Macbeth Act 4, Scene 3: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Jennifer Mallett Smith

Jennifer has taught high school English for eight years and has a master's degree in curriculum and assessment.

This lesson will provide a summary of Act IV, Scene 3 of the play, 'Macbeth' by William Shakespeare. Malcolm and Macduff have gone to England to gain help from the English for their war against Macbeth. In this scene, they become allies and vow to take Scotland back from Macbeth.


At this point in the play, Macbeth has murdered King Duncan and succeeded him as the king of Scotland to complete a prophecy the three witches in the forest foretold. Malcolm and Donalbain, King Duncan's sons, flee the country to save their lives. The witches told Macbeth that Banquo's children would wear the crown one day, so Macbeth attempted to murder Fleance, Banquo's son. Macbeth, on his path of tyranny, sent murderers to Macduff's home to kill his children because the witches warned him of Macduff returning to Scotland to fight him. Act IV, Scene 3 reveals an exchange between Malcolm, King Duncan's son, and Macduff, a former friend of Macbeth's. Macduff suspects that Macbeth is involved in the murder of King Duncan and has gone to England to ask for help in rebelling against Macbeth.

Malcolm's Lust

Macduff and Malcolm discuss the war against Macbeth. Macduff asks Malcolm to help them fight. Malcolm hesitates because he fears that Macbeth will expose his vices: 'It is myself I mean, in whom I know all the particulars of vice so grafted that when they shall be opened black Macbeth will seem as pure as snow and the poor state esteem him as a lamb, being compared with my confineless harms.'

Malcolm tells Macduff that he is too lustful and that all the women in the kingdom would not satisfy his sexual urges. Macduff urges him to take the throne that he is is supposed to inherit. Macduff does not think that Malcolm could possibly run out of women that will willingly give themselves to a king: 'We have willing dames enough. There cannot be that vulture in you to devour so many.' Macbeth has become so tyrannical that he his murdering others to keep his power. Macduff seems to think that a lustful king would not be such a bad replacement.

Malcolm's Greed

Malcolm states that he is greedy and that he would not be satisfied with the wealth he would gain from Scotland. Macduff says that his good will outweigh his two vices, but Malcolm states that he has no good qualities: 'The king-becoming graces, as justice, verity, temp'rance, stableness, bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, devotion, patience, courage, fortitude, I have no relish of them.' Malcolm is Duncan's son and should be king by birthright alone.

At this point, Macbeth is not looking so bad after all. Macduff is frustrated and states that Malcolm is not fit to be king or to live. He cries out for the hopeless situation that his country is in: 'O nation miserable, with an untitled tyrant bloody-sceptered, when shalt thou see thy wholesome days again.' Macduff fears that his country does not have an honorable contender for the crown and that the country will continue to suffer at the hands of tyrants.

Good vs. Evil

Malcolm admits he was testing Macduff to make sure he was really on his side. Malcolm claims to be a virgin and that he made it all up. Macduff is left speechless at the confusing exchange: 'Such welcome and unwelcome things at once. 'Tis hard to reconcile.' We see that Macduff's allegiance is to his country, not to any of the contenders for the title of king. This makes him a worthy ally for Malcolm, who is devoted to his country, much like his father, Duncan was.

A doctor enters and tells Malcolm that King Edward of England is outside healing some people. Malcolm explains that Edward can heal the sick and that he has the gift of prophecy and has seemingly been graced by god. This information further establishes that the English king and the army rebelling against Macbeth are on the side of goodness and God.

Ross Enters with Bad News

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