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Hi, I am a little confused by Act 4 Scene III of Macbeth.When Ross arrives, Macduff...

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user988540 | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 2, 2013 at 9:30 PM via web

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Hi, I am a little confused by Act 4 Scene III of Macbeth.

When Ross arrives, Macduff asks "How does my wife?" and he replies  "Why, well" and tells him that his children are well too.

But a few sentences later he tells him "Your castle is surpris'd; your wife and babes / Savagely slaughter'd"

.... I don't know what I'm missing. Why doesn't he tell Macduff the truth right away?  

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 2, 2013 at 10:38 PM (Answer #1)

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Ross is finding it very difficult to give Macduff the terrible news he has brought from Scotland. When he says that Macduff's wife and children are well, he means that they are all at rest and at peace. He would like to be able to give Macduff the bad news and the good news, i.e., that they are all dead but that they have found "eternal rest." He seems to be tempted to give him the good news first, and then the bad. At one point he says, "No, they were well at peace when I did leave 'em." Here he is referring to his short interview with Lady Macduff at the beginning of Act 4, Scene 2. At that time they were still alive, and Ross only knows about the massacre of the family by report. Finally he brings himself to tell Macduff the whole terrible truth, which he prefaces with the following lines:

Let not your ears despise my tongue forever,
Which shall possess them with the heaviest sound
That ever yet they heard.

We understand why Ross was so reluctant to break the news when we see and hear Macduff's reaction. This part of Scene 3 is especially effective because we already know what Macduff does not know, since we have witnessed at least part of the carnage in Act 4, Scene 2, and can imagine the rest.

 

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