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Literature Study GuidesMacbethAct 4 Scene 2 Summary

Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 2

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 4, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth.

Macbeth | Act 4, Scene 2 | Summary



Lady Macduff, her son, and the Thane of Ross are in the castle at Fife. Lady Macduff is angry at her husband for leaving. His absence makes them look like traitors, and she is unprotected. Ross attempts to comfort her and convince her that this is all for the greater good, but then he leaves. Lady Macduff requests that her son tell her what he would do if his father were dead; she then pretends this is the case. The boy doesn't believe her because she isn't crying or planning to remarry. Suddenly a messenger arrives and advises the family to vacate the castle immediately, but Lady Macduff is confused because she has done nothing wrong and doesn't know where she would go. Before she can think any further, Macbeth's hired murderers arrive and kill her son. She runs, but the murderers pursue her.


Under the circumstances, Lady Macduff has every right to be angry with her husband for leaving their castle unprotected. Killers are on their way to attack. Lady Macduff's troubled emotions result in a somewhat cruel conversation with her son in which she asks the child what he would do if his father were dead. In fact, it is the child's mother and the child himself who meet their end only moments later.

Macduff's son is clever and prophetic in his own way. At no point does the boy buy his mother's ruse that his father is dead, and he answers her cheekily with unassailable logic, pointing out that she isn't behaving as a widow might. The child asks if his father is a traitor, and the mother says that Macduff is a traitor because he swears and lies. Again, she is venting her anger at her husband for leaving them, even though it was for the greater good. Macduff may be a traitor to a false king, but he is loyal to the true monarchy, which is why he is away now. The son is again clever about the fate of traitors; he says those who cheat and lie far outnumber honest men, and so traitors should have no trouble defeating the honest men. This certainly has been the case in Macbeth so far.

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