Detailed Summary of Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 3

Enter three Murderers:
This short scene opens with a little surprise: there's a third murderer. (Teachers like to ask who the third murderer is, although it's hard to see the point of the question. If we were supposed to know who he is, Shakespeare would have let us know. As it is, the third murderer is just a mysterious manifestation of Macbeth's distrust of everyone.) Apparently the third murderer 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. Despite the grumbling, they quickly get down to business. First Murderer shows Third Murderer where to stand and explains that because it's late dusk, almost night, Banquo should be near. (These explanations are probably intended more for us than for Third Murderer.)

As the murderers wait, we hear horses, and then Banquo's voice, asking for some light. The murderers are sure that this must be Banquo, and that he's now on foot. We also hear that all riders walk from this point to the palace gate. (It's as good a reason as any for not bringing horses on stage.) Then there's the glimmer of light, and Banquo appears with Fleance, who is carrying a torch.

There aren't many more words in the scene, but Banquo's heroism can make it exciting to watch. Despite being taken completely by surprise, Banquo manages to hold off the three men long enough for Fleance to escape. Also, it appears that there's some bumbling on the part of the murderers. In the melee someone puts out Fleance's torch, and Third Murderer asks "Who did strike out the light?" First Murderer answers, "Wast not the way?" (3.3.18), meaning, "Wasn't that what we were supposed to do?" If putting out the torch was part of the plan, it didn't work too well, because Fleance has fled into the dark. The three know that they have "lost / Best half of our affair" (3.3.20-21), but all they can do now is go tell Macbeth.