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Role of Macduff

  • The role of Macduff is to be the ‘man [not] of woman born’ who will kill Macbeth. Macduff is consistently seen as a foil for Macbeth.  (A foil is a character who is the direct opposite of another character - Lady Macbeth, for instance, may also be seen as a foil for Lady Macduff.) 

  • He is one of the first characters to discover Duncan after the murder, and is consistently and rightly suspicious of Macbeth, showing his good judgement.  This suspicion leads him to abandon Macbeth, which together with the prophecies prompts Macbeth to kill his family.  In turn this makes Macduff becoming hungry for revenge, which then leads to him killing Macbeth.

  • Knocking in the Porter scene, which symbolizes a soul knocking on hell (Macbeth’s future death) is seen to come from Macduff, showing that Macduff is foreshadowed as Macbeth’s downfall from the moment that Macbeth kills Duncan.  


Character of Macduff

  • Macduff is not ambitious, instead he simply wants to find the rightful King of Scotland, not simply one who can advance his causes.  ‘I am not treacherous.’  When Macduff says this what he means is that he is a loyal and strong character, who wouldn’t betray Malcolm despite Malcolm offering to be sacrificed to Macbeth for the sake of Macduff’s family.

  • Macduff’s refusal to go and see the crowning of Macbeth shows he is insightful, and already has reservations about Macbeth, unlike many of the other characters who still trust him.

  • He is initially seen to have a loving relationship with his family, his son certainly loves him very much.  Yet an audience is asked to question whether Macduff is right to leave his family, and why he might have done so.

  • “Wisdom! To leave his wife, to leave his babes, /His mansion and his title in a place from whence himself does fly?” Lady Macduff is saying Macduff is running away from his wife, his children, his house which is an unwise thing to do.

  • “He had none: his flight was madness: when our actions do not, our fears do make us traitors.” Lady Macduff further thinks Macduff is scared of Macbeth so he runs away and this makes him look like a traitor.

  • The consequences of Macduff’s actions are that Macbeth comes after his family and Macduff isn’t there to protect them.  Eventually the news of his wife and children’s murders returns to Macduff, who is distraught.  ‘What, all my pretty chickens and their dam/ At one fell swoop?’  In this quote, Macduff shows his disbelief and his absolute horror that his family has been killed, creating pathos for the audience due to his description of them as ‘pretty chickens’.  

  • When Malcolm tells him that he should get revenge like a man for Macbeth’s murders, (‘Dispute it like a man’) Macduff tells him that he will, but crucially ‘But I must also feel it as a man’.  This shows that unlike the Macbeths’ definition of masculinity, Macduff knows that emotions, kindness and vulnerability are crucial to what makes a man.  As the Macbeths’ cruel and brutal definition of masculinity has led to the tragedy of the play, Macduff’s different opinions show his stark opposition to Macbeth, and his cruel actions.  Also, they may suggest that Macbeth fails as he can no longer feel like a man - by the end of the play, Macbeth is entirely numb to normal human emotions, in opposition to Macduff and later Malcolm, who embrace normal emotions such as sadness and rage. 

  • At the end of the play, Macduff fights with Macbeth because firstly he doesn’t think Macbeth is the rightful King and secondly, he wants revenge for his family.

  • The fact that Macduff only seeks out Macbeth in the final battle shows that he doesn’t want to kill the innocent, and shows his single-minded desire for one thing, in opposition to Macbeth who wants more and more.  

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