What is the significance of the Malcolm & Macduff Conversation in Macbeth?  

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act four, Scene three of Macbeth, Malcolm and Macduff have a significant conversation. Malcolm betrays his own innocence, claiming that he too lusts for power, not unlike the evil Macbeth:

With this there grows
In my most ill-composed affection such
A stanchless avarice that, were I King,
I should cut off the nobles for their lands,(90)
Desire his jewels and this other's house,
And my more-having would be as a sauce
To make me hunger more, that I should forge
Quarrels unjust against the good and loyal,
Destroying them for wealth.(95)

Of course, Malcolm is only testing Macduff's sincerity. He is searching for some mischief that may be found in Macduff. Malcolm is actually honorable. He tells Macduff lies to see if Macduff is solely in favor of protecting the throne of Scotland. Macduff passes the test. He mourns for Scotland, his homeland:

O Scotland, Scotland!

When Malcolm realizes that Macduff can be trusted, they create an honorable bond and agree to rid Scotland of the evils of Macbeth. Malcolm proclaims his innocence. He tells Macduff that he has only been testing his sincerity:

I am yet(140)
Unknown to woman, never was forsworn,
Scarcely have coveted what was mine own,
At no time broke my faith, would not betray
The devil to his fellow, and delight
No less in truth than life. My first false speaking(145)
Was this upon myself. What I am truly,
Is thine and my poor country's to command:

At this, Malcolm and Macduff come into an agreement to rid Scotland of the evils of Macbeth:

Now we'll together, and the chance of goodness
Be like our warranted quarrel!

In summary, the beginning conversation between Malcolm and Macduff is one of pretense. Malcolm pretends to be lustful and full of evils to test Macduff's loyalty to the throne of Scotland. Malcolm was looking for a sign of loyalty to the throne of Scotland. When Macduff passes the test, Malcolm is ready to join his forces with Macduff in order to restore goodness back to the throne of Scotland.