How does Shakespeare present Malcolm?
Macbeth is a drama about usurpation, and the degree to which that act of betrayal shatters the political order, resulting in tyranny. From this perspective, Macbeth himself should be understood as an aberration, and a distortion of political norms. Malcolm, as the legitimate heir to the throne, plays a critical role within the play's thematic structure, as a foil to Macbeth and as an embodiment of legitimate monarchy, as opposed to the tyranny embodied by Macbeth.
While Malcolm is depicted as noble and virtuous, he is also quite shrewd. After Macbeth's murder of Duncan, both Malcolm and his brother Donalbain recognize the precariousness of their own situation, and thus go into hiding. Later, Malcolm builds an army while in England in order to take the throne that is his by right. However, even as he is gathering allies, he is careful to test for potential spies and flatterers. We see this when Macduff approaches him, and Malcolm claims various vices for himself, pretending to be a terrible candidate for a king. In so doing, he can ascertain Macduff's own personal character.
As the play concludes, Malcolm and Macduff defeat Macbeth, restoring the rightful claimant to the throne. Thus Macbeth's tyranny has fallen, with legitimate monarchy, embodied by Malcolm, finally restored.
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