How does Macduff show his guilt in the play Macbeth?

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As the previous educator has shown, there are many examples of how Macduff demonstrates his guilt over the deaths of King Duncan, as well as his wife and son. His response to guilty feelings is to take action. He wants to avenge these deaths by physically attacking and removing ...

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As the previous educator has shown, there are many examples of how Macduff demonstrates his guilt over the deaths of King Duncan, as well as his wife and son. His response to guilty feelings is to take action. He wants to avenge these deaths by physically attacking and removing Macbeth.

It is also worth looking at act 5, scene 7 because in this scene, there is an example of how Macduff’s guilt links to one of the play’s wider themes, the supernatural. Here is the specific quote:

If thou beest slain, and with no stroke of mine,

My wife and children’s ghosts will haunt me still.
Macduff is saying that if he does not kill Macbeth with his own hands, if he lets another man do it, the ghosts of his wife and child will continue to haunt him. This is significant because it implies that since their deaths, his wife and child have haunted him at night. Macduff believes that the only way to end these supernatural visits is to kill Macbeth, the man who ordered their murders. When Macbeth is dead, he believes that his wife and child will be at peace.

Like Lady Macbeth, then, Macduff’s guilt manifests itself physically. He sees his wife and child every night, just as she saw blood on her hands. While this guilt caused Lady Macbeth to go mad, Macduff’s guilt has manifested itself in the need for immediate revenge. Once this has happened, he will no longer be haunted and his guilt will, therefore, disappear.

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Macduff feels a nagging sense of guilt over abandoning his family when the going got tough. As soon as he realized that he was a marked man, he took off to England leaving his family at the mercy of a cruel, vengeful Macbeth. When word reaches Macduff that Macbeth wiped out his entire family, he's immediately thrown into paroxysms of guilt-stricken grief:

Sinful Macduff, They were all struck for thee! Naught that I am, Not for their own demerits, but for mine, Fell slaughter on their souls (Act IV Scene iii).

Macduff knows that he did the wrong thing in suddenly abandoning his family like that. As one would expect, he swears revenge on Macbeth. But killing the tyrant who murdered his family can be seen in a different light; it won't just be an act of simple revenge, it'll be an attempt by Macduff to assuage some of the guilt he will always feel over leaving his family behind. This helps to explain why Macduff doesn't just kill Macbeth, but he actually decapitates him as well. In carrying out such an excessive act of violence, Macduff is trying to atone for his failings as a husband and a father.

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Macduff feels guilty when Duncan is killed, and again when his wife and son are killed.  He reacts by vowing revenge on Macbeth.

Macduff is a Scottish noble with a fiery temper.  He seems to have been very close to King Duncan, so when Duncan is murdered he feels strong emotions.

O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart

Cannot conceive nor name thee. (Act 2, Scene 3)

Macduff is not afraid to show his true feelings.  He is an emotional man.  He also seems to be the only one interested in helping Lady Macbeth when she appears to faint from the news of Duncan’s death.

Macduff seems suspicious from the start.  When Ross asks him if he is going to see Macbeth crowned, he says he is going home to Fife instead.  His actions and words show that he is beginning to wonder about Macbeth and who really killed Duncan.

Well, may you see things well done there, Adieu,

Lest our old robes sit easier than our new (Act 2, Scene 4)

It is actually this suspicion that leads to his family’s murder, because his actions have made Macbeth suspicious.  When he goes on to join Malcolm, he leaves his wife and son behind.  Macbeth has them slaughtered.  This event fills Macduff with guilt, because he sees his actions as to blame.  When Malcolm tells him to put his grief into anger, he says he will do so, but he will still feel it.

Sinful Macduff,

They were all struck for thee! Naught that I am,

Not for their own demerits, but for mine,

Fell slaughter on their souls. Heaven rest them now! (Act 3, Scene 3)

In the end, Macduff sides with Malcolm and manages to put himself in Macbeth’s path.  He fights him and prevails, cutting his head off.  Still, he will likely carry the guilt of what happened to Duncan and his family with him for the rest of his life.

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