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Act Four

Macbeth Act Four, Scene One

  • This scene may or may not have been written by Shakespeare.

  • Three witches enter chanting over a cauldron, casting a spell and throwing all sorts of creatures into it.  This is designed to show the audience a chaotic and suspicious atmosphere - we wonder what they are doing - and it shows the evil of the witches through the disgusting nature of what they throw in.

  • 'Something wicked' now refers to Macbeth, showing that the witches thinks he is evil now.

  • 'Whoever knocks' suggests that knocking on the door in the Porter, suggesting that Macbeth is now knocking on hell itself.  

  • Macbeth now sees the visions which the witches show him, which are explored in detail in the notes on The Supernatural.

  • Lennox does not see the witches, suggesting either that they don't want to be seen by him, or perhaps that now the witches are purely part of Macbeth's imagination.  

  • 'Infected be the air whereon they ride;/ And damn'd all those that trust them!'

  • Macbeth, upon hearing that Macduff has fled to England, says that 'from this moment/ The very firstlings of my heart shall be/ The firstlings of my hand' - he will act on instinct, rather than acting on ambition (not with his heart), and before he was deliberating whether to do things.  He resolves to kill Macduff and all of his family.

Act Four, Scene Two

  • Lady Macduff enters, asking Ross why Macduff has fled Scotland.  He has just left them, with no explanation. She suggests that his actions make him look guilty, he was unwise to leave his wife and children in a place that he fears enough to run away from.  She accuses him of not loving them, he is unnatural in his affections and in some way paralleled with Macbeth's unnatural tendencies. Lady Macduff is the emblem of the perfect wife - she is protective of her children and deeply sympathetic.

  • Son of Macduff is shown as a paradigm of childhood innocence, yet also of the danger which children pose to Macbeth. 

  • Son points out that if everybody who swears and lies is a traitor then it's a wonder that it is a wonder that the honest men haven't killed them already.  The audience is steered away from thinking that Macduff is a traitor, but nevertheless sympathise with his wife. Son embodies voice of childhood wisdom also, a common Biblical idea.

  • A messenger enters, telling them that danger is coming and rides away himself.  

  • As Lady Macduff says, the voice of truth is immediately killed in the form of the son, and her own lack of wrongdoing will be no defence for her in Macbeth's Scotland.  

  • This scene shows extent of Macbeth's madness and cruelty - he is now even murdering women and children.


Act Four, Scene Three


  • Macduff opens the scene by emphasizing the terrible state in which Scotland has found itself and convincing Malcolm to invade.

  • Malcolm, however, says that Macbeth has changed and Macduff was once loyal to him, and so he argues that Macbeth hasn't yet harmed Macduff. He suggests that Macduff should betray Malcolm to Macbeth in order to sacrifice him for his own good. The 'weak poor innocent lamb' refers to Christ-like sacrifical figure which dies for the sake of others, and links him to language used to describe Duncan. Shows the link between Kingship and divinity, someone sent to earth by God (and here implicitly to die for the sake of others.)

  • Malcolm apologises for mistrusting Macduff, and then says that looking at someone cannot tell you their intentions. 'Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell' - Lucifer was said to be the brightest angel, who chose to betray God and so fell. This refers to Macbeth, who was Duncan's 'brightest angel', who betrayed him and then became the devil. Even despite this, there are still beautiful things which might be treacherous.' Malcolm here realises that appearances can be deceiving.

  • 'Bleed, bleed, poor country' - personifies the country as bleeding, links it to the body of Duncan, whose blood essentially is the country's blood. Again the idea of the body of the king being linked to the body of the country.

  • Malcolm tells Macduff that if his vices were compared to Macbeth's, Macbeth would look pure as snow. He is reluctant to invade Scotland, because he's such a terrible person. Malcolm and Macduff start a conversation whereby Malcolm lists his sinful qualities in hyperbolic ways and Macduff tries to excuse them. On his third try, Malcolm persuades Macduff that he is an awful person, and asks Macduff if he should still rule. He is testing partly Macduff's loyalty, but also his love of his country over his love of power.

  • Having passed the test, Malcolm takes back everything he has said, he announces that they have already asked for the men to invade Scotland. Macduff, understandably, is slightly confused.

  • A doctor enters, saying that the King is coming to cure men with a spiritual disease. At the time some believed that the King's divinity showed in his power to cure people with a single touch, and James I believed in this.  In an interesting historical note,  whilst James I performed these 'healings', he never enjoyed it, believing that such superstitions were a very 'Catholic' thing, which he as a loyal Protestant disliked. 

  • Ross enters, lamenting the state of Scotland, which is a grave rather than a mother (we may think of Lady Macbeth in the same way), is unable to know itself (Macbeth also fails to understand his own actions), and is in 'violent ecstasy', such a state of madness that it is not itself anymore, it is almost possessed. Death is coming before it should for everyone.  Now that Macbeth is King, we may consider that the body of Scotland has started to mirror himself and Lady Macbeth, throwing everything into turmoil.

  • Ross equivocates about the death of Macduff's family, perhaps not wanting to upset Macduff, and perhaps because in the play death is compared to safety, where the living are continually at risk.

  • Eventually, Ross tells Macduff of the death of his entire family. Though Malcolm is outraged by this, Macduff almost seems in a state of shock, unable to believe this as we see in all the questions he asks. Malcolm tells Macduff to 'Dispute it like a man', meaning that he should be manly and so should try to get revenge on Macbeth. Macduff disputes this, saying that he 'must also feel it as a man' - he contrasts the polemic ideas of masculinity and feminity that the Macbeths have, showing that real men are both emotional and capable of revenge.

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