In Macbeth, does Act 4, Scene 3 represent a turning point in the play in any way?
This is the scene where Macduff goes to try and convince Malcolm to come back to Scotland and save it from Macbeth. They are in England, where Malcom and his brother Donalbain have fled after the murder of their father, the gracious King Duncan.
This scene was obviously intended to be a turning point because it shows Malcolm, inspired by the patriotism, loyalty and courage of Macduff, resolving to take the Scottish throne by force. However, there is much more to this scene than that. An analysis requires a review of what has gone before.
Macbeth has a golden opportunity to murder Duncan, who has never been to Dunsinane before and may never return. Duncan and his sons will be there for one night only. Macbeth should murder Malcolm and Donalbain if he is going to murder their father, who has publicly proclaimed:
We will establish our estate upon
Our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter
The Prince of Cumberland. (1.4)
The Prinice of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down or else o'erleap,
For in my way it lies. (1.4)
Macbeth would probably like to murder all three in their beds on the same night but fails to do so. He may not feel he can bring it off alone. He tries to involve Banquo:
I dreamt last night of the three Weird Sisters.
To you they have showed some truth.
I think not of them.
Yet, when we can entreat an hour to serve,
We would spend it in some words upon that business,
If you would grant the time.
At your kind’st leisure.
If you shall cleave to my consent, when ‘tis,
It shall make honor for you.
So I lose none
In seeking to augment it, but still keep
My bosom franchised and allegiance clear,
I shall be counseled.
Good repose the while. (2.1)
Obviously, Macbeth will have to act alone—and quickly! He kills Duncan, but he is so sickened that he can’t even think of murdering the two sons—if, indeed, that was what he had in mind. Besides, he thinks he hears a voice sounding an alarm:
Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep”—the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast. (2.2)
(These wonderful lines function solely to explain why Macbeth does not kill Malcolm and Donalbain when he has the chance.)
So Malcolm and Donalbain appear the next morning—although the audience might have been wondering whether they were alive or dead. Despite Macbeth’s sloppy planning and loss of nerve, things work out for him. Duncan’s sons flee. Macbeth can blame Duncan's assassination on them and claim the crown.
Then in Act 4, Scene 3, Shakespeare tries to explain away Malcolm’s failure to act rationally at the time of his father’s demise. Malcolm tells Macduff, in so many words, that he considers himself a monster of evil and that even Macbeth is a better monarch than he would be. This interview is designed to show the audience why Malcolm was not initially motivated to claim the crown. At one point in his fantastic confession, he says:
Than such an one to reign. (4.3)
Then, equally improbably, he recants his entire confession and claims he was only testing Macduff’s loyalty. Many critics have taken this claim at face value and have repeated Malcolm’s assertion that this whole long interview was only a devious way of testing Macduff. The entire conversation would have been a waste of words if it were not intended to explain why Malcolm, Prince of Cumberland, did not immediately claim the throne as his father’s direct heir.