How Does Malcolm Test Macduff

How does Malcolm test Macduff in act 2 of Macbeth?

In act 4 of Macbeth, Malcolm tests Macduff by pretending to be a truly awful human being. He believes that if Macduff is loyal to Macbeth, Macduff will try to convince Malcolm to return to Scotland no matter how terrible a leader Malcolm might be. If Macduff is loyal to Scotland, however, then he will not want Malcolm to be king any more than he wants Macbeth to remain in power.

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It’s quite a risky plot that Malcolm engages in with Macduff in act 4. After all, at the end of it, Macduff is so appalled by Malcolm as he has presented himself that he declares that Malcolm is unfit to live on earth, let alone be the ruler of Scotland. But Malcolm is afraid for his own life and also very loyal to Scotland, so he is willing to take the chance to make sure that Macduff is, too.

Malcolm’s goal is to establish whether Macduff is actually working for Macbeth. He wants to know whether he should return to Scotland in order to try and regain his father’s throne, or whether this will result in his being killed. To test this, he challenges Macduff. He wants to know whether Macduff will care about Malcolm being a terrible king, which he would if he was a loyal Scotsman. If he is not a loyal Scotsman and simply wants to get Malcolm back to Scotland so he can be killed, he will say that he does not care.

To this end, then, Malcolm confesses his great “voluptuousness,” saying he is very lustful. He next says that he is incredibly greedy and would take all the land away from his nobles. Macduff tries to make arguments against the first two points, but when Malcolm says that he has none of the “kingly graces” his father had, Macduff says that he isn’t fit to be king. Therefore, Malcolm knows he is not in Macbeth’s employ.

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Malcolm has a right to be suspicious of Macduff when he visits him in England attempting to persuade him to return to Scotland. Malcolm is aware of Macbeth's treachery and understands that he has many agents working for him. He cannot trust anyone and proceeds to deceive Macduff in order to discover his true intentions. Malcolm knows that if Macduff is working for Macbeth, he will do anything to get him to return to Scotland, where Macbeth can murder him.

Malcolm tests Macduff's integrity by portraying himself in a negative light and pretending to have numerous vices. If Macduff dismisses Malcolm's vices and continues to persuade him to return to Scotland, Malcolm will know that he is working for Macbeth. Only a genuine, loyal countryman would lament the tragic situation and dissuade Malcolm from returning after hearing his vices.

Malcolm tells Macduff that there is no end to his lust or greed and confesses that he lacks any positive qualities necessary to be king. Macduff responds by crying for his country and saying that Malcolm is not fit to live. Macduff passes the test by proving his loyalty to Scotland and displaying his integrity for his homeland. Before Macduff can leave, Malcolm takes back everything he said about his vices and explains that he was taking precautions. Malcolm then agrees to become allies with Macduff and begins raising an army to challenge Macbeth.

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Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty to Scotland rather than to Macbeth by pretending to be a terrible person who would make an even worse king than Macbeth has been. Malcolm believes that if Macduff is loyal to Macbeth and is only trying to lure Malcolm back to Scotland so that he can be assassinated, Macduff will say that he wants Malcolm to return and claim the throne no matter what. However, if Macduff is loyal to Scotland, then he will not want Malcolm to return and be the king after Malcolm tells Macduff how awful a human being Malcolm is.

Malcolm says that “there’s no bottom, none, / In [his] voluptuousness,” and he says that he is so lustful that there are not enough women in Scotland to satisfy him (4.3.73–74). Macduff assures him that Malcolm can “Convey [his] pleasures in a spacious plenty” as the king, even though being so lustful is not a great quality to have in a leader (4.3.85). At this point, Malcolm says that he is also beset by “stanchless avarice,” and that, were he king, he would take all wealth from his nobles and drain the wealth of the kingdom with his greed (4.3.93). Macduff assures Malcolm that there’s plenty of wealth in Scotland to satisfy him, though greed is an even worse quality than lust.

Finally, Malcolm claims that he has “none” of the “king-becoming graces” and that he would rather “confound / All unity on earth” than behave with justice or courage (4.3.107, 4.3.115–116). It is at this point that Macduff declares that not only is Malcolm unfit to govern Scotland, but he is also unfit to live on the earth. This convinces Malcolm that Macduff is not loyal to Macbeth, who has “sought to win [Malcolm] / Into his power” and lure him back to kill him (4.3.137–138). Malcolm consents to return to Scotland with Macduff.

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Malcolm tests Macduff by telling Macduff about all of the terrible vices that Malcolm claims to have. Malcolm says that he is more greedy than Macbeth, that he will take advantage of any woman near him, and that he has none of the graces that would be considered necessary for a "good" king.

Malcolm also wants to know whether Macduff has been sent by Macbeth, or whether Macduff is sincere in his desire to have Malcolm claim the throne from Macbeth. Despite all of Malcolm's vices, Macduff still insists that Malcolm return to Scotland, as the throne rightfully belongs to Malcolm. It does hurt Macduff to hear of Malcolm's vices, but he feels that though Scotland may suffer, the heir must be on the throne.

Macduff is ultimately very relieved to hear that Malcolm does not actually have all of these vices, and that Malcolm is willing to return to Scotland, claim the throne from Macbeth, and restore the country to its previous state of order.

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