Macbeth Act 4, Scene 2: Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:03 Previous Scenes
  • 0:54 Traitorous or Wise Macduff?
  • 1:30 Lady Macduff's Son
  • 3:03 The Messenger
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Act 4, Scene 2, of William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' depicts the murder of Macduff's family by killers sent by Macbeth. The scene demonstrates that Macbeth will stop at nothing to maintain his position on the throne of Scotland.

Previous Scenes

Some people will stop at nothing to achieve their ambition. So it is with Macbeth in William Shakespeare's Macbeth. In Act 4, Scene 2, we are provided more evidence of the lengths he will go.

Earlier in the play, Macbeth murdered Duncan, king of Scotland, so that Macbeth could seize the throne for himself. Some of the Scottish noblemen plot to overthrow Macbeth. Macduff has gone to England to seek help with the effort to stop Macbeth.

Macbeth has met the witches in the forest and relies upon their assurances that 'none of woman born shall harm Macbeth' (Act IV, Scene 1). In the same scene, the witches have told Macbeth that 'Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until/Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill/Shall come against him.' The witches have also warned Macbeth to beware Macduff.

Traitorous or Wise Macduff?

At the beginning of Scene 2, Lady Macduff questions why her husband has fled, leaving his wife and children behind. She asks Ross, a nobleman and relative, if her husband is a traitor. Ross explains that Macduff has been wise to leave. Ross knows that Macduff is trying to raise an army, with help from England, to stop Macbeth's killing of anyone who gets in the way of his ambitions for power. Lady Macduff says, 'He loves us not,/The most diminutive of birds, will fight,/Her young ones in the nest, against the owl.' This idea that nature reflects the state of things is a recurrent theme in the play.

Lady Macduff's Son

When Ross leaves, Lady Macduff's son enters the scene. Lady Macduff and her son converse in a passage that shows the young boy's wit and intelligence.

Lady Macduff says that the child's father is dead. She asks the boy how he will live. The child replies, 'As birds do, Mother.' 'What, with worms and flies?' she asks. 'With what I get, I mean, and so do they,' Lady Macduff's son replies. Their conversation indicates that while his mother worries about practical matters, the child, in his innocence, believes that everything will be fine.

The boy then says that he does not believe his father is dead. When his mother asks what he will do, the child turns the question around, asking Lady Macduff what she will do for a husband. 'Why, I can buy me twenty at any market,' she playfully replies.

The child then asks if his father is a traitor. Lady Macduff says that he is; a traitor is a person who 'swears and lies,' she says. The boy then asks if all traitors must be hanged. When Lady Macduff says that yes, every traitor must be hanged, the boy asks who hangs the traitors. She answers, 'Why, the honest men.' 'Then the liars and swearers are fools,' the child says, 'for there are liars and swearers enough to beat the honest men and hang up them.'

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