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Act 4 Summary

Scene 1

The three witches surround their cauldron, which bubbles and smokes with "a charm of powerful trouble." They throw many macabre ingredients, such as the mummified flesh of a witch and the "Finger of birth-strangled babe," into it. Macbeth enters and insists that the witches answer his questions, and the witches respond by summoning three apparitions.

The first apparition takes the form of a severed head wearing a helmet, and it tells Macbeth to "Beware Macduff." The second apparition takes the form of a bloody child, and it instructs Macbeth to be "bloody, bold and resolute," for, it says, "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth." Macbeth takes this news well, thinking that it means that no mortal man, Macduff included, can harm him. Nonetheless, he decides that he will kill Macduff just to make sure. The third apparition appears in the form of a child with a crown on his head and a tree branch in his hand. The third apparition tells Macbeth that he will "never vanquished be until / Great Birnham Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him." In other words, Macbeth will not be defeated, the apparition says, until Birnham Wood moves to a different place. Macbeth also takes this news well, reasoning that it is quite impossible for a wood to move of its own accord. Macbeth deems what he has heard from the three apparitions to be "sweet omens."

Macbeth then asks one more question. He wants to know if Banquo's sons will rule as kings after him. In response, the witches produce a procession of eight ghostly kings who march across the stage. The last of the eight holds a mirror and is followed by the ghost of Banquo. The mirror reflects the line of kings and gives the impression that the line continues indefinitely. Meanwhile, Banquo smiles and points at Macbeth, which seems to confirm Macbeth's fears that the royal dynasty shall be Banquo's rather than his.

At the end of the scene, Macbeth learns from Lennox that Macduff has fled to England, and Macbeth regrets that he didn't kill Macduff while he had the chance. He decides, nonetheless, that he will still arrange for Macduff's "wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls / that trace him in his line" to be killed.

Scene 2

Lady Macduff criticizes her husband for fleeing to England and leaving her and their children to fend for themselves. She says that her husband has acted out of fear rather than love.

There follows a brief exchange between Lady Macduff and her son, which seems to be intended mostly to invoke empathy for the abandoned Lady Macduff and her children. Their conversation is interrupted by a messenger, who warns Lady Macduff, "some danger does approach you nearly." The messenger advises Lady Macduff to leave immediately, but before she has an opportunity to act on the advice, two murderers enter and kill her son. A sobbing Lady Macduff exits the stage, and the two murderers follow close behind.

Scene 3

Malcolm and Macduff reflect upon the state of Scotland. Malcolm complains that under Macbeth's rule, Scotland "weeps, it bleeds," and that with every new day, "a gash / is added to her wounds."

Macduff then tries to...

(The entire section is 818 words.)