How does Shakespeare's construction of "Macbeth" support his cynical view of reality?Based on Act 4 Scene 2.  To what extent does the composition of this scene support this? 

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sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reality is perception, as we clearly see in this scene.  Lady Macduff rails against her husband for his family alone.  She portrays her husband as a coward for doing so, not recognizing that he is bravely seeking help for his country when he could just be helping himself.

He had none;
His flight was madness. When our actions do not,
Our fears do make us traitors,

She believes that her husband does not love because he has run.  In truth, however, Macduff's love is so broad and deep that he is willing to sacrifice for the greater good.  The falseness of her perception is shown in the quarrel with her son, who will not accept her portrayal of his father.

However, the way this scene is set up shows us that even "false" perceptions are a representation of real events.  Though Macduff may love his family, and though he may be a hero and not a coward, Lady Macduff's complaints prove reasonable.  She and her son are attacked by Macbeth's men and killed - and Macduff, who "fled" to England, is spared.  Had Shakespeare not presented this exchange in the first part of the scene, but had only shown the murder of the family, then the commentary would have been lost.  Sure, Macduff is a hero to his country - but Shakespeare cynically points out that he is also a traitor to his family. 

As, by the way, was Macbeth - who fought bravely for his country in battle but then killed his own cousin in order to gain  the crown.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to Lady Macduff taking such a terribly bleak view of her husband's sudden flight to England, the conversation between her and her son reveals a shocking level of cynicism. When Lady Macduff asks her son what he will do for a father, he responds in a rather sassy way, "Nay, how will you do for a husband?" and she suggests that she can buy twenty at the market. Her son retorts that she'd only be buying them to sell again, implying that a truly good husband is terribly hard to come by or, perhaps, even that Lady Macduff is terribly difficult to please—or maybe both.  

Further, Lady Macduff tells her son that all traitors must be hanged by the honest men. Her son responds that all the "liars and swearers are fools, for there are liars and swearers enough to beat the honest men and hang up them" (4.2.62-64). In other words, this child in the world says that there are so many more bad men than there are good that if the bad men rose up against the good, the bad would certainly overpower the good. This is an incredibly cynical perspective on the world, especially as it comes out of a child's mouth.