Macbeth Act 4
Macbeth Act 4
Act 4 / 1
• In this scene M visits the witches.
– Note that earlier they sought him out…now he seeks them out! This
indicates how desparate he is.
– This marks another step in M’s moral and rational decline – he actively
seeks out the involvement of the instruments of evil!
– As M approaches, the witches themselves regard him as “something
wicked”. What a change from “brave Macbeth…valliant cousin…worthy
gentleman…peerless kinsman” as seen in act 1.
• Macbeth is presented with 3 apparitions
– The first, a bloody baby, warns him of Macduff, confirming his
– The second tells M to do pretty much as he pleases….because “none of
woman born shall harm Macbeth”. This sounds promising and fills M
with false confidence because, after all, everyone is born of a woman!
This will be of enormous significance at the conclusion of the drama.
– The third apparition tells him that he will never be defeated until Birnam
forest uproots itself and marches up high Dunsinane hill against him.
• Once more, he is filled with false confidence. After all, such things aren’t
– He never questions these apparitions, never reflects on what they might
actually mean but accepts them blindly as assurances of his invincibility.
Act 4 / 1
• So, instead of questioning these impossible prophecies, he takes them
as signs that he cannot be defeated and this in turn gives him
‘permission’ so to speak, to become even more murderous in his
behaviour…after all…he’s invincible…isn’t he?
• Consider exactly how the witches tell him to behave…”be bold,
bloody and resolute..”.
• The effect is dramatic! Macbeth takes their words to heart and indeed
becomes even more bloody, more resolute than before. For no reason
other than bloodthirsty retaliation, he decides to have Macduff’s entire
– What’s doubly significant is that this is the first of his atrocities committed
broad daylight. Duncan and Banquo were murdered under cover of
darkness…with Macbeth hiding his involvement in their deaths.
– This is different. Bolstered by the witches assurances he openly has the
innocent Macduff family butchered. There is no attempt to distance
himself from the deed, no pretence of innocence.
– This is another step in Macbeth’s moral decline.
Act 4 / 1
• Macbeth’s reveals that he will no longer ponder such deeds
before carrying them out but will execute them
immediately….”from this moment the very firstling of my
heart shall be the firstlings of my hand”,
Act 4 / 2
• This scene shifts away from Macbeth himself and onto the
victims of his crimes…the Macduffs.
– Note that the clever banter between Lady Macduff and her son
about Macduff’s absence gives the audience an intimate view of
their family life. This only makes the horror of what is about to
come even worse.
• Shakespeare makes sure to highlight the victims’
innocence as Lady Macduff protests “I have done no
harm”. Although given the cruelty of Macbeth’s reign,
innocence is no guarantee of anyone’s safety.
• Note too that Duncan and Banquo were both murdered
offstage – and although brutal, their deaths had a sort of
criminal logic to them. But Macduff’s young son, is
stabbed to death onstage, in full view of the entire
Act 4 / 3
This scene is longer than most others and marks a pivotal turning point in the
course of events. Macduff meets with Malcolm in England and seeks his help
against Macbeth. But, cleverly, Macbeth has already sent others to Malcolm,
pretending loyalty, seeming to enlist his help in order to betray him.
– However, young Malcolm shows himself to be less trusting than his father
was. He tests Macduffs sincerity by attributing to himself every possible
vice. Further, he claims to have no virtues at all…none of
– “the king-becoming graces, / As justice, verity, temperance, stableness, /
Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, / Devotion, patience, courage,
fortitude, / I have no relish of them, but abound / In the division of each
several crime, / Acting it many ways”
– After prudently testing Macduff’s loyalty and being satisfied, Malcolm
agrees, revealing that he already has 10,000 men promised by king
Malcolm speaks of king Edward, a man deeply prayerful, holy and pious.
Heaven, it seems, has blessed him with gifts of prophecy and healing. This is
in stark contrast to Macbeth who seeks prophecy from satanic powers, is
unable to pray at all and can only bring suffering and death.
Ross arrives outlining the suffering state of Scotland and informs Macduff of
his familys’ awful fate. Macduff grieves and the men are resolved to march on
Act 4 / 3
• This scene, then, functions on a number of levels
– It brings to the fore those characters whose places in the narrative have
been in the background. We’ve seen relatively little of Malcolm or
Macduff up to ths point. The significance of their roles will increase now,
as the plot progresses to its inevitable end.
– There is also an enormous contrast between both countries and their
• England is at peace under Edward
• Edward is associated with heaven
• Edward brings healing
Scotland is in chaos.
Macbeth is associated with hell.
Macbeth brings suffering and
• Edward has a heavenly gift of prophecy Macbeth’s prophecies come from
• Edward is deeply prayerful
Macbeth has been unable to pray
since the murder of Duncan
– We note also, a sense of the inevitable regarding the outcome of events.
Thngs are so bad that Scotland is ready to shake off Macbeth’s rule. As
Macduff reports “each new morn / New widows howl, new orphans cry,
new sorrows / Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds / As if it felt with
Scotland and yell'd out / Like syllable of dolour.”
Important quotations Act 4 / 1
Double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn and cauldron bubble (witches
chanting their spell)
By the pricking of my thumbs, / Something wicked this way comes (witches on
I conjure you, by that which you profess, / Howe'er you come to know it,
answer me: / ……….answer me / To what I ask you. (M to witches)
Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! beware Macduff; / Beware the thane of Fife
Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn / The power of man, for none of
woman born / Shall harm Macbeth (second apparition)
Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until / Great
Birnam wood to high
Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him. (3 apparition)
Yet my heart / Throbs to know one thing: tell me, if your art / Can tell so much:
shall Banquo's issue ever / Reign in this kingdom? (M to witches)
[ A show of Eight Kings, the last with a glass in his hand; GHOST OF
BANQUO following ] stage dirtections showing the witches response to M’s
from this moment / The very firstlings of my heart shall be / The firstlings of
my hand (Macbeth’s final comments – his new resolve to act immediately,
Quotes act 4 / 2
• when our actions do not, / Our fears do make us traitors. (Lady
Macduff commenting on the ever present fear in Scotland now)
• But cruel are the times, when we are traitors / And do not know
ourselves (Ross to Lady Macduff)
• I doubt some danger does approach you nearly: / If you will take a
homely man's advice, / Be not found here; hence, with your little ones
(messenger to Lady Macduff)
• 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 MD)
Quotes act 4 / 3
Each new morn / New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows / Strike heaven
on the face (Macduff describing the state of Scotland to Malcolm)
I am young; but something / You may deserve of him through me, and wisdom / To
offer up a weak poor innocent lamb / To appease an angry god. (Malcolm to
Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace, / Yet grace must still look so.
(Malcolm to Macduff)
I would not be the villain that thou think'st / For the whole space that's in the tyrant's
grasp, / And the rich East to boot. (Macduff to Malcolm)
It is myself I mean: in whom I know / All the particulars of vice so grafted…
(Malcolm to MD)
Not in the legions / Of horrid hell can come a devil more damn‘d / In evils to top
Macbeth (MD to Mal)
but there's no bottom, none, / In my voluptuousness (Mal to MD)
With this there grows / In my most ill-composed affection such / A stanchless avarice
(Mal to MD)
But I have none: the king-becoming graces, / As justice, verity, temperance,
stableness, / Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, / Devotion, patience, courage,
fortitude, (Mal to MD, describing the qualities he ‘doesn’t have’)
Quotes act 4 / 3
• These evils thou repeat'st upon thyself / Have banish'd me from
Scotland. O my breast, / Thy hope ends here (MD to Mal)
• Macduff, this noble passion, / Child of integrity, hath from my soul /
Wiped the black scruples, reconciled my thoughts / To thy good truth
and honour. Devilish Macbeth / By many of these trains hath sought to
win me / Into his power, and modest wisdom plucks me / From overcredulous haste: (Mal to MD revealing that it was all just a test of
• (Take note also to lines 115 – 135…Malcolm’s true assessment of
• Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand / They presently amend.
(Doctor to Mal describing Edward’s gift of healing the sick)
• A most miraculous work in this good king; (Mal to MD on Edward)
• He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy, / And sundry blessings hang about
his throne, / That speak him full of grace (Mal to MD on Edward)
Quotes Act 4 / 3
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 rend the air / Are made,
not mark'd; where violent sorrow seems / A modern ecstasy; the dead man's
knell / Is there scarce ask'd for who (Ross to Mal on the state of Scotland)
Your castle is surprised; your wife and babes / Savagely slaughter'd (Ross to
My children too?
Wife, children, servants, all / That could be found.
He has no children. All my pretty ones? / Did you say all? O hell-kite! All? /
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam / At one fell swoop? (MD grieving
at the news)
Be this the whetstone of your sword: let grief / Convert to anger; blunt not the
heart, enrage it (Mal to MD)
Come, go we to the king; our power is ready; / Our lack is nothing but our
leave; Macbeth / Is ripe for shaking, (Malcolm to MD and Ross)