhear the conversation, so he would be even less likely to
share his plan with Lennox. There is no internal evidence in the
play to suggest that Lennox had anything to do with the killing:
no lines spoken by him that make reference to his own possible
involvement, no lines by others that would indicate his role, etc.
It is all guesswork. He may have been a spy, but there is no
evidence that he was the third murderer. Besides, he was already
at the banquet. He would not have had time to clean up and get
back to the banquet. We can see that because the first murderer
was bloody when he made the report. If he did not have time to
clean up before reporting, then Lennox wouldn't have had time to
clean up before slipping back into the banquet.


As you can see, there are pro's and con's to every suggestion.
Some arguments are better than others, but none of them are so
foolproof and obvious that they have resolved the issue. The best
answer to this question is YOUR answer... supported with YOUR
reasons as to why the murderer is who you claim. Be sure to use lots
of references to the play in order to support your reasons for
your choice. I have given you only some basic arugments both
for and against each possibility.

Good luck!

Posted by L. T. Holliday on March 21, 1997 at 13:16:19
In Reply to "Who is the third murderer in MacBeth" posted by Chad on March 19, 1997 at 08:21:41


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Replies | Post Reply | Shakespeare Queries From Genuinely Interested Students 3.15.97: Top | Help