This is a paper I wrote for senior-year AP English in high school. The teacher had an absolute hard-on for The Scottish Play, and so spend at least a month going over every little detail in it. He felt that the identity of the third murderer was of INSANE importance, listing reasons both for and against almost every character in the friggin' play. And, of course, we had to write about who we would cast as the third murderer.
I think Shakespeare should have just told us who the third murderer was, but anyhoo...
The Third Murderer in Macbeth
In Macbeth, Banquo’s third murderer is probably one of four people: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Lennox, or Macbeth’s servant. One could argue for each, and against each.
One of the people stands as the best choice because of one important detail. After Banquo is killed, the first murderer says, “Well, let’s away and say how much is done” (Macbeth III.iii.22). When the murderer appears at the banquet, Macbeth notes that there is blood upon his face (Macbeth III.iv.13). If the murderer arrives at the banquet with blood still on his face, he must have come straight from the scene of the murder, with no time to clean up. If this is true, than it would be impossible for the other murderer to arrive there any earlier, and doubly impossible for the murderer to have cleaned up, changed clothes, and then arrived. However, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and Lennox are all together at the banquet before the murderer enters, presumably looking as lordly as ever. This points at the servant as the only possible one out of these four who could have been the third murderer.
While there are arguments against the servant as the third murderer, they do not stand up to close scrutiny. The third murderer is shown to be important, as the entire first eight lines of the scene is spent introducing him. It can be argued that the third murderer was therefore an important person, and not just a servant. However, it can also be argued that the introduction merely draws attention to the fact that there is a third murderer, and not necessarily a status marker. The mere fact that there is a third murderer is important enough to warrant the introduction, because no matter who it is, it shows Macbeth’s growing paranoia. He would not have sent a third person if he trusted the first two. Also, when the murderers arrive at Macbeth’s castle, Macbeth sends his servant out of the room. Although this could be because Macbeth does not trust his servant, it is equally likely that Macbeth merely needs someone to guard his door while he speaks with the murderers. If Macbeth’s servant is trusted enough to guard the door, then he would be trusted enough to send as a guard for the other murderers.
While other arguments, both for and against each person, analyze characters’ actions and speech, this detail shows only the possible – not the probable. (Author's note: Other people chose Macbeth or Lady Macbeth as the third murderer, saying that it gave the play "intrigue". I say, fuck intrigue.) This argument doesn’t ask “Which character would be more fit for the part?” or, “Which character would give an interesting twist?” It asks, “Which option is not ruled out by the facts?” If you think that it should be another way, if you like subjectivity and intrigue, then write your own damn paper!
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Prentice Hall Literature: The British Tradition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000. 272-345.
If you steal this,
I will have to kill you.