Describing the significance of the testing scene, comment on Malcolm's diplomacy and how he uses his wit to test MacDuff. Quote to support your answer.

2 Answers

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Michael Otis | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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In Act 4, Scene 3 of the play, Macduff, rival of the usurper seeks the support of Malcolm, elder son of the murdered king Duncan for war against Macbeth. At the same time, Malcolm sounds out Macduff's true intentions. To grasp the full import of the scene, the audience must remember that this conversation takes place in the context of Macbeth's 'police state' where paid informants report on the nobility and where assassination is an instrument of government. For the sake of suffering Scotland, Malcolm is extremely cautious in his dealings with Macduff. To test Macduff's worthiness as an ally in the reconquest of Scotland, Malcolm deliberately magnfies his own shortcomings:

First, in lines 61-64, he describes himself as a beast of lust. Once on the throne, no woman of Scotland would be safe:

But there’s no bottom, none,
In my voluptuousness. Your wives, your daughters,
Your matrons, and your maids could not fill up
The cistern of my lust,

To which Macduff replies, rather ingenuously, that Scotland has enough women to satisfy him.
Next, in lines 80-84 Malcolm underlines his extreme avarice, saying:
I should cut off the nobles for their lands,
Desire his jewels and this other’s house.
And my more-having would be as a sauce
To make me hunger more
To which Macduff replies, again artlessly, that Scotland, a land blessed with much wealth, would also fill up this vice.
Finally, in a melodramatic flourish, Malcolm sums up his unsuitableness for kingship by claiming that he has none of the graces associated with royalty. In lines 100-102, he avers that he, a powerhouse of evil, a kind of anti-christ, would
Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell,
Uproar the universal peace, confound
All unity on earth.

At this point Macduff has had enough. In a patriotic lament he cries out`"Scotland, O Scotland" and for the love of his country, opines that Malcolm is most definitely not suited to be king, nor perhaps even to live. As Macduff scorns the putative leader of his beloved country, he passes Malcolm's test of loyalty. Malcolm retracts all the calumnies against himself and embraces Macduff, sure that he has found a ready ally in the coming expedition against Macbeth.
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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In Act IV, scene three, Malcolm uses his wit to trick MacDuff into believing that he is unsuitable for the crown.  Making himself seem the vilest type of villain, Malcolm really wants to test MacDuff's allegiance.  Is he faithful to Macbeth and the conspirators who murdered his father?  Even though MacDuff asserts that he is not allied with Macbeth, Malcolm uses his clever ploy to ascertain MacDuff's true feelings on what is best for Scotland.  Malcolm alledges this of his own terrible traits:

That, when they shall be open'd, black Macbeth
Will seem as pure as snow, and the poor state(60)
Esteem him as a lamb, being compared
With my confineless harms. (59-62).  

Malcolm makes up the worst possible characteristics for himself and then gauges MacDuff's reaction.  When MacDuff is completely reviled by the horrors recounted by Malcolm, then the would-be king knows that MacDuff's heart is honest, true, and loyal to Scotland.  Malcolm quickly reveals his test of faith, and the two become loyal allies.