Macduff in Macbeth

Sophie Dresser, Shamekia Thomas
  • Author
    Sophie Dresser

    Sophie has taught language arts, math, and science at different grade levels for three years. She has a master's degree in education from UC Santa Barbara, as well as a multiple subject teaching credential.

  • Instructor
    Shamekia Thomas

    Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Read about Macduff from Shakespeare’s ''Macbeth.'' Analyze the actions of Macduff, learn his character traits, and examine how he serves as a foil to Macbeth. Updated: 01/18/2022

Table of Contents


Who is Macduff?

William Shakespeare

Painting of William Shakespeare

Who is Macduff? In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, MacDuff is the Thane of Fife, one of the noblemen of Scotland. He is loyal to King Duncan, and to Duncan's son, Malcolm. Macduff is the main antagonist of the play because he is aligned against Macbeth, the protagonist, and eventually kills him. However, Macduff is also one of the main heroes of the play; he proves himself to be honorable and loyal, whereas Macbeth grows increasingly bloodthirsty and greedy throughout the play.

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Analysis of Macduff

Macduff first appears as one of the retinue of noblemen who arrive at Macbeth's castle along with King Duncan. In Act 2, Scene 3, Macduff goes to wake King Duncan, not knowing that Macbeth has killed Duncan in the night, and is horrified to discover the King's dead body. ("O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart/Cannot conceive nor name thee!") He informs the other noblemen, and Duncan's sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, but hesitates to tell Lady Macbeth, believing that the news of the King's murder is unfit for a "gentle lady" to hear. Shortly afterward, Duncan's sons, Donalbain and Malcolm, flee Scotland for Ireland and England, respectively, believing that suspicion for their father's murder will fall on them. (Many people interpret their flight as evidence of their guilt.) Macbeth is crowned King of Scotland, and Macduff returns to his castle and family in Fife.


Lithograph of Macbeth

In Act 3 Scene 4, Macbeth, growing increasingly power-hungry and fearful after murdering Duncan and ordering the murder of his former friend, Banquo, expresses suspicion of Macduff. In Act 3, Scene 6, the audience learns that Macduff has gone to England to help Duncan's son, Malcolm, raise an army against Macbeth. Macbeth's fear grows in Act 4, Scene 1, when he visits the witches who told him that he would be king, and they conjure an apparition which tells him "beware Macduff;/Beware the Thane of Fife." When he finds out that Macduff has gone to England, Macbeth resolves to kill Macduff's wife and children and "all unfortunate souls/That trace him in his line." In Act 4, Scene 2, Lady Macduff and her son are murdered by assassins sent by Macbeth.

In Act 4, Scene 3, Macduff and Malcolm are together in England. Malcolm questions why Macduff left his wife and children behind when he left Scotland (something that Macduff never manages to explain). Macduff expresses a desire to overthrow Macbeth and put Malcolm on the throne. Malcolm tests Macduff's loyalty by claiming to be greedy, and a womanizer; Macduff insists that he still wants Malcolm to rule in Scotland. Malcolm is then satisfied, sure of Macduff's loyalty. Lady Macduff's cousin, Ross, then arrives, and tells Macduff that his wife and children have been killed on Macbeth's orders. Macduff, grieving, swears revenge on Macbeth. At the end of the play, Macduff has his revenge against Macbeth; he kills Macbeth in battle, and Malcolm is crowned king of Scotland.

Macduff's Character Traits

Macduff displays many admirable character traits throughout the play. MacDuff's character traits include:

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Macduff in relation to Duncan?

Macduff is a nobleman who is loyal to King Duncan. After Duncan's death, Macduff remains loyal to Duncan's son Malcolm.

How does Macduff kill Macbeth?

In Act 5, Scene 8 (the end of the play) Macduff kills Macbeth in battle. Macduff beheads Macbeth offstage, and returns to acknowledge Malcolm as the new king of Scotland.

Who is Macduff in the play Macbeth?

Macduff is the Thane of Fife, a Scottish nobleman. He remains loyal to King Duncan and his sons throughout the play, even after Macbeth becomes king of Scotland.

Why is Macduff an important character?

Macduff is an important character for many reasons. After Macbeth murders King Duncan, and frames Duncan's sons for the murder, Macduff is one of the first people to correctly suspect Macbeth's guilt. He joins Malcolm in England, planning to help Malcolm defeat Macbeth and take back the throne of Scotland. After Macbeth has Macduff's family killed, Macduff swears revenge, and at the end of the play, Macduff kills Macbeth in battle.

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