in English Literature, Shakespeare

Here’s a detailed breakdown of two characters in Macbeth – Macduff and Lady Macduff.

It’s primarily tailored towards students at GCSE or A-Level studying AQA, CIE, Edexcel, WJEC, OCR, CCEA, or Eduqas but it’ll help with anyone studying the Shakespeare play in a wider context too!


For a full breakdown of characters (Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan, The Porter, etc) and more lessons on Shakespeare, Macbeth, and Literature essay writing, visit our website where you can find the full Macbeth course.

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In case you don’t need a full course, and you want to get ahold of individual documents, you can do so by clicking this link.


Macduff

  • Thane of Fife.
  • A direct parallel (a ‘foil’)  to Macbeth – a loyal and noble lord who serves King Duncan, but a man who retains his ‘manly’ status by resolving conflict cleanly and directly without overthinking, scheming and plotting (as Macbeth does). 
  • The first to discover Duncan’s body. 
  • Loses trust in Macbeth straight after Duncan’s death, refuses to go to Macbeth’s coronation which makes Macbeth suspicious of him. 
  • In 2.3 he knocks on Macbeth’s door and is likened to Christ going into Hell to release souls. 
  • Leaves for England to seek help fighting against Macbeth, at which point Macbeth sends murderers to kill his wife and children. 
  • This gives Macduff clear motives for personal revenge, so he comes back to fight Macbeth with a vengeance. Critics call this Macduff’s ‘revenge subplot’. 
  • A brave character who fights Macbeth despite being told he is invincible.
  • Kills Macbeth, he decapitates him (as the traitor before Macbeth was also given the same treatment).

KEY DEBATES 

  • How is Macduff a foil to Macbeth? 
  • In what ways is Macduff acting on behalf of the good of his kingdom? 
  • In what ways is Macduff selfishly on a personal revenge mission?
  • How is Macduff a representative of ‘goodness’? 

Lady Macduff 

  • A direct parallel (a ‘foil’) to Lady Macbeth. 
  • She embodies womanly virtues and stays true to the expectations of her gender – emotional, caring, loving, devoted to her husband and child, supportive.
  • Unlike Lady Macbeth, she does not challenge her position in society or wishes for more power.
  • She does occasionally criticize Macduff’s actions, for example, his decision to abandon her and their son to go to England in 4.2 (‘leave his wife and babes’), though she understands that his intentions are selfless and he’s trying to protect their family and the realm – a crucial difference between her and Lady Macbeth.
  • She and her son are presented as innocent victims who suffer indirectly as a result of Macbeth’s evil plans to gain and maintain power over the kingdom. 

KEY DEBATES 

  • How does the comparison between Lady Macduff and Lady Macbeth demonstrate attitudes to gender? 
  • Is Lady Macduff a perfect wife, and Lady Macbeth a terrible one?
  • What characteristics does Lady Macduff have that demonstrate ‘goodness’ in a Jacobean context? 

Thanks for reading! In case you’re interested in other English Language and Literature courses, see what we have to offer here.

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