In order to ensure his destiny and claim the Scottish throne, Macbeth recruits a group of murderers to go after his most threatening enemies. He first meets with two murderers in Act III, Scene 1, and when they prepare to attack Banquo and Fleance, a third murderer appears. While killing Macbeth’s opponents is the murderers’ most obvious responsibility, their presence in the play also works to reflect the subtle shifts in Macbeth’s character as his power grows. King Duncan is the first character to die in the play, and Macbeth carries out the murder himself after much convincing from his wife. By Act III, the initial hesitation and guilt that he experienced seems to disappear as he not only calls for Banquo’s death himself, he also manipulates others into killing on his behalf. This shift reflects the decreasing influence of Macbeth’s conscience and his growing sense of greed, both of which the murderers exacerbate by agreeing to his demands. They support Macbeth’s assertion that Banquo has treated them poorly, for example, and they return to kill Lady Macduff and her children despite their innocence. The murderers ultimately allow Macbeth to feel in control of his fate.

While the three Murderers all act together, their dialogue reveals subtle, individual details about each of them. The first murderer has the most lines as he speaks in both Acts III and IV, and this renders him the unofficial leader of the group. He gives instructions as they prepare to attack Banquo and Fleance, delivers the news of Fleance’s escape to Macbeth, and kills Lady Macduff’s son. According to his conversation with Macbeth in Act III, Scene 1, this bold attitude stems from the frustrations and sorrows that characterize his life. The second murderer, while less prominent in terms of dialogue, appears driven by anger. He expresses an unrestrained disdain for the world around him that leads to reckless behavior. The identity of the third murderer, however, is unclear and serves as the source of much debate. Arriving unannounced in Act III, Scene 3, he appears to have more personal knowledge about Banquo than the other two murderers. This detail, in addition to his response that Macbeth sent him, has led some scholars to suggest that the third murderer is Macbeth himself in disguise. Others propose that this mysterious figure is another one of Macbeth’s political allies or a spy sent to supervise the murderers. Regardless of the third Murderer’s true identity, his appearance in the play emphasizes the high stakes that Macbeth places on the deaths of Banquo and Fleance.