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Macbeth Commentary - Act IV.

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Act IV. Scene I. - A Cavern. In the middle, a boiling Cauldron.

The First Apparition: "Beware Macduff; Beware the Thane of Fife."

The Second Apparition: "none of women born Shall harm Macbeth."

The Third Apparition: "be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care who chafes, who frets… until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill /Shall come against him [Macbeth]."

A major turning point in the play. Just as the Three Witches' prophesied Macbeth's ascendancy to become King in Act I, Scene III, here they prophesies his doom with Three Apparitions (visions / ghosts).

The First Apparition tells an eager Macbeth that he should fear Macduff, saying "beware Macduff; / Beware the Thane of Fife...." The Second Apparition reassures Macbeth that "none of women born / Shall harm Macbeth" and the Third Apparition tells Macbeth he has nothing to fear until "Great Birnam wood" moves to "high Dunsinane hill" near his castle.

Macbeth decides to kill Macduff to protect himself and takes the prophecies to mean he is safe from all men since they are all born naturally and that only the moving of a nearby forest to his castle, an unlikely event will spell his doom.

Next Macbeth demands to know about Banquo's descendants, learning to his anger that they will still rule Scotland rather than Macbeth's descendants. Macbeth learns that he cannot kill Macduff so instead has his entire family murdered...

The Three Witches add various ingredients to a brew in a cauldron. Together the Three Witches chant: "Double, double, toil and trouble; / Fire burn and cauldron bubble" (Lines 10 -12). The Second Witch adds: "Fillet and fenny snake, / In the cauldron boil and bake;" (Line 13). Hecate enters, congratulating the Three Witches on their good work.

Macbeth arrives, rudely demanding to know his fate: "How now, you secret, black, and mid-night hags!" (Line 48).

Macbeth doesn't care about the consequences of his inquires: "Even till destruction sicken; answer me / To what I ask you" (Line 60).

The Three Witches are more than willing and forthcoming to answer Macbeth, the First Witch telling Macbeth to "Speak" the Second Witch telling Macbeth to "Demand" and the Third Witch assuring Macbeth that "We'll answer" (Lines 62, 63-64).

When offered the option of hearing from the Three Witches' masters, Macbeth eagerly agrees: "Call 'em: let me see 'em" (Line 63).

Three Apparitions (ghosts / visions) follow one at a time.

The First Apparition is of an armed head. It tells Macbeth to fear Macduff: "Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! beware Macduff; / Beware the Thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough" (Lines 71-72). Macbeth however will not let the First Apparition leave, but it leaves nonetheless.

The Second Apparition arrives, replacing the First Apparition … This is in the form of a "bloody Child."

It advises Macbeth to "Be bloody, bold and resolute; laugh to scorn / The power of man, for none of women born / Shall harm Macbeth" (be bloody, bold and decisive. Laugh at the power of man since no man of natural birth shall ever harm Macbeth), (Line 79).

Macbeth decides to kill Macduff anyway to be "double sure, / And take a bond of fate:" (to be on the safe side), (Line 83).

The Third Apparition is of a "Child crowned, with a tree in his hand." It tells Macbeth to "Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care / Who chafes, who frets… until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him" (be strong like a Lion, proud and do not care who chafes or resists or conspires against you until Great Birnam wood, a nearby forest moves to Dunsinane Hill) comes toward him (Line 90).

Macbeth is relieved since he has nothing to fear until a forest nearby, decides to move upon Macbeth's castle at Dunsinane hill, an event Macbeth quite naturally considers quite unlikely if not impossible; woods don't move nor walk...

Macbeth wants to know more and so asks one last question: "shall Banquo's issue [children] ever / Reign in this kingdom?" (Line 102). The Three Witches tell him to "Seek to know no more" (do not ask), (Line 103).

Arrogantly Macbeth replies, "deny me this, / And an eternal curse fall on you!" (Line 104). The Three Witches oblige, showing Macbeth a show of kings, eight in fact, the last with a glass in his hand, Banquo's Ghost following.

Macbeth is not pleased to see this: "Thou art to like the spirit of Banquo; down!" (you look too much like Banquo; down!), "Thy crown does sear mine eyeballs:" (Your crown hurts my eyes), (Line 112).

Macbeth now insults these kings (Lines 113-122) describing them all as a "Horrible sight!" (Line 122).

The Three Witches leave followed by Hecate, and Lennox enters. Macbeth interrogates Lennox on whether he saw the Three Witches; he answers that he did not. We learn from Lennox that Macduff "is fled to England" (has run off to England), (Line 142).

Macbeth decides that "from this moment / The very firstlings of my heart shall be / The firstlings of my hand" (Line 146). He will surprise Macduff's castle or "Seize upon Fife;" (Line 151) and "give to the edge of the sword / His [Macduff's] wife, his babes [children], and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line [those that follow Macduff]" (Line 151).

Since Macbeth cannot kill Macduff, he will destroy all vestiges (traces) of him instead.

Act IV. Scene II. - Fife. Macduff's Castle.

Lady Macduff is greeted by Ross, Lady Macduff expressing her anger at being abandoned by Macduff for little reason when in her eyes, Macduff has done nothing requiring him to flee. Ross leaves and after Lady Macduff tells her son that his father is dead and a traitor, a Messenger warns Lady Macduff to flee but Macbeth's murderers succeed in killing her son. The scene ends with Lady Macduff fleeing for her life...

We find Macduff's family alone, serene and as the audience is all too aware, in mortal danger. Lady Macduff is not happy despite the advice of Ross to have patience, Lady Macduff explaining that "His [Macduff's] flight [escape] was madness: when our actions do not, / Our fears do make us traitors" (Line 3).

Lady Macduff laments that her husband "Loves us not;" (Line 8)

Ross leaves and Lady Macduff speaks with her son.

Lady Macduff tells her son that his father, Macduff is "dead:" wondering how her son will now fend for himself without a father? The son replies that he will live "As birds do, mother", Lady Macduff wondering if this means her son will feed on worms and flies and laments that this will be the future for her child (Line 31).

She explains to her son that his father was a traitor explaining that a traitor is one who "swears and lies" (Line 47).

The son defends Macduff's name when a Messenger arrives warning them all to "Be not found here;" (Do not be here), (Line 66). The Messenger leaves daring not to stay a moment longer (Line 70).

Lady Macduff though warned to flee, says that she has "done no harm" (done nothing wrong), (Line 72).

The Murderers arrive, Lady Macduff refusing to tell them Macduff's whereabouts. The Murderers call Macduff a "traitor" (Line 80).

Macduff's son calls the Murderers liars and is then stabbed exclaiming "He has killed me, mother: / Run away I pray you!" (Line 84). The scene ends with Lady Macduff being pursued by the Murderers.

Act IV. Scene III. - England. Before the King's Palace.

Macduff: "Fit to govern! No, not to live."

Malcolm and Macduff discuss how Scotland under Macbeth's rule has been plunged into despair. Malcolm tests Macduff's integrity by describing himself as unfit to rule. After Malcolm disgusts Macduff with increasingly sordid descriptions of his lust and greed, Macduff tells Malcolm he is not fit to rule. This delights Malcolm who explains that he was lying; he described himself so negatively to test Macduff's integrity. We learn that a large army is gathering to defeat Macbeth.

Malcolm and Macduff speak of the sad fate of Scotland, Malcolm suggesting that they should "Weep our sad bosoms empty" at the fate of their Scotland (Line 1).

Malcolm evokes Macbeth's name as evil: "This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues, / Was once thought honest: you have lov'd him well;" (Line 12) whilst Macduff expresses his despair for Scotland by saying "I have lost my hopes" (Line 24).

Malcolm asks Macduff why he left his family: "Why in that rawness left your wife and child- / Those precious motives, those strong knots of love- / Without leave-taking?" (Line 26).

Macduff replies "Bleed, bleed, poor country! Great tyranny, lay thou thy basis sure, / For goodness dares not cheek thee!" (Line 31).

Malcolm also fears for Scotland:

I think our country sinks beneath the yoke; / It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash / Is added to her wounds... And here from gracious England have I offer / Of goodly thousands: but, for all this, / When I shall tread upon the tyrant's head, / Or wear it on my sword, yet my poor country / Shall have more vices [problems] than it had before, / More suffer [suffering], and more sundry ways than ever, / By him that shall succeed.

(Our country Scotland suffers a new wound each day. Here in England I fortunately have the help of thousands of men on offer to help reclaim Scotland yet even when I have stepped on Macbeth's head or carried it on my sword my country will have more problems and more suffering for the man who then leads it than before), (Lines 39-49)

Macduff is surprised by this last sentence. Under whom could Scotland suffer more than Macbeth? Malcolm replies "It is myself I mean;" (Line 51).

From this point, Malcolm describes himself in ever greater terms of evil, Malcolm advising Macduff to "Esteem [judge] him [Macbeth] as a lamb," compared to him (Line 54).

Malcolm declares that he is voluptuous, liking scores of women, greedy, and lacks all of "the king-becoming graces," that he should have (Line 91).

After hearing all this Macduff tells Malcolm he is not only not fit to govern but unfit to live as well: "Fit to govern! No, not to live" (Line 102).

Malcolm is pleased that Macduff has the integrity to say this. He explains that his descriptions were a lie adding that he is in fact a virgin or "Unknown to woman," and that "my first false speaking / Was this upon myself" (Line 130) or that Malcolm was earlier not telling the truth, and that "Old Siward, with ten thousand war-like men, / Already at a point," (Line 134) are setting forth for Scotland but now that Malcolm knows Macduff to be honorable, they will set forth together.

Macduff is a little confused: "'Tis hard to reconcile" (this is hard to fathom), (Line 138).

A Doctor speaks with Malcolm discussing an illness (Lines 140-145) later described by Malcolm as evil. Malcolm confirms the Doctor's early statements that the King of England merely by his presence (150-155), appears to cure the sick, Malcolm describing The King of England's effect on the sick as a "strange virtue," (Line 156).

Ross arrives but Malcolm does not know him, saying of him, "My countryman; but yet I know him not" (Line 160).

Ross tells them more about Scotland:

Alas! Poor country; / Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot / Be call'd our mother, but our grave; where nothing, / But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile; / Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rent [fill] the air / Are made, not mark'd; where violent sorrow seems / A modern ecstasy.... (Lines 164-170)

We learn after some delay from Ross that Macduff's family have been murdered (Line 204).

Malcolm is distraught, "Merciful heaven! What! man; ne'er [never] pull your hat upon your brows; / Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak / Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break" (Lines 206-208).

Macduff asks of his children: "My children too?" (Line 210). Ross replies "Wife, children, servants, all / That could be found" (Line 211).

Malcolm, acting very much like a King should, leading and lifting his men's spirits, suggests Macduff use his sorrow to productive use: "Be comforted: / Let's make us medicine of our great revenge, / To cure this deadly grief" (Line 214).

Macduff points out however that whatever he does to Macbeth, "He [Macbeth] has no children" so Macduff's revenge can never be total; Macbeth will never suffer the loss of losing a child or in Macduff's case, children (Line 216).

Still in shock, Macduff asks "What! all my pretty chickens and their dam / At one fell swoop? (Line 216), (have I lost them all) to which Malcolm replies, "Dispute it like a man" (Line 219).

Macduff swears revenge: "But, gentle heavens, / Cut short all intermission; front to front / Bring thou this fiend of Scotland [Macbeth] and myself; / Within my sword's length set him; if he 'scape, / Heaven forgive him too!" (but gentle heavens, do not take waste any more time. Bring Macbeth within a sword's length of me and if he escapes, heaven forgive him too!), (Lines 230-234).

Malcolm ends the scene on a dark note, remarking: "The night is long that never finds the day" (Line 238).

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