What weaknesses and strengths does Malcolm exhibit through his attempts to spur on Macduff, after the two learn of the latter's loss?The killing of his wife and children ( Macduff's family)?

Expert Answers
Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Ross tells Macduff (with Malcolm present) in Act 4.3 of Shakespeare's Macbeth that his family has been "surprised" and  "Savagely slaughtered," and that to give him the details of the murders of his "deer" (a pun on dear, of course) ones would be to cause Macduff's death, too, Malcolm's first response is to tell Macduff not to hide his sorrow, but to express it:

What, man, ne'er pull your hat upon your brows [hide your grief],

Give sorrow words.  The grief that does not speak

Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.

I assume you would consider this a strength shown by Malcom.  He empathizes with Macduff (puts himself in Macduff's place, knows what he's going through, and offers sound advice).

Macduff, shocked, however, basically ignores Malcolm and continues to ask Ross if all his family were killed--he can't believe what Ross is saying and can't get past the news itself.

Malcolm's next response is to offer a solution to Macduff:

Be comforted.

Let's make us med'cines of our great revenge,

To cure this deadly grief.

This may also be seen as a strength--he is offering a solution and giving Macduff a concrete option for overcoming his grief--but might also be seen as self-serving--he is pushing his own agenda (lead an army against Macbeth).

When Macduff continues to obsess over the murders themselves, Malcolm certainly makes a mistake in interpreting Macduff's reaction, and expects Macduff to handle his grief in the stereotypical male manner:

Dispute it like a man.

And Macduff sets Malcolm straight:

I shall do so.

But I must also feel it as a man.

I cannot but remember such things were

That were most precious to me. 

He will take his grief out on Macbeth, but first he must feel his losses. 

Malcolm doesn't give up, however, again urging Macduff:

Be this the whetstone [that which your sword is sharpened on] of your sword.  Let grief

Convert to anger; blunt not the heart, enrage it.

And again Macduff, the ideal foil to Macbeth, corrects Malcolm:

Oh, I could play the woman with mine eyes [weep]

And braggart with my tongue.  But, gentle heavens,

Cut short all intermission!  Front to front [face to face, a vital element of honor]

Bring thou this fiend of Scotland [Macbeth] and myself!

Macduff reveals a sophisticated, mature reaction to grief.  He will revenge his family's murder, but first he must feel his loss.  Malcolm demonstrates empathy, but also seems intent on pushing his agenda.

Of course, Macduff's reaction contributes to the theme of role reversal in the play:  his need to feel his grief before he acts on it is typically a reaction expected of females, rather than of macho males. 

kc4u | Student

When Ross breaks the news of the brutal killing of Macduff's wife and children, it sounds unbelievable to Macduff that such a wholesale slaughter was carried out. As Macduff regrets, Malcolm offers him consolation and, at the same time, tries to provide him further encouragement for taking revenge upon the offender:

Merciful heaven!

What! man; ne'er pull your hat upon your brows;

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak

Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.

Malcolm combines the tenderness of sympathy with the sturdy resolution of avenging the crime and thereby mitigate the grief:

Be comforted:

Let's make us medicine of our great revenge,

To cure this deadly grief.

Malcolm shows exemplary strength of mind and asks Macduff to prove his mettle of a man:

" Dispute it like a man".

What Malcolm seems to lack is  Macduff's feeling, he being the affected person, having suffered such irreparable losses. This becomes clear when Macduff says:

I shall do so

But I must also feel it as a man....


It seems that Malcolm and Macduff have different notions of manhood at this moment of crisis.