Why Does Macbeth Kill Macduff's Family

Why does Macbeth kill Macduff's wife and children?

Macbeth never clearly states his reasons for killing Macduff's wife and children in Shakespeare's Macbeth. However, the audience can surmise from the context in which the murders occur that Macbeth fears Macduff as an enemy and that Macbeth wants to kill Macduff for the same reasons that Macbeth had Banquo murdered. Macbeth is also angry that Macduff fled to England before he could kill him, and Macbeth takes out his vengeful retribution on Macduff's family.

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Macbeth's killing of King Duncan's guards in act 2, scene 3 leads Macduff to believe that Macbeth is involved in Duncan's murder. In act 2, scene 4, Macduff makes his suspicions about Macbeth known to Ross . Macduff tells Ross that instead of going to Macbeth's coronation, he's...

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Macbeth's killing of King Duncan's guards in act 2, scene 3 leads Macduff to believe that Macbeth is involved in Duncan's murder. In act 2, scene 4, Macduff makes his suspicions about Macbeth known to Ross. Macduff tells Ross that instead of going to Macbeth's coronation, he's going back to his own castle at Fife, no doubt to look after his own affairs and to prepare for whatever Macbeth might have planned for him.

In act 3, scene 4, Macbeth reveals that Macduff refused to attend Macbeth's coronation banquet—the banquet which the ghost of Banquo attends uninvited—which angers Macbeth. Macbeth also reveals that he has spies in the homes of the nobility in Scotland, including Macduff's home, so Macbeth is fairly certain that Macduff suspects him of Duncan's murder and that Macduff is likely plotting with other nobles against him.

When Macbeth recovers his senses after being unnerved at seeing the ghost of Banquo at the banquet, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that he's going to the witches to find out what they know about his future.

In act 4, scene 1, an apparition conjured up by the witches tells Macbeth to "beware Macduff; / Beware the Thane of Fife" (lines 79–80). Macbeth already has concerns about Macduff, but before Macbeth can question the apparition further about Macduff, it disappears. A second apparition appears and tells him "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth" (lines 90–91), which Macbeth interprets to mean that no one, including Macduff, can harm him or imperil his throne.

Nevertheless, Macbeth vows to kill Macduff to "make assurance double sure" (line 92), if for no other reason than Macbeth can sleep better at night—"and sleep in spite of thunder" (line 96)—knowing that Macduff is dead and that he's no further threat to him.

Just a little later in that scene, however, Lennox tells Macbeth that "Macduff is fled to England" (line 158), which further angers Macbeth because he missed the opportunity to kill Macduff in Scotland, and now Macduff is out of reach in England. Macbeth resolves not to hesitate when he decides something must be done but to do it immediately. This leads Macbeth to his fateful decision to attack Macduff's castle, to "give to the edge o' the sword / His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line" (lines 168–170), before any more time passes and "before this purpose cool" (line 171).

Macbeth immediately sends murderers to Macduff's castle to do what Macbeth said he intended to do, which was to kill Macduff's wife and all of his children.

Consistent with Macbeth's firmness of purpose and his intent to attack Macduff's castle without delay, Shakespeare wastes no time in presenting that horrific scene to the audience in act 4, scene 2.

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Since killing King Duncan and assuming the throne, Macbeth has become increasingly consumed with power and arrogance. He is not the same honorable person he was when in the king’s service. Now, he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his crown—even if that means more murders.

When Macbeth sends word that he wants to speak to Macduff, he is rebuffed “with an absolute ‘Sir, not I!’” It is clear to the king that he cannot rely on Macduff’s loyalty.

Macduff poses a threat to Macbeth because he is working with Duncan’s son to raise an army to defeat the king. It is known that Macduff has traveled to England to meet with Malcolm. Therefore, Macbeth begins preparations for war, knowing it is the only way to retain his throne.

His resolve strengthened by the Three Witches, who tell him he will not be defeated until the woods travel to the hill, Macbeth decides that Macduff is an enemy to be removed. While he is confident that he can defeat Macduff in battle, he still worries about losing the throne in the future to any heirs who might seek revenge. Therefore, Macbeth reasons, the best way to remove any threat is to remove everyone; he gives the order to kill Macduff’s “wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line.”

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Shortly after assassinating King Duncan, Macbeth successfully usurps the throne and holds his coronation at Scone, where he will officially be crowned King of Scotland. Macduff suspects that Macbeth played a role in Duncan's murder and expresses his contempt by refusing to attend Macbeth's coronation. Instead of traveling to Scone and demonstrating his loyalty to Macbeth, Macduff travels to Fife.

Macbeth is offended by Macduff's decision to go to Fife and begins viewing him as a political enemy. In act 4, scene 1, Macbeth visits the Three Witches to learn more about his future, and the first apparition warns him to beware of Macduff. The prophecy confirms Macbeth's view of Macduff and solidifies Macduff as a serious threat. Macbeth then receives two more prophecies that influence him to become an overconfident, fearless tyrant.

At this point in the play, Macbeth has developed into a bloodthirsty, callous ruler who is determined to vanquish his enemies. In act 4, scene 2, Macbeth hires assassins to murder Macduff and his entire family. Tragically, Macduff's wife, children, and servants are brutally slaughtered. However, Macduff survives; he is in England attempting to convince Malcolm to challenge Macbeth.

One reason Macbeth slaughters Macduff's family is to send a message to his political enemies. He is motivated to portray himself as an intimidating, powerful tyrant who will punish and destroy his enemies. Macbeth also desires to upset and emotionally ruin Macduff, who is his primary opponent. Although he views Macduff as a threat, Macbeth believes that Macduff is not capable of defeating him. By massacring Macduff's family, Macbeth is baiting him to come back to Scotland, where Macbeth plans to defeat Macduff in hand-to-hand combat.

Ironically, Macbeth is not aware that Macduff was "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb—meaning that Macduff is capable of killing him.

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At this point in the play, Macbeth has lost all touch with moralistic values and rational thought.  He is so fearful of losing his crown that he will do anything to protect it.  When Macduff was absent from Macbeth’s inauguration, Macbeth grew suspicious of him and decided to make a strong point by murdering Macduff’s family.  The reason for the murder of his wife and children was to clear the bloodline.  In Macbeth’s mind he did not want to lose the crown to anyone in Macduff’s family and the massacre would also send a strong message not to oppose him.  There is also a possible bit of resentment toward Macduff because he was able to do one of the basic primal objectives in life, reproduce.

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