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William Shakespeare


Act 4, Scene 2:
A few questions to test you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 23 January 2014
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Macduff has fled Scotland, leaving his wife and children defenceless. Murderers arrive and kill first Macduff's son, and then his wife. It is understood that they ransacked the castle, murdering and pillaging as they went.


Murder is never an easy thing, even for a battle-hardened man like Macbeth. When someone is superstitious, however, it is even more difficult.

The ancient peoples believed there was a direct link between nature and the goodness of one's actions. This was especially so when it came to authorities who enjoyed God's favour -- people such as kings.

Even before Macbeth went to Duncan's bedchamber to murder the king, nature was described as darkening over.

Then Macbeth saw visions. A ghostly dagger appeared, apparently leading the way. In another vision, the dagger was covered in blood.

And then the noises began: the howling of wolves, owls screeching, sounds on the stairs. Even Lady Macbeth appeared disturbed -- although she maintained an heroic front.

Macbeth shrank before the tumult. He fled the murder scene, taking the daggers with him and refusing to return. Lady Macbeth was therefore left to do the mopping up after the murder.

We see too the first signs of regret. Macbeth wished that his actions could be undone -- and he wondered whether his hands would ever again be clean.

This latter wish would also affect Lady Macbeth. Towards the end of the play, we find her sleepwalking and attempting to wash her own hands clean of Duncan's blood.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Why should Macbeth have ordered the murder of the defenceless Lady Macduff and her children? (5)

[Need help?]

Why did Lady Macduff tell her son that his father was dead? (5)

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The Roman Polanski movie depicts the Thane of Ross as being a traitor who at one time sides with Macbeth. Only later, when he sees the writing on the wall, does he cross over to the other side. When Ross visits Lady Macduff, therefore, he comes as a traitor -- and betrays her by leaving her castle gates open to the murderers.
  • How valid is this interpretation? (3)

[Need help?]

"Wisdom! to leave his wife, to leave his babes,
His mansion and his titles in a place
From whence himself does fly? He loves us not;
He wants the natural touch: for the poor wren,
The most diminutive of birds, will fight,
Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.
All is the fear and nothing is the love;
As little is the wisdom, where the flight
So runs against all reason."
  • Comment on the validity of Lady Macduff's outrage at her husband's decision to flee Scotland. (5)

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