Dan O'Herlihy as Macduff in Orson Welles' controversial film adaptation Macbeth (1948) Creator William Shakespeare Play Date Source Family Macbeth c.1603-1607 Holinshed's Chronicles (1587) Lady Macduff, wife Son, (name unknown) Antagonist to Macbeth; kills him in the final act. Despair thy charm / And let the angel whom thou has served / Tell thee Macduff was from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped (5.10.14-16)
Macduff, the Thane of Fife, is a character in William Shakespeare's Macbeth (c.1603-1607). Macduff plays a pivotal role in the play: he suspects Macbeth of regicide and eventually kills Macbeth in the final act. He is the main antagonist, yet the hero, in the play. The character is first known from Chronica Gentis Scotorum (late 14th century) and Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland (early 15th century). Shakespeare drew mostly from Holinshed's Chronicles (1587). Although characterized sporadically throughout the play, Macduff serves as a foil to Macbeth, a figure of morality, and an instrument to the play’s desired excision of femininity.
The overall plot that would serve as the basis for Macbeth is first seen in the writings of two chroniclers of Scottish history, John of Fordun, whose prose Chronica Gentis Scotorum was begun about 1363 and Andrew of Wyntoun's Scots verse Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland, written no earlier than 1420. These served as the basis for the account given in Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), on whose narratives of King Duff and King Duncan Shakespeare in part based Macbeth. Macduff first appears in Holinshed's narrative of King Duncan after Macbeth has killed the monarch and reigned as King of Scotland for 10 years. When Macbeth calls upon his nobles to contribute to the construction of Dunsinane castle, Macduff avoids the summons, arousing Macbeth's suspicions. Macduff leaves Scotland for England to prod Duncan's son, Malcolm, into taking the Scottish throne by force. Meanwhile, Macbeth murders Macduff's family. Malcolm, Macduff, and the English forces march on Macbeth, and Macduff kills him. Shakespeare follows Holinshed's account of Macduff closely, with his only deviations being Macduff's discovery of Duncan's body in 2.3, and Macduff's brief conference with Ross in 2.4. Historically, the Clan MacDuff was the most powerful family in Fife in the medieval ages. The ruins of Macduff's Castle lie in East Wemyss cemetery.
Role in the play
Macduff first speaks in the play in 2.3 when he discovers the corpse of King Duncan in Macbeth’s castle. He raises an alarm, informing the castle that the king has been murdered. Macduff begins to suspect Macbeth of regicide when Macbeth says, “O, yet I do repent me of my fury / That I did kill them” (2.3.103-104). Interestingly, Macduff’s name does not appear in this scene; rather, Banquo refers to him as “Dear Duff” (2.3.75). In 2.4 Macbeth has left for Scone, the ancient royal city where Scottish kings were crowned. Macduff, meanwhile, meets with Ross and an Old Man. He reveals that he will not be attending the coronation of Macbeth and will instead return to his home in Fife. However, Macduff flees to England to join Malcolm, the slain King Duncan’s elder son, and convinces him to return
Macduff (Macbeth) to Scotland and claim the throne. Macbeth, meanwhile, visits the Three Witches again after the spectre of Banquo appears at the royal banquet. The Witches warn Macbeth to “beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife” (4.1.87-88). Furthermore, they inform him that, “The power of man, for none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth” (4.1.96-97). Macbeth, fearing for his position as King of Scotland, orders the deaths of Macduff's wife, children and relatives. Macduff, who is still in England, learns of his family’s deaths through Ross, another Scottish thane. He joins Malcolm, and they return to Scotland with their English allies to face Macbeth at Dunsinane...
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