Macbeth Act 4 Scenes 1 to 3 Summary

Antonia Blankenberg
Note by , created almost 2 years ago

Find analysis and interpretation of Macbeth Act 4 with this study note. As the witches apparitions foretell Macbeth of his fate, Macbeth becomes embolded and determined to wipe out the family of Macduff.

Antonia Blankenberg
Created by Antonia Blankenberg almost 2 years ago
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Page 1

Act 4 - Scene 1

Act 4 opens in a dark cave with the witches gathered around a cauldron. Hecate enters and compliments their work, telling them to continue.   Macbeth enters and boldly demands to be shown a series of apparitions that tell his future. To answer his questions, they summon three horrible apparitions, each of which offers a prediction to allay Macbeth’s fears.   The first apparition is a floating head that warns Macbeth of Macduff. The second is a blood-covered child who comforts Macbeth with the news that he cannot be killed by any man "of woman born". The last apparition of a child holding a tree tells him that he is safe until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane Hill.    The apparitions fill Macbeth with confidence as he believes the last two to be impossible. With this confidence, he asks the witches to reveal if the descendants of Banquo will take the throne from him. The witches present an image of a ghostly procession of future kings, led by Banquo. This serves only to enrage Macbeth, who reveals to the audience his determination to slaughter the family of Macduff.   Analysis: The potion made by the witches contains ingredients that are all the entrails or body parts of loathed animals or human beings, which, taken together, can be interpreted as making a complete monster. The strong implication is that Macbeth himself is no longer a complete human being; he himself has become a half-man, half-monster.   Macbeth's demand to the witches is answered by a sequence of apparitions. Unlike the dagger and Banquo's ghost, these supernatural visions cannot be simply the workings of Macbeth's own brain, they are definitely summoned by the Witches. The apparitions make him arrogant to the point of answering them back. The last one, however, taunts him, making him angry.    Apart from the first, all the apparitions contain children. The juxtaposition of children (symbols of innocence) and images of death, warfare, and blood, is dramatic and terrifying, but especially so for Macbeth. This haunts him because he has no offspring; the image of children can only fill him with hatred, fear, and loathing.   Emerging out of the cave, Macbeth seems immediately to forget the final prophecy, as he returns to the practicalities of what is increasingly a battle for his own survival. On being informed by Lennox that Macduff has fled to England, he announces his intention to attack Macduff's wife and children.   Important Quotes: "Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." - The Three Witches   "Rebellious dead, rise never till the wood Of Birnam rise, and our high-placed Macbeth Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath To time and mortal custom. " - Macbeth   Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo. Down! Thy crown does sear mine eyeballs. And thy hair, Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first. A third is like the former.—Filthy hags!"- Macbeth   "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." - Macbeth

Page 2

Act 4 - Scene 2

Lady Macduff demands that Ross tell her why her husband has fled to England. She is impatient and feels betrayed. Ross insists that she trust her husband’s judgment and then regretfully departs.    Lady Macduff tells her son that her father has died, which he refuses to believe. She insists that were he still alive, he would certainly be a traitor.   A messenger enters, warning Lady Macduff that she is in danger and urging her to flee. Lady Macduff protests, arguing that she has done no wrong. The murderers soon enter and brutally kill her child first, and then her.    Analysis: In this scene, Lady Macduff says that her husband lacks affection and kindness, this contrasts Lady Macbeth earlier in the play where she says Macbeth has too much of the "milk of human kindness".    The murder of the wife and child mark Macbeth's descent into tyranny and madness,  killing neither for political gain nor to silence an enemy, but simply out of a furious desire to do harm.    Important Quotes: "He loves us not; He wants the natural touch. For the poor wren, The most diminutive of birds, will fight, Her young ones in her nest, against the owl. All is the fear and nothing is the love, As little is the wisdom, where the flight So runs against all reason." - Lady Macduff

Page 3

Act 4 - Scene 3

In England, Duncan's son Malcolm tests the loyalty of his newest recruit, Macduff. He admits that he wonders whether he is fit to be king, since he claims to be lustful, greedy, and violent. At first, Macduff politely disagrees with his future king, but soon enough, his love for Scotland leads him to admit that Malcolm would not be a good ruler.   Macduff is thrown into a fit of anger against Macbeth, and Malcolm enlists his help in the struggle. Ross enters, telling him that his wife and son are safe, but he soon tells him the truth about his family. Macduff becomes enraged and prepares to attack Macbeth.   Analysis: This scene develops further the important issues of loyalty and courage found in the preceding scene.   Macduff and Malcolm are allies, but Macduff also serves as a teacher to Malcolm. Malcolm believes himself to be crafty and intuitive, as shown by his testing of Macduff.    From this moment onwards, Macduff becomes the stereotypical avenging hero. We see his anger and grief towards Macbeth and the reasons for wanting revenge, setting the scene for the final act of the play.   Important Quotes: "I think our country sinks beneath the yoke. It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash Is added to her wounds." - Malcolm   "Not in the legions Of horrid hell can come a devil more damned In evils to top Macbeth." - Macduff   "Macduff, this noble passion, Child of integrity, hath from my soul Wiped the black scruples, reconciled my thoughts To thy good truth and honor. " - Malcolm