Who really killed Lady Macduff and children?

In Macbeth, Lady Macduff and her children are killed by a professional cutthroat hired by Macbeth. Macbeth, therefore, is responsible for their deaths, as he is for Banquo's.

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Lady Macduff and her children are killed by a professional cutthroat, generally denoted in the play as "First Murderer," who works for Macbeth. The First Murderer is one of the men Macbeth hires to murder Banquo . After Banquo's ghost appears at Macbeth's feast, Macbeth muses that Macduff was...

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Lady Macduff and her children are killed by a professional cutthroat, generally denoted in the play as "First Murderer," who works for Macbeth. The First Murderer is one of the men Macbeth hires to murder Banquo. After Banquo's ghost appears at Macbeth's feast, Macbeth muses that Macduff was not one of the thanes in attendance and remarks to Lady Macbeth that the Thane of Fife "denies his presence." Having heard from the apparitions summoned up by the witches that he must be wary of Macduff, Macbeth decides to take no chances and to have his rival killed.

While the audience hears Macbeth instruct the Murderers to kill Banquo—and Fleance along with him—his orders for the attack on Macduff's castle are not included in the play. It is clear, however, from what transpires that Macbeth's orders must have been along the lines of "kill everyone you find there."

When the murderers arrive, they find that Macduff has fled to England to find Malcolm, leaving behind Lady Macduff and the children. The murderers don't leave when they realize their primary target is absent, however. Instead, the First Murderer kills Lady Macduff's son on stage in front of his mother. The audience hears later that Lady Macduff and her other children were also murdered. This scene shows how bloodthirsty and cruel Macbeth has become: Macduff's wife and children pose no threat to him, and he has no reason to order their deaths—yet he does. This barbaric act establishes Macbeth and Macduff as rivals, all but ensuring a final confrontation between the two of them at the end of the play.

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