Banquo is a character in William Shakespeare’s 1606 play Macbeth. In the play, he is at first an ally to Macbeth (both are generals in the King’s army) and they are together when they meet the Three Witches. After prophesying that Macbeth will become king, the witches tell Banquo that he will not be king himself, but that his descendants will be. Later, Macbeth in his lust for power sees Banquo as a threat and has him murdered; Banquo’s son, Fleance, escapes. Banquo’s ghost returns in a later scene, causing Macbeth to react with alarm during a public feast.
Shakespeare borrowed the character of Banquo from Holinshed’s Chronicles, a history of Britain published by Raphael Holinshed in 1587. In Chronicles Banquo is an accomplice to Macbeth in the murder of the king, rather than a loyal subject of the king who is seen as an enemy by Macbeth. Shakespeare may have changed this aspect of his character in order to please King James, who was thought at the time to be a descendant of the real Banquo. Critics often interpret Banquo’s role in the play as being a foil to Macbeth, resisting evil where Macbeth embraces it. Sometimes, however, his motives are unclear, and some critics question his purity. He does nothing to accuse Macbeth of murdering the king, even though he has reason to believe Macbeth is responsible.
Banquo’s role, especially in the banquet ghost scene, has been subject to a variety of interpretations and mediums. Shakespeare’s text states: “Enter Ghost of Banquo, and sits in Macbeth’s place.” Several television versions have altered this slightly, having Banquo appear suddenly in the chair, rather than walking onstage and into it. Special effects and camera tricks also allow producers to make the ghost disappear and reappear, highlighting the fact that only Macbeth can see it.
Stage directors, unaided by post-production effects and camera tricks, have used other methods to depict the ghost. In the late 19th century, elaborate productions of the play staged by Henry Irving employed a wide variety of approaches for this task. In 1877 a green silhouette was used to create a ghostlike image; ten years later a trick chair was used to allow an actor to appear in the middle of the scene, and then again from the midst of the audience. In 1895 a shaft of blue light served to indicate the presence of Banquo’s spirit. In 1933 a Russian director named Theodore Komisarjevsky staged a modern retelling of the play (Banquo and Macbeth were told of their future through palmistry); he used Macbeth’s shadow as the ghost.
Film adaptations have approached Banquo’s character in a variety of ways. In 1936 Orson Welles helped produce an African-American cast of the play, including Canada Lee in the role of Banquo. Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 adaptation Throne of Blood makes the character into Capitan Miki (played by Minoru Chiaki), slain by Macbeth’s equivalent (Captain Washizu) when his wife explains that she is with child. News of Miki’s death does not reach Washizu until after he has seen the ghost in the banquet scene. In Roman Polanski’s 1971 adaptation, Banquo is played by acclaimed stage actor Martin Shaw, in a style reminiscent of earlier stage performances. Polanski’s version also emphasises Banquo’s objection to Macbeth’s ascendency by showing him remaining silent as the other thanes around him hail Macbeth as king. in the 1990 telling of Macbeth in a New York Mafia crime family setting, “Men of Respect” the character of Banquo is named “Bankie Como” played by American actor Dennis Farina.