Discussion Topic

The dynamics of Malcolm and Macduff's relationship and its indirect implications for Macbeth


Malcolm and Macduff's relationship is based on mutual respect and a shared goal to overthrow Macbeth. Their alliance signifies the growing opposition against Macbeth's tyranny and highlights the theme of loyalty and justice. This dynamic indirectly threatens Macbeth's power and foreshadows his eventual downfall.

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How is Malcolm and Macduff's relationship presented in Macbeth Act 4, Scene 3?

Malcolm is immediately suspicious of Macduff, as Macduff has left his family in Scotland, unprotected, making it seem as though Macduff is certain that they will be safe from Macbeth's violence. Malcolm says that

Devilish Macbeth
By many of these trains hath sought to win me
Into his power, and modest wisdom plucks me
From overcredulous haste. (4.3.119-122)

In other words, it seems that Macbeth has sent other people who Malcolm might have once considered trustworthy to lure Malcolm back to Scotland so that Macbeth could gain access to the rightful heir and, we assume, kill him. Malcolm obviously doesn't know Macduff very well. However, it seems that Macduff doesn't really know Malcolm well either. Malcolm invents a huge number of lies about himself in order to test Macduff, and Macduff never says that he knows these statements to be untrue. In fact, he believes them and declares that Malcolm is "not [fit] to live" (4.3.105). Thus, it seems that these two men don't really know each other very well when they meet in England in this scene. However, knowing that Macbeth is responsible for the deaths of their beloved family members, they come together quickly to overthrow the tyrant.

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How is Malcolm and Macduff's relationship presented in Macbeth Act 4, Scene 3?

Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty in Act 4, Scene 3, and Macduff passes the test and proves he is a loyal supporter.

When Macbeth kills Duncan, Malcolm flees to England.  He knows he will be suspected if he stays, and instead he can use England as a staging area to develop an army of supporters still loyal to him.  Macduff follows, suspecting that Macbeth might have killed Duncan.

Malcolm is suspicious of everyone.  He feels like he can trust Macduff, but he needs to make sure.

Be not offended;

I speak not as in absolute fear of you.

I think our country sinks beneath the yoke;(45)

It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash

Is added to her wounds. (Act 4, Scene 3)

Malcolm gives Macduff all of the reasons why he would not be a good king, including his age and inexperience.  He would be lustful and violent, and generally untrustworthy.  Macduff does not take the bait.  He stays staunch and true, weeping over Scotland’s fate with the bloody tyrant Macbeth.  Malcolm relents.

Macduff, this noble passion,

Child of integrity, hath from my soul(130)

Wiped the black scruples, reconciled my thoughts

To thy good truth and honor. (Act 4, Scene 3)

In the end, Malcolm realizes that he will make an excellent king.  He is intelligent and honest, and his love of country speaks for itself.  While his brother Donalbain flees and does not bother to help, Malcolm puts all of his efforts into returning his family to the throne and freeing the kingdom from Macbeth’s cruelty and ambition.

This scene marks a turning-point in the Macbeth-centered script.  We see that Macbeth is doomed, because there is someone else ready to take him out.  Macduff and Malcolm have both been wronged, but they are not revenge-focused.  Each of them is more interested in returning the beloved homeland to a noble and honest king.

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How does the interaction between Macduff and Malcolm in Act 4, Scene 3 of Macbeth indirectly involve Macbeth?

Act IV, scene three occurs in England, where MacDuff and Malcolm wait outside King Edward's palace.  The premise of this particular act is that Malcolm hesitates to place his trust in MacDuff, so he attempts to test MacDuff's love of Scotland by pretending to have numerous terrible vices.  Here is where Macbeth enters the conversation, because as horrid as Malcolm pretends to be, MacDuff is sure that he cannot be as bad as Macbeth:

"Not in the legions
Of horrid hell can come a devil more damn'd
In evils to top Macbeth" (IV.iii.63-65).

Shakespeare uses MacDuff and Malcolm's conversation to reveal the building opposition to Macbeth; Macbeth's character certainly feels involved in Act IV, scene three, because he is one of the central topics of discussion between Malcolm and MacDuff, especially after MacDuff learns of his family's deaths at the hands of Macbeth's henchmen.  Macbeth's evil presence darkens the end of the scene as MacDuff bemoans his family's undeserved fate and vows for revenge:

"Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself;
Within my sword's length set him; if he 'scape,
Heaven forgive him too!" (269-271).

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