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Literature Study GuidesMacbethAct 4 Scene 3 Summary

Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 3

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 4, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth.

Macbeth | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary



Macduff finds Malcolm at the palace of King Edward the Confessor in England. They mourn Duncan's death and share their suspicions about Macbeth's hand in it. Malcolm fears returning to Scotland to claim his throne, but he is moved by the fact that Macduff left his wife and child to come to England, a sign of the matter's grave importance. However, not yet fully convinced, Malcolm confesses to being a lustful and greedy man—a false claim made in an effort to dissuade Macduff. Macduff doesn't seem to think these flaws are so terrible. Malcolm adds that he has no virtues to balance his vices, and Macduff falls into despair for Scotland. At this, Malcolm is moved further; he says he lied about his faults and agrees to follow Macduff to save Scotland. A doctor approaches and tells them the king will be out soon. The king is tending to a group of sick people, the doctor says, and is able to heal the sick with his touch. Malcolm explains to Macduff how he has seen the king use a touch and a prayer to cure many people of "the Evil" (a reference to scrofula, a tuberculosis infection of the lymph nodes in the neck).

Ross then joins the meeting with news of Scotland, saying the country is in a sorry state. When Macduff inquires about his family, Ross is evasive and instead asks Malcolm to help. Malcolm tells him he will return with an English army of 10,000 men from his uncle Siward. Macduff again asks if Ross has news of his family, and Ross finally tells Macduff that an ambush on the castle left his wife, child, and servants dead. Macduff has trouble absorbing this news, asking Ross to repeat the details more than once. Malcolm says that avenging their deaths will help Macduff's grief. Macduff blames himself for leaving his family unguarded, and Malcolm again encourages Macduff to use his feelings to fuel the coming battle. They set off for Scotland.


Both Malcolm and Macduff appear somewhat desperate when they meet. Malcolm is desperate not to return to Scotland, spinning tales about his debauchery, perversion, and greed to convince Macduff that he's not fit to take up his father's crown. Macduff is so desperate to rid his homeland of Macbeth that he dismisses Malcolm's tales as inconsequential. Because Macduff clearly thinks a perverted spendthrift would be better on the throne than its current occupant, Malcolm understands how bad things must be in Scotland and how bad Macbeth must be as king. Finally, Malcolm takes up the challenge before him, and he does so with amazing gusto. When Macduff is crushed by the news about his family, Malcolm tries to spin it in a positive way, saying Macduff can use this loss to fuel him in battle against Macbeth. He does not mean to appear insensitive.

In a diversion from the main action of the scene, an English doctor approaches, and Malcolm inquires after the whereabouts of King Edward. The doctor replies that the king will come out shortly. The king in question is Edward the Confessor, and the moment may appear a little out of place, but it relates to Macduff and Malcolm's conversation about what a king should be. The doctor's announcement leads them to discuss a particularly ideal king, one who heals the sick and drives out evil. The fact that Edward is currently tending to a group of people with his healing hands emphasizes his contrast to Macbeth, who has bloody hands.

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