Extended Character Analysis
Malcolm is the eldest son of King Duncan and the rightful heir to the Scottish throne. Duncan officially names Malcolm as his heir in act I, scene IV, cutting off Macbeth’s prospects for ascending the throne. After discovering that their father has been murdered, Malcolm and his brother Donalbain decide to flee Scotland and take refuge in neighboring courts. Malcolm flees to England, where he forms an agreement with the King of England in order to retake the throne of Scotland from Macbeth. When Macduff arrives in England, Malcolm is initially mistrustful, but the two eventually become allies. At the end of the play, Malcolm and the English forces are victorious, and Malcolm prepares to set right the harms that Macbeth has inflicted on Scotland.
Malcolm’s test for Macduff establishes both his love for his country and his intelligence. Rather than immediately trusting a visiting Scottish noble, Malcolm instead tests him by claiming to be a lecherous, greedy, and dishonest man who would be an even worse ruler than Macbeth. Upon seeing Macduff’s dismayed reaction, Malcolm is able to trust him, ascertaining that Macduff cares more about Scotland than petty revenge.
Malcolm also shows his personal nobility and leadership abilities when he helps Macduff direct his righteous anger over the murder of his family at the proper target. Unlike Macbeth, who tends to use people for his own gain, Malcolm puts effort into caring for his allies and genuinely mourns those lost in the battle against Macbeth. His speech at the end of act V, scene VII sees him rewarding the thanes who were loyal to him and attempting to set right everything that Macbeth disrupted.
Thematically, Malcolm represents the natural order. He is the rightful heir to Duncan’s throne and proves himself to be a prudent, capable, and virtuous man. His absence from Scotland coincides with Macbeth’s unnatural reign, and his return at the end of the play allows Scotland to begin healing. He intends to call home all of those whom Macbeth banished, and he decides to adopt an English custom by naming his thanes “Earls,” inviting change and prosperity to a country that has suffered under a narrow-minded tyrant.
In 11th-century Scotland, kings were thought to have a divine right to rule, meaning that Malcolm’s ascension also represents the reinstatement of divine order. Unlike Macbeth, who seizes the throne through murder and treachery, Malcolm wins the throne righteously and through fair combat. Malcolm’s speech at the end of act V, scene VII leaves Scotland, and the audience, with the sense that everything is going to be set right, further emphasizing the unnaturalness of Macbeth's reign.