Sympathy and Emotion

Macbeth is a play which has an incredible number of thematic elements at work throughout. While the main premise seems political, the ideas of fate and destiny are also prominent and even love and family come into play at times. Each theme serves a different purpose and many of the characters are put against one another in a constant game of compare and contrast. In Act IV, scene III, one of the biggest contrasts occurs when we see how emotional the characters are capable of being. It is a very real scene when Macduff finds out what has happened to his family, and Ross is shown too as being a character that is very full of human sympathy and emotion. While there are other characters in this play and in other Shakespearean works who have had these traits, this scene for some reason just really stood out. This is probably because it is in such stark opposition to Macbeth, the character who the reader is mostly being shown throughout the exposition of this story who has very little natural human emotion. 
When Ross originally goes to tell Macduff what has happened, he cannot even bring himself to do so. He tells him that he left his family “at peace” which is technically true, but obviously beating around the point of what he needs to say (p. 2622, 4.3.180). He continues the conversation and doesn’t tell Macduff the truth for several minutes. Finally, when Macduff is let in on the horrible reality that his family has all been killed, we get another very real look at human emotion. Macduff cannot even handle the news. He keeps repeating everything being said to him even though it is simple to understand simply because of his own emotional refusal to understand. For example, he asks about his wife twice in a row, and this moment really just made me sympathize with him. 
Finally, the ultimate display of human emotion comes into play when Malcolm tells Macduff that he must seek revenge. Macduff replies that he “shall do so, but [he] must also feel it as a man” first (p. 2623, 4.3.222-223). His refusal to merely get angry and hunt down the murderer but rather to allow himself a grieving period for a bit first really embodies the idea of human sympathy and emotion, and this places him and Macbeth in complete opposition in a very right vs. wrong type of way.

2 thoughts on “Sympathy and Emotion

  1. molly

    It was nice to see how you identified emotion in Macduff. The scene in act 4 with Macduff is one of my favorite Shakespeare scenes ever. The wording of his reaction is just so heartbreaking: "All my pretty ones?" That's incredibly affecting, and very paternal. It's not always easy to pick up on the emotion in Shakespeare's plays just through reading, but I thought this moment really jumped off the page. Like you said, he's completely in opposition to Macbeth, and he's the embodiment hope in the ruined Scottish kingdom.

  2. Cyrus Mulready

    This is a very nice extension of our discussion in class last week, Linda, and I agree with Molly that you have done well drawing out the emotional intensity of the scene. Macduff is a powerful foil who sets off Macbeth's villainy as well as his inhumanity–something you show effectively here.


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