Sacred hospitality is the concept that the relationship between host and guests are under divine authority and jurisdiction. The gods were thought to occasionally masquerade as mortals to enforce these tradition through deceit, making the action of denying shelter to a visitor dangerous. Shakespeare would have seen tales that involved sacred hospitality (or xenia) while reading and researching material for his theatrical productions, many of his works are based off Greek stories and plays.
For designing the tragedy of Macbeth, Shakespeare would be including Hecate (greek goddess of magic) in an otherwise christian setting, so the addition of xenia would make sense: greek gods loved to torment mortals with inescapable situations. There are five main parts in the play that show how and why sacred hospitality drives the story of Macbeth, which will be talked about in chronological order. They will vary between both the violators of xenia (Macbeth), the victims of the violations (everyone), and the enforcers of hospitality (Banquo and nature), to show how widespread this concept of good hostmanship is in the play.The first main case of sacred hospitality is the character of Banquo.
He serves as the foil to Macbeth for much of the play, and while he does get murdered in Act 3, he still plays an important role as a ghost. He maintains loyalty to the late King Duncan, and, as a fellow guest in Acts 1 and 2, does not harm either the hosts or the other guests. Even in Act 3, where he has good reason to accuse Macbeth of treason, he does not lay a hand on the new king in his own castle–Banquo is a guest for the time being. Both Macbeth and Banquo were the subject of two prophecies at the start of the play, but Banquo ended up as the one with the better deal; he maintained decorum and honor, and invariable secured the position of his descendants creating a long lasting dynasty. The first breach of sacred hospitality is when both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth move to kill the King of Scotland, who is being hosted by them in their castle.
Macbeth follows through with the help of his wife, against his own conscience. He even states that, , therefore he is very aware of this major breach of manners and order he is about to commit. Not only is he going to break the trust that Duncan has placed in him, he will also destroy all and any trust within the country.
Malcolm and Donalbain acknowledge this, knowing that they are next in line for being assassinated. The King (the host) has been slain by one of his subjects (the guests), therefore no-one can benefit from xenia in Scotland until a new host is rightfully chosen. Upon the murdering of Duncan, nature begin punishing Macbeth and his wife. This supports the “divinely enforced” aspect of sacred hospitality, because while no smiting occurs, unnatural events do transpire to harm the parties who engaged in the violation of hospitality.The second breach of hospitality was in Act 3, when Macbeth successfully kills Banquo by placing a trio of ambushers about a mile from the castle to intercept both him and his son, Fleance. It occurs when Banquo was enroute to a banquet he was personally invited to and had obligations to join, so this is the second time Macbeth has deliberately harmed a guest in the play… and is therefore a breach in sacred hospitality. Although he is ‘safe in a ditch’, Banquo’s restless spirit punishes this major violation of conduct and hospitality by terrorizing Macbeth while he is giving speeches to his subjects.
Macbeth converses with his wife on how this bizarre haunting wasn’t recorded with any other previous murder by stating that, “The time has been that, when the brains were out, the man would die, and there an end. But now they rise again with twenty mortal murders on their crowns and push us from our stools. This is more strange than such a murder is.
” (Act 3, Scene 4) The specifics behind Banquo’s murder, a violation of xenia that was swiftly dealt with; this one murder stands out for both breaking a sacred conduct, and the perpetrator himself already being guilty for doing something similar before. This is even foreshadowed in Act 2, with Macduff shouting, “Malcolm! Banquo! As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites, to countenance this horror!” (Act 2, Scene 3)Characters being justly treated by hosts returns with the examples of Malcolm. Due to Macbeth occupying the throne, he and many other locals decided to flee the country to places like Ireland and England. Malcolm is explicitly stated to have been honorably treated while staying with the King of England, Edward: “The son of Duncan–from whom this tyrant holds the due of birth–lives in the English court and is received of the most pious Edward with such grace that the malevolence of fortune nothing takes from this high respect.” (Act 3, Scene 6) It is also stated that Macduff is attempting to garner support and military aid to restore order to the country, but also that,”.
. . We may again give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights, free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives. . .
” (Act 3, Scene 6) The restoration of noble hosts and guests is a high priority at this point of the play. This also serves to drive a wedge further between dishonorable Macbeth and the comparatively heroic antagonists: if you consider Macbeth to be the new “host” of Scotland, his murdering of the citizenship who are supposed to be under his protection are most certainly another breach of etiquette. Near the end of play, the Scottish exiles who are seeking refuge in Ireland and England are amassing armies to end the occupation of their home country by this ‘fake host’. Macbeth has surrounded himself by hired officials, paid with money rather than honor or trust. His abuse of the wealth of the house serves as yet another breaking of xenia. The alliance of forces that are to remove Macbeth have both heaven and nature on their side–as the incoming siege makes itself known to the castle, more and more who worked for Macbeth decide to abandon him, they do not wish to violate the laws of hospitality any further by staying.
By the time the fighting starts at the gates, almost all of Macbeth’s forces have switched sides. Soon, only Macbeth is leaching on Scotland. Macduff serves as a holy avenger against these crimes against hospitality, and he succeeds due to how many atrocities Macbeth has done. He serves as the conqueror that places the true host of Scotland in power.
The idea is that the ancient idea known as sacred hospitality is what sets the story of Macbeth into motion, and what kills him at the end of the play. Banquo is the model guest, perfectly upholding the rules, even from beyond the grave. While no gods descend from the sky and destroy the Macbeths after they murder Duncan, nature rebukes this crime against Scotland by ruining their lives. Banquo is the next to die, but is able to both punish Macbeth and see that his descendants gain kingship in the future. Malcolm doesn’t stoop to levels as low as Macbeth, so they are treated with proper hospitality, although Macduff’s family is killed in another breach of hospitality on fault of Macbeth. Finally, the forces of virtue destroy Macbeth, serving to deliver the payments for all Macbeth has done to his King, his friends, and his subjects.
This shows that this tragedy is more than a simple example of the dangers of ambition, but also a warning not to abuse the roles of either the host or the guests. To conclude this statement, all of the evidence this essay has gathered points to Shakespeare placing elements of sacred hospitality in his works.