Macduff

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Last Updated on October 5, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467

Extended Character Analysis

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Macduff is the Thane of Fife and the man who ultimately ends Macbeth’s reign of terror. Macduff is a loyal thane who lacks the ambition of both Banquo and Macbeth, instead working to support whomever he sees as the rightful king. He quickly grows suspicious of Macbeth after Duncan’s murder, refusing to attend Macbeth’s coronation. However, his own sense of honor blinds him to the danger in which he has left his family after his flight to England. After hearing that his family was massacred, Macduff vows revenge, going on to defeat Macbeth in combat and restore order to Scotland. 

Macduff acts as a foil to Macbeth, with his honesty, humility, and loyalty contrasting with Macbeth’s pride and ambition. If Macbeth is a “devilish” agent of the unnatural, then Macduff is an agent of the natural order, described by Lennox in act III, scene VI as a “holy angel.” Macduff is a selfless patriot, sacrificing his family, his status, and his own safety for the sake of restoring order to Scotland. He refuses to tolerate corruption, preferring to forsake Scotland entirely rather than allow a corrupt king to sit on the throne.

The thought of claiming the kingship for himself never crosses Macduff’s mind, highlighting his lack of personal ambition. His triumph over Macbeth in act V, scene VII represents the restoration of the natural order, as Malcolm, the rightful heir to Duncan’s throne, prepares to reclaim Scotland. The shadow of Macbeth’s reign is dispelled, and Macduff’s revenge for his family’s murder is complete. By one interpretation, Macduff is the true hero of the play, having far more heroic qualities and motivations than Macbeth. However, since Macbeth is the focus of the story, Macduff is instead an anti-villain to Macbeth’s anti-hero. 

In addition to being victimized by Macbeth, Macduff is also impacted by the witches. It is their prediction—that Macbeth must “beware Macduff”—that leads to the slaughter of Macduff’s family. If Macbeth does not kill Macduff’s family, Macduff does not seek Macbeth out on the battlefield. However, Macduff is the man not of “woman born” who is destined to kill Macbeth, infusing the events with a degree of supernatural premeditation. 

Macduff’s emotional reaction to finding out his family’s massacre calls into question the Macbeths’ concept of what it means to be a man. When Malcolm tells him to “dispute” his grievances like a man in act VI, scene III, Macduff responds that he must also “feel it like a man.” Macduff is normally quiet and stoic, but his reactions to the murders of both Duncan and his family suggest a rich emotional interior and contradicts Lady Macbeth’s assertion that kindness and grief are “unmanly.” 

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