[This is an annotated list of all appearances and all mentions of the murderers in Macbeth, including the first two who Macbeth recruits to kill Banquo and Fleance, the third murderer who joins the first two, and the murderers who kill Lady Macduff and her children.]

Macbeth and two murderers.

Illustrator: H.C. Selous.

After he becomes King, Macbeth decides that he needs to get rid of Banquo and his son, Fleance, because the witches prophesied that Banquo's descendants would be kings of Scotland. Macbeth finds two men who are down on their luck and browbeats them into doing the job. Neither one has much to say. For instance, when Macbeth asks them if it was yesterday that he spoke with them, First Murderer merely says, "It was, so please your highness" (3.1.74). Macbeth then has to remind them that he has already explained that Banquo is the cause of all their problems and must be killed.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

The scene in which Banquo is murdered opens with a little surprise. There's a Third Murderer, and apparently he has just now shown up. First Murderer is asking him, "But who did bid thee join with us?" Third Murderer answers shortly, "Macbeth" (3.3.1). Second Murderer grumbles that there's no reason for Macbeth to distrust them, since he told them exactly what to do. After this, it's all business. The three murderers attack Banquo and kill him, but botch the job, because Fleance escapes.

A common study or discussion question is, "Who is the Third Murderer?" Often the preferred answer is that the Third Murderer is Macbeth in disguise. There are many objections to this idea, but even if it's "true" (and how could you "prove" it?), it doesn't seem significant. No matter whether Macbeth sent the Third Murderer, or was himself the Third Murderer, we see another example of his insecure and suspicious nature.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

The night that he has Banquo murdered, Macbeth gives a banquet for his nobles. The party has barely begun when First Murderer comes to the door. Leaving his guests, Macbeth goes to the door and tells him "There's blood on thy face." First Murderer replies, "'Tis Banquo's then" (3.4.13). First Murderer, apparently rather proud of what he has done, reports that Banquo is dead, but Fleance has escaped.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

When Lady Macduff refuses to say where her husband is, First Murderer declares "He's a traitor" (4.2.82). Macduff's son calls him a liar, and the man kills the boy before our eyes. The murderers who appear in this scene are not necessarily the same men as those who killed Banquo. The two murderers who Macbeth talked into killing Banquo were portrayed as desperate men who felt that the world had treated them badly, but the murderers who appear in this scene are simply thugs.      [Detailed Scene Summary]