Act Four: Key Points and Questions

Act Four: Key Points and Questions

ACT FOUR: KEY POINTS AND QUESTIONS ACT FOUR SCENE I: KEY POINTS In this scene Macbeth is desperate for knowledge of the future. He is prepared to have the whole universe reduced to chaos and disorder if it means the witches will tell him what he wants to know: Even till destruction sicken; answer me / To what I ask you. An apparition arises from the cauldron and warms him to beware of Macduff thus confirming Macbeths fears of him. The second apparition is a bloody child and informs him that none of woman born will harm him. Macbeth takes this as a good omen but decides to kill Macduff anyway. The third apparition is a child carrying a tree who predicts that Macbeth will not be vanquished until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane. The witches also confirm the reign of Banquos successors. When the witches vanish, Lennox brings the news of Macduffs flight to England. Macbeth is furious that he has not already killed him. His attempt to control the future

has failed and he becomes savage in his desperation, deciding to kill Macduffs whole family without any apparent reason. MACBETH: ACT FOUR SCENE I Descent into Tyranny: By seeking out the witches, Macbeth acknowledges his total commitment to evil. He challenges the witches fearlessly, demanding to know the worst. Macbeths language in this scene conveys his urgency but also the violent state of his mind which is fast degenerating into the mind of a heartless and destructive tyrant. Though the first apparition touches immediately on Macbeths fear, the other apparitions convince Macbeth that the prophecies are benign, that he is untouchable.

He resolves from now on to make action precede thought. No sooner will his mind conceive an evil scheme than his hands will carry it out: From this moment / The very firstlings of my heart shall be / The firstlings of my hand. The powers of evil have had their full effect on him. MACBETH: ACT FOUR SCENE I Descent into Tyranny: Macbeth killed Duncan for the throne and targeted Banquo and Macduff because they represent a threat to his rule. However, his decision to have Lady Macduff and her children murdered is cruel and unnecessary.

He murders now without conscience or concealment. The transition of Macbeth from a murderer beset by fears and guilt to a tyrant devoid of human feeling is now complete. This scene also emphasises the extent to which Macbeth, like many tyrants, has become filled with insecurity. He wants to be able to sleep at night without the worry that Macduff will oppose or overthrow him. We sense, however, that even if Macduff were removed, Macbeths paranoia would simply find another threat, real or perceived to focus upon. Macbeth has been through so much, has committed such terrible deeds and suffered such intense mental torment, that nothing, can really

WITCHES: ACT FOUR SCENE I Instruments of Evil: Macbeth called the witches secret, black and mid-night hags. The witches are clearly ministers of evil, conjuring up an evil spell with a gruesome mixture of animal and human parts and entrails. Yet Macbeth deliberately seeks them out. They do not control Macbeth, he is not powerless against them. He followed the course of the prophecies only because he was not an innocent man. Once Macbeth commits himself totally to evil, they disappear.

At the very moment they vanish, Lennox brings the news of Macduffs escape to England representing the coming to the fore of forces for good. ACT FOUR SCENE II: KEY POINTS In this scene Ross and Lady Macduff discuss Macduffs departure which Lady Macduff sees as desertion. Ross describes the state of Scotland, a land of fear, suspicion, treachery and cruelty: But cruel are the times, when we are traitors And do not know ourselves, when we hold rumour From what we fear, yet know not what we fear Lady Macduff is a gentle and affectionate mother. She feels anger towards her husband, but it is an anger prompted by fear of being left at the mercy of a tyrant and hurt at not being taken into her husbands confidence. She faces her killers with courage and dignity and her final act is standing up for her husband.

The dialogue between mother and son is a reminder of the values of tenderness and goodness which have been destroyed by treachery. The little boys chatter is not just idle prattle, it has a dramatic force and emphasises the extreme cruelty of Macbeth. There is also the added tragedy of the boy courageously defending his fathers name before he is killed: Thou liest, thou shag-haird villain. He bravely calls out to his mother: Run away, I pray you! The brief appearance of Macduffs little son in the play evokes a picture of innocence and defencelessness which only a heartless person would take advantage of. ACT FOUR SCENE III: KEY POINTS Scene III marks the counter action against Macbeth. Malcolm and Macduff meet in England and Malcolm voices his suspicions of Macduff. Macduffs answers are sincere but Macbeths tyranny has made good men like Malcolm suspect, To test Macduffs reaction Malcolm proceeds to blacken his own character and in order to appear a worse tyrant than Macbeth he describes himself as a man: That when they shall be opend, black Macbeth / Will seem as pure as snow. Malcolms declaration of his own vices shatters Macduffs hopes and his cries of bitter disappointment O Scotland, Scotland! convince Malcolm of Macduffs loyalty and he retracts

all that he has spoken. The entire conversation between Malcolm and Macduff highlights the contrast between true royalty and tyranny. Ross paints a picture of a country torn by suffering under Macbeth. Ross breaks the news of Macduffs family reluctantly. Macduff feels that the only way he can atone for their deaths is to kill Macbeth personally. By the end of the scene there is the confident promise of retribution. The movement against Macbeth is both political and deeply personal. MALCOLM: ACT FOUR SCENE III Strong Character: Malcolm is shown to be a stronger character than Duncan in this scene. He does not judge by appearance. He has learned caution through experience and is very careful to check rumours when Macduff arrives.

His suspicion of Macduff, although unfounded, is justified. Malcolm does not wish to offend Macduff but he is deeply concerned about his country. Malcolm obviously inspires respect and confidence. He has successfully secured a force of ten thousand men and is confident od future success: Macbeth / Is ripe for shaking MACDUFF: ACT FOUR SCENE III Macduff has a deep and patriotic love for his country and is prepared to fight for it rather than just weep for it. He is intensely loyal to his country and its rightful ruler.

Honesty moves him to refuse to recognise Macbeth as his king and he shows courage in openly opposing him, He puts concern for his country before everything, and takes the drastic step of leaving his family in order to seek out Malcolm in England. Such is Macduffs honesty and integrity that he manages to convince a deeply suspicious Malcolm that he can be trusted. When Malcolm pretends to be an immoral person, Macduff despairs and tells him that he is not fit to live, let alone govern. Malcolm is pleased to learn that Macduff is man of such deep integrity and patriotism. MACDUFF: ACT FOUR SCENE III

However, in the end he pays a heavy price for his patriotism. When Ross arrives enquires about his countrys welfare before he asks for his family but when he hears of the deaths of his wife and children his grief is boundless. In disbelief he has over and over again if they have all been killed: All my pretty ones? Macduff answers Malcolms words that he dispute it like a man, with the moving words: I shall do so; / But I must also feel it like a man.

Macduff shows not only a willingness to face up to the events but also to acknowledge his own part in causing them: Sinful Macduff! / They were all struck for thee. Unlike Macbeth he has no wish MACBETH: ACT FOUR SCENE III Tyrant: Though Macbeth is not in this scene, the descriptions of Scotland that Macduff and Ross offer Malcolm suggest how tyrannical his reign has become. Every day men are being murdered because they are considered a threat to his rule: each

new morn / New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows / Strike Heaven on the face The descriptions of Macbeth are utterly damning. Malcolm declares that Macbeth is a tyrant whose name blisters the tongues of those who speak it. He is Devilish Macbeth. ACT FOUR REVISION QUIZ ACT FOUR: QUESTIONS

1. Describe the three Apparitions in your own words. What effect do they have on Macbeth? 2. Macbeth decides to kill Macduff despite the reassuring words from the Apparitions. Why? 3. What is the dramatic relevance of Shakespeare allowing us to see the Macduffs before they are murdered? 4. What effect on Macduff has the news of the murder of his family? 5. Would you agree with the view that Macbeth is ripe for shaking at this stage of the play? ACT FOUR: KEY QUOTES Double, double toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Witches Be bloody, bold and resolute; laugh to scorn / The power of men, for none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth. Second Apparition Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam wood to

high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him. Third Apparition The very firstlings of my heart shall be / The firstlings of my hand. Macbeth ACT FOUR: KEY QUOTES Whither should I fly? / I have done no harm. But I remember now / I am in this earthly world, where, to do harm / Is often laudable, to do good sometime / Accounted dangerous folly. Lady Macduff Thou liest, thou shag-haird villain. Macduffs son all things foul would wear the brows of grace, / yet grace must still look so. Malcolm This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues, / Was once thought honest. Malcolm ACT FOUR: KEY QUOTES Your castle is surprised; your wife and babes / Savagely slaughterd Ross

All my pretty ones? Did you say all? Macduff Dispute it like a man. Malcolm I shall do so; / But I must also feel it as a man. Macduff Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself; / Within my swords length set him; if he scape, Heaven forgive him too! Macduff Macbeth / Is ripe for shaking, and the powers above / Put on their instruments. Malcolm

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