Why does Macduff refuse to tell Lady Macbeth about the murder? 

Why does Macduff refuse to tell Lady Macbeth about the murder?

 

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth and his wife planned to be pretending to be sound asleep in their bed when Duncan's murder would be discovered. Macbeth, however, was forced to come down to the gate to find out why nobody was responding to the persistent knocking. The drunken Porter admits Macduff and Lennox just as Macbeth is arriving, so Macbeth finds himself forced to conduct the two men to King Duncan's chamber and stand outside with Lennox while Macduff goes inside to wake Duncan in accordance with the King's orders. When Macduff comes out and raises a great alarm, he is so overwrought by what he has seen that does not suspect anyone yet. Lady Macbeth is able to go through with the couple's original plan and put on an act of an innocent person who has just been awakened by the uproar. She asks,

What's the business,
That such a hideous trumpet calls to parley
The sleepers of the house? Speak, speak!     (Act II, Scene 3)

Macduff replies,

O gentle lady,
’Tis not for you to hear what I can speak:
The repetition in a woman's ear
Would murder as it fell.

He does not want to describe what he has just seen because he sincerely believes that Lady Macbeth is a gentle, innocent woman who could be so shocked and horrified that she would suffer a serious injury or possibly even death. At this point, Macduff believes Lady Macbeth has been asleep and that his outcry woke her. Macduff probably believes that Macbeth would have been sound asleep beside his wife if he hadn't awakened him with his knocking at the gate.

There is a sharp contrast between Macbeth and his wife's behavior. She does a much better job of acting innocent, surprised, alarmed, and aghast. She is not hampered by a guilty conscience or a code of honor like her husband. Macduff will have plenty of time later on to think about Macbeth's strange behavior from the moment he met Macduff and Lennox at the gate. Added to that will be the fact that Macbeth murdered Duncan's two attendants before they had a chance to argue their innocence, and the fact that Macbeth ended up becoming the new king. 

Lady Macbeth knows her husband will come under suspicion. She tries to help him out of a painful situation by pretending to be about to faint and calling, "Help me hence, ho!" Macduff is already becoming suspicious of Macbeth. He asks him why he killed the king's two attendants, and Lady Macbeth senses that her distraught husband is making himself look guilty by offering too much apology, explanation, and blatantly insincere rhetoric.