Was Macduff not born of a woman, and "ripped" OR was he 'ripped' because his mother died before delivery?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In act 4, scene 1, Macbeth visits the Three Witches in order to receive additional prophecies concerning his future. The witches proceed to deceive Macbeth by showing him several enigmatic apparitions. The first apparition instructs Macbeth to beware of Macduff, while the second apparition tells Macbeth,

"Be bloody, bold, and resolute. Laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth." (Shakespeare, 4.1.81-83)

Macbeth takes the witches' prophecy at face value and becomes overconfident in his belief that no man is capable of harming him.

However, in act 5, scene 8, Macbeth comes face to face with Macduff during the final battle of the play. Before they fight, Macbeth informs Macduff that he will be wasting his time because no man can harm him. In Macbeth's mind, he believes that every man is naturally born of a woman, which explains his confidence. However, Macduff responds by saying,

"Despair thy charm, And let the angel whom thou still hast served Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb Untimely ripped." (Shakespeare, 5.8.13-16)

Macduff is essentially saying that he was not naturally born, and was cut from his mother's womb during a medical procedure known as a Cesarean section. Although Cesarean sections are relatively common today, during the Middle Ages, it was an extremely rare practice, which is why Macbeth does not consider it a possibility. Unfortunately, Shakespeare does not elaborate on whether or not Macduff's mother died during childbirth.

jseligmann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an example of how the witches toyed with Macbeth. When they first met with him and Banquo, they told Macbeth two truths and offered one prediction (Act 1, scene 3):

"...All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Glamis! All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor! All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter!"

Then, in Act 4, scene 1, the witches show him equivocating apparitions who, as Macbeth later says "lie like the truth." The second apparition is a bloody child who says,

Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn

The power of man, for none of woman born

Shall harm Macbeth.

The bloody child is Macduff, who, as a Caesarian section by birth was, as Macduff himself says, "from his mother's womb Untimely ripp'd." That's why the child was bloody, for it had on it the blood of the Caesarian  procedure. Of course this confounds Macbeth because the witches, through the apparition, were merely playing with words. A child who is born by Caesarian section is still "born of woman" but not in the strictest sense of a normal, birth-canal birth. (Why he was a Caesarian is not important, nor is the condition of Macduff's mother at the time of or after his birth). Very tricky indeed, especially so for literal-minded Macbeth.

mstokes | Student

In Shakespeare's Macbeth the Witches' prophecy was that "...none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth" (IV.i). Unfortunately for Macbeth, the Scottish nobleman Macduff was "from his mother's womb/ Untimely ripped," in other words born by Caesarian section, a procedure which would mean he was not born naturally "of woman" (V.vii). Macduff was the only agent capable of destroying Macbeth.

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