Discussion Topic

Macduff's priorities towards country and family in Macbeth

Summary:

In Macbeth, Macduff prioritizes his country over his family. His dedication to Scotland drives him to leave his family behind to seek Malcolm's help in overthrowing Macbeth. This decision leads to the tragic murder of his wife and children by Macbeth's forces, highlighting Macduff's patriotic commitment and the personal sacrifices he endures for the greater good of his country.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Which is more important to Macduff in Macbeth, country or family?

Macduff is expressing his regret at not being able to defend his murdered family in this line, saying, "And I must be from thence!" (meaning "And I had to be away from home!"). The reason he is away from home is his loyalty to Scotland: he is supporting Malcolm in his military efforts to invade the country and take back the throne. He has recently convinced Malcolm that his first loyalty is to Scotland, not Malcolm or his family, crying out, "O Scotland, Scotland!" when he believes, falsely, that Malcolm is an evil tyrant. It is only when Malcolm reassures him that he truly is a good leader that Macduff will follow him.

With Macduff having passed the test of loyalty to Scotland, we can say his country is more important to him than his family. That being said, his family comes in a very close second: he is utterly devastated to hear of their murders, so much so that his exclamation that he had to be away from them carries a deep note of anguish and regret. He is beside himself with grief and channels that emotion into the fight to unseat Macbeth.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Which is more important to Macduff in Macbeth, country or family?

After Rosse brings word that Macduff's entire family has been killed, Macduff is upset because he was away when they all went through such a tragedy.  He says, "And I must be from thence!" as a way to express his regret at having been away from home when the murderers arrived.  Malcolm tells Macduff that he should be a man and enact revenge upon Macbeth; Macduff agrees.  However, Macduff already had his suspicions about Macbeth, hence the reason why he sought out Malcolm to persuade him to return to Scotland.  Macduff is certainly patriotic; however, his family is certainly important to him.  The news that his family has been murdered simply adds "fuel to the fire" and pushes Macduff to want to rise against Macbeth.  So, the scene does not suggest that one is more important than the other because Macduff already had it in is mind to try to overthrow Macbeth--the death of his family simply fuels this desire.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Macbeth, what does Macduff's response reveal about his priorities towards country and family?

Macduff certainly did not expect Macbeth to have his family massacred. Otherwise he would not have left them. What Macbeth has done is probably unprecedented. It is ignoble to murder women and children. Macbeth is acting like a madman. At the end of Act 4, Scene 1, when he is told that Macduff has fled to England, he says in an aside:

Time, thou anticipat'st my dread exploits.
The flighty purpose never is o'ertook
Unless the deed go with it.

Evidently he was planning to have Macduff himself assassinated, in which case he might not have injured his wife and children. He decides on the spur of the moment to take revents on Macduff's family. No doubt Macduff thought they were safe in a castle fully guarded, but Macbeth says to himself:

The castle of Macduff I will surprise,
Seize upon Fife, give to th' edge o' th' sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls
That trace him in his line.

Macduff thought his family was safe, but his castle is taken by surprise. Macbeth wants to set an example so that any other thanes who might have been thinking of defecting will be forced to remain in Scotland and at least pretend to be loyal. Many turn against him when Malcolm and Macduff return with the English army.

Macduff should not be accused of deserting his family and leaving them defenseless. He could not have anticipated Macbeth's tyrannical savagery.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Macbeth, what does Macduff's response reveal about his priorities towards country and family?

Macduff's priorities seem to be first with country, then with family. There are several examples to support this claim -- he left his family to find Malcolm without explaining his absence to them, he mourns for his country after Malcolm recounts all his vices, he uses the deaths of his family to spur his eagerness in battle.

Before judging Macduff too harshly, though, we must remember his response to his family's murder. He seems to be in shock, repeatedly asking if they are all killed. We must remember as well that Macduff is a foil to Macbeth -- his loyalty to country above family is contrasted with Macbeth's disloyalty to country for the sake of position.

We must remember as well that in the Elizabethan culture, the king was seen as having God's authority. Macduff's eagerness to restore the right king to the throne could be seen as both a patriotic and religious mission. Finally, we learn that Macbeth has become a tyrant in his reign. Macduff's determination to bring Malcolm back is for the greater good of all, including his own family. 

Therefore, while on the surface Macduff appears to put country before family, we can see the bigger motivation behind his actions and conclude that his family holds a place of high importance in his life and actions as well. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Macbeth, what does Macduff's response reveal about his priorities towards country and family?

This remark from Macduff, in the context should be taken to mean, "Why did I have to be away from home when this happened?" He is angry with himself for not having been at home to protect his family.

This anger was shared by his wife, who blamed him for leaving Scotland and even told their son "Your father's dead" and called him a traitor. The problem here is that Macduff only left his family behind in order to go to England and persuade Malcom, the true heir to the throne, to come back to Scotland and overthrow Macbeth.

Macduff's actions may have saved many more families from a regime where "Each new morn/New widows howl, new orphans cry." He felt it was right to put country before family, but when he hears the news of his family's death he feels it was wrong to leave them ("Sinful Macduff, they were all struck for thee.") 

The play doesn't really show him as either right or wrong: it just shows us that Macbeth's regime forces people to make very hard choices.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on