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PHASE 4 = Witches #2 → Murder Lady Maduff & kids
Macbeth goes to see the witches again to learn his fate. They tell him to beware Macduff; that he will not be defeated until Birnam wood moves to Dunsinane; and that Macbeth will not be killed by someone born of a woman. Macbeth takes all of these signs to mean that he is invincible. Meanwhile, Macduff, a Scottish noble who suspects that Macbeth murdered Duncan, has gone to England to get help to reclaim the throne instead of attending the Banquet. In England Macduff and Malcolm, the rightful heir, ban together to fight Macbeth. When Macbeth learns of Macduff’s treachery, (Act 4, scene 1 – soliloquy “from this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand”) he sends murderers to Macduff’s home to kill his wife and children. When Macduff hears of this, his resolve to kill Macbeth grows even stronger.
PHASE 4 – Bloody Tyrant
This time Macbeth seeks them out rather than the other way around. Their prophecies are designed to make him feel invincible but it appears as if the witches cannot actually lie to him (after all they do reveal a show of eight Kings with Banquo at the end implying that Fleance will one day ascend to the throne). Thus they can only equivocate (deliberately mislead without actually lying) but they do so brilliantly and lead him on to his destruction.
Lady Macbeth is entirely absent from this section of the play.
Macbeth realises that Duncan’s sons are not going to quietly disappear. Now that they have the support of Macduff and King Edward’s army, they are bound to attempt an invasion of Scotland and Macbeth has been such a bloody tyrant as King that he cannot rely on the support of his subjects.
Instead of turning to his wife for advice or comfort, he returns to see the witches once more. Initially they give him good news – unless a forest walks and a man is not of woman born, he will not be defeated. He begins to feel invincible. However, they then give him bad news (his children will not be Kings) and he finally admits that he should not trust them “infected be the air whereon they ride and damned all those that trust them”. Nonetheless, as he did at the start of the play he hears only what he wants to hear, choosing to ignore all evidence that his defeat in inevitable. He loses it at this point. The more events spin out of his control, the more he lashes out at those around him and this is particularly evident in his decision to have the wife, children and servants of Macduff murdered.
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- King Lear – Plot Chronology
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