In Macbeth, why is Lady Macduff's conversation with her son included in the play? Why is this important? Please explain in detail.

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In act 4, scene 2, Shakespeare introduces the characters of Lady Macduff and her son. Of course, we have already met her husband, Macduff, earlier in the play. In the previous scene, Macbeth went to the witches to hear more prophecies, and he is told to "Beware Macduff." Macduff has fled to England to assist Malcolm in waging war on Macbeth to earn his rightful throne (Duncan was Malcolm's father and nobles are suspicious that Macbeth succeeded to the throne through foul play). We know that Macbeth wants to hurt his enemy, Macduff. Act 4, scene 2 accomplishes a few things in the play: it shows Macbeth's ruthlessness, it humanizes Macduff's family and gives sympathy to Macduff and Malcolm, and it sets the stage for Macduff's dramatic beheading of Macbeth in act 5.

Through Lady Macduff's conversation with her son in scene 2, we learn that Macduff has flown the castle quite suddenly and has left the family unprotected. When speaking to Ross at the start of the scene, Lady Macduff worries that her husband may be committing some wrongdoing, but Ross assures her that is not the case. When Lady Macduff begins talking to her son, she tells him that his father is dead. She asks him what he will do without a father and he says he will get by the best he can. Lady Macduff thinks her son is smart. Next, he asks if his father is a traitor, and Lady Macduff says that Macduff is. This may seem an odd detail to tell one's son, but we hear through this exchange what Lady Macduff's definition of betrayal is: "one that swears and lies." It's pretty clear that Lady Macduff is feeling betrayed by her husband's actions, and since he obviously didn't explain to her why he was leaving, she can only imagine that he is a traitor to his king in fighting against him.

This conversation is important because it humanizes the characters immediately before their deaths. They are an innocent wife and child, confused about Macduff's hasty leave, and concerned about the aftermath of his decision. When they are chased off stage and killed, we think about how ruthless and brutal Macbeth is, how desperate he is to keep his crown. He has gone from killing his king, to ordering the murder of his best friend, to now sending killers to Macduff's home to do away with his family and servants (all innocents). When Macduff learns what has happened to his family, he vows to avenge them by killing Macbeth himself. He feels guilty and now has the personal incentive to fuel his part in Malcolm's war.

durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act IV, scene ii of Macbeth, Duncan is dead, and Macbeth has been making sure that all who may stand in his way are eliminated. From what the witches tell him, he is not the only one destined to be king, and so he has been setting about removing any threat to his position. Macduff may or may not be a threat, but Macbeth must make "double sure". 

Scene ii begins with Lady Macduff expressing her doubts over her husband's "madness" in leaving his family in the face of danger. The scene allows the audience to process all that has happened before. The audience needs to feel the pain of those affected and not just witness Macbeth's killing spree. The audience is able to appreciate Lady Macduff's feelings and grasp the very real physical danger. Any member of the audience now has an opportunity to reflect on what he or she may have done or should have done in similar circumstances. Lady Macduff also points out that no one is safe in "this earthly world" (line 73). The protection of women who "have done no harm" and their children is not guaranteed. This would intensify the audience's anguish as events unfold.

This scene therefore ensures the audience's very personal involvement. The audience may expect Macduff's son to escape, as Fleance escaped. However, by the end of the scene, with the boy dead, the audience is suitably entangled in the drama and is assured that there is much more to follow.

kc4u | Student

The conversation between Lady Macduff and her son in act 4 sc.2 shows a loving mother talking to her child thus highlighting love, care and concern that constitute motherhood. Lady Macduff is a wife and a mother and, unlike the other Lady in the play, Lady Macbeth, she is not bothered about the politics of power. She is upset at her husband's flight to England and apprehends trouble. She is very much concerned about her children and herself being unprotected because of her husband's flight. Thus she stands as a foil to the other Lady who even wanted to kill her baby while giving it a breast-feed.

Macduff's son is very innocently witty and speaks in his boyish playfulness. Nevertheless the boy betrays adult-like wisdom laced with his gift of humor and mischief , e.g.

Lady Macduff: But how wilt thou do for a father?

Son: If he were dead, you'd weep for him: if you would not, it were a good sign that I should quickly have a new father.

He even underpins the moral inversion of the Macbeth-world:

Son: Then the liars and swearers are fools, for there are liars and swearers enow to beat the honest men and hang up them.

This mother-child conversation shows the goodness of love in a suffocating world of ambition, violence and tyranny. When the murderers enter soon thereafter and kills the boy before our eyes, we can guess that the bottom line of Macbeth's degeneration is reached. This conversation underscores the only alternative discourse in a world of mad rush for power, namely, the discourse of love , love that ambition seems to throttle.