Macbeth Study Guide: Act 4: scenes 1-3

Act 4: scenes 1-3

By ShakespeareRelease Year: 1623

Scene 1

Characters: The Witches, Macbeth, the apparitions, Lennox.

The scene opens in the cave, in the middle of which we see a boiling cauldron. The Witches gather around and wait for Macbeth. When he arrives, he asks them to foretell his future. Ready to answer all his questions, the hugs evoke the apparitions to tell Macbeth what waits for him ahead. The first spirit appears in the form of an armed head and warns Macbeth about Macduff’s plans to overthrow the king. The second one appears as the child in blood. It tells Macbeth that no man born of a woman can hurt him gravely. These words make Macbeth believe that he is invincible. Still, he keeps asking about what he should watch out. The third phantom - a crowned child with a tree - tells that Macbeth will not be harmed until Great Birnam Wool fight in battle with Dunsinane Hill.

Macbeth’s confidence is growing. Yet, he remembers the prophecy for Banquo telling that he will father the kings. He asks the Witches about it and they evoke the apparitions of eight kings. Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost behind them and gets infuriates. With laugh and dances, the witches vanish. Right after that Lennox joins Macbeth in the cave but the witches disappear before he enters. The Lord informs Macbeth that Macduff has taken Malcolm's side, and together they prepare the army to fight against king Macbeth. The king promises that he will kill Macduff and slaughter his whole family for his treachery.  

Scene 2

Characters: Lady Macduff, her son, Ross, a messenger, murderers.

In the Macduff’s castle, Ross talks to Lady Macduff, who is disgruntled by the leave of lord Macduff. She wonders what makes his escape and whether he is a coward or a wise man. Ross insists on the latter. Yet, none of his words can appease her anger and he leaves. In a fit of disappointment, she tells her son that his father is dead. But the boy doesn’t believe her and turn the conversation into the witty joke. Until he asks her what does it mean to be a traitor. The mother answers him that the traitor is the one who swears and then breaks the oath.

A messenger interrupts their conversation and tells the Lady that she is in danger and must flee as soon as possible. However, she refuses to do so, assuming that she has not done any harm to anyone to hurt her. This delay leads to the death of both of them: the son is killed by the murderers first. The mother tries to escape but it is already too late.  

Scene 3

Characters: Malcolm, Macduff, Ross.

The last scene of the act set in the palace of Edward, the King of England. Macduff tries to assure Malcolm in his, Macduff's loyalty. Malcolm, however, cannot easily believe him since he knows the Lord who, being a friend, has already betrayed them all. He means Macbeth, of course. To examine Macduff’s true intentions Malcolm tells him that he is deeply vicious and cannot really be a decent king. In despair, Macduff starts mourning the country’s future. After that Malcolm understands that the lord sincerely cares about the country, thus, he can fully trust him. Suddenly, Ross joins them and brings the horrible news to Macduff that all his family and even servants have been killed.

At first, the lord hardly believes it and keep asking the same questions about his family. When he understands that there are no mistakes in Ross’s words, he breaks down in regrets. To bring his friend to life, Malcolm asks Macduff to turn his grief into the thirst for revenge. Now it is the time to punish Macbeth for all the horror he has caused to them and the country. The scene ends with the men head to the king. The all are ready to throw away the scabbard to vengeance the dead and to protect the living.

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