Macbeth
William Shakespeare
Contributed by Sharon Fleming

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Act 4 Scene 3
Summary

In England, Macduff has joined Malcolm’s army, and Malcolm tests his loyalty. Malcolm boasts of his ability to be a worse tyrant than Macbeth, trying to provoke Malcolm. He responds by describing his hatred of tyranny. Macduff’s comments are exactly the sort Malcolm sought, so he passes the loyalty test. Macduff’s resolve to join the military and fight against Macbeth increases when the Thane of Ross arrives with the message that Macbeth has ordered for the execution of all his family members. This scene also reveals collaboration between Edward the Confessor and Macbeth.

Analysis

Malcolm’s loyalty test of Macduff suggests there has been a massive breakdown of the social values, including trust. Macbeth’s actions, especially his murder of King Duncan, make it necessary for Malcolm to test and ensure that people with whom his working are loyal. Some commentators may suggest that the scene appears like a job interview since Malcolm is seeking to recruit Macduff into his army, yet he must be sure he can trust him.

Malcolm’s mistrust of Macduff is so pronounced that Malcolm fears Macduff will offer him as a sacrifice to Macbeth, his former boss. When Macduff announces that he is “not treacherous,” he allies himself with Malcolm. However, Malcolm continues asking tough questions when he says that, while men may look like angels on the outside, it is possible that they could harbor bad feelings within. Macduff almost fails the tests when Malcolm presses him and asks why he decided to leave his family at a time when they most need him. He is angered by the fact that Malcolm fails to notice his role is to protect both his family and Scotland.

“O Scotland, Scotland . . . O nation miserable!” This is one of Macduff’s passionate appeals to rescue the nation from Macbeth’s control. Macduff is concerned that Scotland is being ruined under Macbeth’s leadership, and it is necessary to take appropriate action to reverse the trend. Malcolm's next piece of reverse psychology is top-notch. He indicates that, as a future king, he intends to be much more malicious and brutal leader than Macbeth. He uses this statement to test Macduff’s tolerance of tyranny.

Macduff offers Malcolm a philosophical response. He starts by saying that “boundless intemperance in nature is a tyranny.” This means that certain sins are bound to be forgiven, even if they are committed by kings. Malcolm then undercuts his leadership ability in his following expressions. In the long run, when Malcolm sees the expression on Macduff’s face, he relents. He knows Macduff is not tyrannical and will pursue justice.

Ross comes with the report that “sighs, and groans, and shrieks . . . rent the air” and that the country is ill. People are suffering, and the hopes of the country lie in the hands of Malcolm and his troops. Sadly, “good men's lives expire before the flowers in their caps, / Dying or ere they sicken” (168-173). Ross’s statements are a cry for help on behalf of the population. His last and most devastating piece of news is that Macbeth has murdered Macduff’s wife and young children. Macduff response with understandable anguish, although Malcolm tells him that he should cover his face to avoid revealing any unmanly emotions. Malcolm retorts, “What man! ne'er pull your hat upon your brows.” From this point onward, Macduff is charged, and he speaks with the determination of a hero seeking revenge and repair of society’s ills.

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