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Free Study Guide-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Booknotes Summary
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Act IV, Scene 3

Summary

This scene opens in front of the king's castle in England with Malcolm and Macduff discussing the state of affairs brought about by Macbeth in Scotland. It is not a pretty picture, for each day "new sorrows strike heaven on the face." Malcolm wants to find a desolate place and weep for his homeland. Macduff wants to take up arms against Macbeth. At the beginning of their conversation, it is obvious that the two men are distrustful of one another. Macduff senses the worry of the prince and assures him, "I am not treacherous." Malcolm is still not convinced. He questions why Macduff left his wife and child in peril in order to come to England. The prince admits that he is suspicious and concerned for his own safety. Macduff, in frustration, cries out, "Bleed, bleed, poor country." He feels there is no hope for Scotland if he cannot join forces with Malcolm against Macbeth. But since he is not trusted, Macduff feels he has to leave.

Malcolm stops Macduff in order to test his trustworthiness. The prince pretends to be an evil person filled with vices, and if compared to Macbeth, Malcolm says, "Black Macbeth will seem pure as snow." Macduff scoffs and says, "not in the legions of horrid hell can come a devil more damned in evils to top Macbeth." Malcolm agrees that the present king is "bloody, avaricious, deceitful, malicious, smacking of every sin that has a name," but he promises that he is worse, more lustful and greedy. Macduff still does not give up on Malcolm, but suggests ways for him to handle his vices. Macduff further believes that surely Malcolm possesses virtues to outweigh the vices. Malcolm, however, claims he has none of the royal graces of "justice, verity, temperance, stableness, perseverance, mercy, devotion, patience, or courage." He further says that if he were king, he would "pour the sweet milk of concord into hell, uproot the universal peace, confound all unity on earth." Macduff, at this news, again bemoans his beloved Scotland. Then he, being taken in by Malcolm's pretense, turns on the prince and says he is not fit to govern Scotland or even to live. He gives up on the fight for his homeland and bids farewell to Malcolm a second time.


Once again Malcolm stops Macduff. He praises Macduff's integrity of soul and noble passion for Scotland. He then admits to the trickery he has used to test Macduff's purpose. Malcolm then pledges support and loyalty to Macduff in his attempt to overthrow Macbeth and says, "I put myself to thy direction." He tells Macduff that Siward and 10,000 English soldiers are at their command to aid in the fight. Macduff is struck dumb by this news, confused between the appearance and the reality. When Malcolm questions him about it, Macduff explains his confusion: "Such welcome and unwelcome things at once, 'tis hard to reconcile."

A doctor then passes by to say that King Edward is coming. The physician stays only long enough to describe King Edward's power of healing. Malcolm also tells Macduff that this holy king (in total contrast to the devilish Macbeth) also has a divine gift of prophecy (in contrast to the evil prophesying of the witches). Then Ross enters the scene, freshly arrived from Scotland, and again Malcolm becomes suspicious. Macduff inquires about the state of affairs in Scotland. Ross explains that nothing has changed, " It's like a grave." When Malcolm asks what the latest grief is, Ross responds, " Each minute teems a new one." When Macduff quizzes him about his wife, Ross at first avoids the news of her murder. But when he hears that Malcolm and Macduff are about to lead an attack on Macbeth, he tells about the king's latest brutality, the "savage slaughter" of Macduff's family. Macduff is overcome with grief at his loss and guilt for his absence. Malcolm encourages him to turn the grief into a fighting spirit against Macbeth, "Be this the whetstone of your sword." Macduff agrees he must get revenge!

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