Macduff’s Role in Macbeth

Macbeth is full of rich and memorable characters: Lady Macbeth, the Witches, Macbeth himself. However, some characters aren’t talked about as much and I wanted to explore one certain character. Macduff is a role I have been infatuated with since reading Macbeth many years ago. He does not appear in the plot at all in Act I while the play focuses on Macbeth, Banquo, Lady Macbeth, Duncan, and the Witches primarily. Macduff makes his first entrance following the famous Porter scene as he is the one who is knocking and is getting the Porter in such a bad mood. I find it no coincidence that Macduff is the one who is knocking on the door of Macbeth’s home immediately following his murder of Duncan. Macduff, in the play, can be viewed as the one who upholds moral justice, goodness, and a foil to Macbeth’s evildoing. He is the one who even finds the dead body of Duncan and raises the alarm shouting: 

Awake, awake!

Banquo and Donalbain, Malcolm, awake!

Shake off this downy sleep, death’s counterfeit,

And look on death itself. Up, up, and see

The great doom’s image. Malcolm, Banquo,

As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites

To countenance this horror. (2.3.70-77)

He’s the figure of good in the play who can recognize the evils that surround him. He’s even referred to as “Some holy angel” (3.6.46) by Lennox when Lennox learns of Macduff going to England to convince Malcolm to rise up against Macbeth. Macduff is not drawn in by power so easily as Macbeth is either. Although, if the witches had given Macduff the prophecies as they did to Macbeth, I’m curious as to what he would have done with this information. I’m almost certain he would not have killed Duncan as Macbeth had done given his view on death itself. Macbeth is told by Lady Macbeth that to be a man is to deny your feelings in 1.7. On the contrast, Macduff has that tragic scene after his wife and children were brutality murdered by Macbeth’s men when he is told by Ross of what happened. Malcolm tells him to “Dispute it like a man.” to which Macduff replies:

“I shall do so,

But I must also feel it as a man.

I cannot but remember such things were

That were most precious to me. Did heaven look on

And would not take their part? Sinful Macduff,

They were all struck for thee. Naught that I am,

Not for their own demerits but for mine

Fell slaughter on their souls. Heaven rest them now.” (4.3.221-229)

Macduff sees his learning of the loss of his family as one of the worst things to happen (and rightfully so) but he does not reject his emotions as Macbeth/Lady Macbeth see men having to do but instead feels it as a man. He feels it and is not ashamed of feeling it, and shows Malcolm that there is no shame in feeling emotion proving himself to be a pretty good fill-in father figure for Malcolm. Wi\th Macduff taking his revenge on Macbeth in the play’s final act, defeating him, and removing the evil tyrant’s head, therein goes back to the point that Macduff represents moral justice. Fate decided that he needed to be the one who was not born of a woman (but was delivered in an unnatural way) that would take out Macbeth. With the removal of Macbeth’s head, Macduff has now acted as the moral justice executioner who has passed judgment upon Macbeth’s life and paved the way for the true heir to the throne, Malcolm, to take the crown for himself. With evil must almost always come the contrast of good: Macduff perfectly contrasted Macbeth to create, in my opinion, one of the greatest heroes in Shakespeare’s plays.

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2 thoughts on “Macduff’s Role in Macbeth

  1. michaeldrago

    It’s interesting that you chose to shine a light on Macduff. So much of the play is dominated by Macbeth’s attempts to shape his destiny and Lady Macbeth’s attempts to manipulate her husband that it can be pretty easy to overlook all the other characters. But as you say, he provides a very nice contract to the opportunism which defines the two primary characters. It would’ve been easy and safe for Macduff to continue to serve Macbeth in spite of his suspicions. Instead, he stayed loyal to his country; he suffered tremendously for that loyalty, but he established himself as one of the more admirable Shakespeare characters that we’ve seen this semester.

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  2. Courtney Kiesecker

    I really happy that someone focused on Macduff, because his role in Macbeth, as you had said, is undermined when it comes to the huge title characters. The truly tragic happens to Macduff when his family is brutally murdered by the tyrannical Macbeth, and the emotional range of his character is unlike any of the characters within this tragic play. I find it interesting that you thought about the role reversal of Macduff and Macbeth regarding the prophecy of the witches, because having read that, it makes me wonder how Macduff would act in regards to a future where being crowned king could become a reality. I believe that he would not murder Duncan as well, especially because I don’t see Macduff easily manipulated by his wife or even see Lady Macduff particularly manipulative or power hungry.

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