Macbeth: Summary & Analysis
Act 4, Scene 1
The witches circle a cauldron, mixing during a sort of grotesque ingredients while chanting “double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” (10-11). Hecate appears, they sing all at once , and Hecate leaves. Macbeth then enters, demanding answers to his pressing questions on the longer term. The witches complete their spell and summon forth a series of apparitions. the primary is an armed head that warns Macbeth to beware the Thane of Fife (Macduff). The second apparition may be a bloody child, who tells him that “none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth” (96-97). This news bolsters Macbeth’s spirits. The third apparition may be a crowned child with a tree in its hand, who says that “Macbeth shall never vanquish be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him” (107-09). This cheers Macbeth even more since he knows that nothing can move a forest. Macbeth proceeds to ask his last question: will Banquo’s children ever rule Scotland?
The cauldron sinks and a weird sound is heard. The witches now show Macbeth a procession of kings, the eighth of whom holds a mirror in his hand, followed by Banquo. As Banquo points at this line of kings, Macbeth realizes that they’re indeed his family. After the witches dance and disappear, Lennox enters with the news that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth resolves that he will henceforth act immediately on his ambitions: the primary step is going to be to seize Fife and kill Macduff’s wife and youngsters.
Act 4, Scene 2
At Fife, Ross visits Lady Macduff, who is frightened for her safety now that her husband has fled. He reassures her by telling her that her husband did only what was right and necessary. After he leaves, Lady Macduff engages her son during a conversation about his missing father. the small boy demonstrates wisdom well beyond his years. A messenger interrupts them with a warning to escape the house immediately. But before Lady Macduff can escape, murderers attack the house and kill everyone including Lady Macduff and her son.
Act 4, Scene 3
Macduff arrives at the English court and meets with Malcolm. Malcolm, remembering his father’s misplaced trust in Macbeth, decides to check Macduff: he confesses that he’s a greedy, lustful, and sinful man who makes Macbeth appear as if an angel as compared. Macduff despairs and says that he will leave Scotland forever if this is often the case since there seems to be no man fit rule it. Upon hearing this, Malcolm is convinced of Macduff’s goodness and divulges that he was merely testing him; he has none of those faults to which he has just confessed. In fact, he claims, the primary lie he has ever told was this false confession to Macduff. He then announces that Siward has assembled a military of ten thousand men and is ready to advance Scotland.
A messenger appears and tells the lads that the king of England is approaching, attended by a crowd of sick and despairing people that wish the king to cure them. The king, consistent with Malcolm, features a gift for healing people just by laying his hands on them.
Ross arrives from Scotland and reports that the country is during a shambles. When Macduff asks how his wife and youngsters are faring, Ross first responds that they’re “well at peace” (180). When pressed further, he relates the story of their death. Macduff is stunned speechless and Malcolm urges him to cure his grief by exacting revenge on Macbeth. Macduff is overcome with guilt and sorrow from the murders that occurred while he was absent. Again Malcolm urges him to place his grief to good use and seek revenge. All three men leave to organize for battle.
As the act opens, the witches keep it up the theme of doubling and equivocation that threads throughout the play. As they throw ingredients into their cauldron, they chant “Double, double, toil and trouble”—a reminder that their speech is filled with double meanings, paradox, and equivocation (IV i 10). The apparitions that the witches summon give equivocal messages to Macbeth, and that they appear to understand quite consciously that he will only understand one half their words. Although Macbeth himself has previously acknowledged that “stones are known to maneuver and trees to speak” (III iv 122), the apparitions give Macbeth a false sense of security. He takes the apparitions’ words at face value, forgetting to look at how their predictions could potentially come true.
The theme of doubling is amplified when the witches summon the “show of kings.” Each king who appears looks “too just like the spirit of Banquo,” frightens Macbeth with their resemblance (IV i 128). For Macbeth, it’s as if the ghosts of Banquo have returned to haunt him several times over. within the procession of kings, Macbeth also notes that some carry “twofold balls and treble scepters”—as if even the signs of their power are doubled.
On a historical note, it’s generally thought the eighth king holds up a mirror to pander to James I. This last king—the eighth-generation descendant of Banquo—is none aside from a figure of James I himself. He thus carries a mirror to signal the maximum amount to the important James I, who sits at the forefront of the audience. an identical moment of pandering occurs when Malcolm notes that the king of England features a special power to heal people suffering from “the evil” (147). In various subtle ways, Shakespeare complimented King James I—a legendary descendant of Banquo and author of a book on witchcraft (Daemonologie ).
James I isn’t the sole character who is doubled in Macbeth. Throughout the play, characters balance and complement one another during a carefully constructed harmony. As a person who also receives a prophecy but refuses to act actively upon it, Banquo is a kind of inverse reflection of Macbeth. Although he has troubled dreams like Macbeth, he arises from the suppression of ambitions whereas Macbeth arises from the fulfillment thereof. Other major characters, including Malcolm, Macduff, and woman Macbeth, also can be seen as foils or doubles for Macbeth. Particularly interesting is that the case of Lady Macbeth, who in some sense “switches roles” with Macbeth because the play progresses. Whereas she first advises Macbeth to forget all remorse and guilt, Lady Macbeth becomes increasingly troubled by her guilt as Macbeth begins to heed her advice.
Another sort of doubling or equivocation is found within the theme of costumes, masks, and disguises. While planning Duncan’s murder, Lady Macbeth counsels Macbeth to “look just like the innocent flower, / But be the serpent under”—to “beguile the time” by disguising his motives behind a mask of loyalty (I v 61). After the murder, Lady Macbeth paints the bodyguards’ faces with a mask of blood to implicate them. Similarly, while preparing to kill Banquo, Macbeth comments that men must “make [their] faces visors to [they’re] hearts, / Disguising what they are” (III ii 35-36). Thus when Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty, he begins appropriately by saying that “all things foul would wear the brows of grace” (IV iii 23). Even the foremost foul of men—perhaps like Macbeth and therefore the murderers—are ready to disguise themselves. even as the witches’ equivocation covers up truth harm within their alluring words, disguises, and masks hide the inner world from the outer.
Finally, during the scene during which the murders occur, Lady Macduff reflects the bird symbolism that began in Act 1. When Lady Macduff complains to Ross about the abrupt departure of Macduff, she states: “the poor wren / the foremost diminutive of birds, will fight, / Her young ones in her nest, against the owl” (IV ii 9-11). Her metaphor involves life when she and her son are attacked by Macbeth’s men. Macbeth, as earlier established, is identified with the owl; so Lady Macduff, trying to guard her son, becomes the wren during a realization of her own figure of speech. it’s with particular pathos that the audience sees Macduff’s precocious son fall prey to the swords of Macbeth’s ruthless murderers.