Although she only appears in one scene, Lady Macduff’s strong maternal presence offers an important alternative to the corrupt behaviors of the Macbeths. She values love and loyalty, and throughout Act IV, Scene 2, she attempts to impart her moral code onto her young son. He quickly notices his mother’s anger towards his missing father, a response which stems from her belief that family comes before all else. Lady Macduff labels her husband as a traitor for leaving her and the children without warning and refuses to listen to Ross’s suggestion that he may have had a noble reason for doing so. While this perspective may appear harsh, it emphasizes her desire to protect the safe, domestic world within the Macduffs’ castle. She perceives her husband as a threat to her children as soon as she believes that he exists in the same category as “liars and swearers” and, by telling her son that he is dead, vows to keep him out of their lives. Of course, the security that Lady Macduff attempts to preserve for her children disappears when Macbeth’s murderers descend on the castle. She offers a bold retort to the murderers’ question about her husband’s whereabouts, a moment which reinforces her internal strength, but she ultimately fails to save her family from danger. The brutal deaths of Lady Macduff and her children highlight just how far the Macbeths are willing to go in order to secure their power.

Lady Macduff’s character calls attention to the nuances of Lady Macbeth’s character in particular, and although they are foils for each other, they also have some qualities in common. Both women, for example, possess strong wills and clearly articulate their points of view to the other characters around them. Macbeth cannot convince his wife to abandon the idea of murdering King Duncan in order to secure the throne, and Lady Macduff refuses to consider the possibility that her husband’s departure was justified. The fact that neither of these women come across as weak or helpless challenges more traditional depictions of femininity, suggesting that wives and mothers can still wield influence from within the domestic sphere. Where Lady Macduff and Lady Macbeth begin to differ, however, is in their motivation. Lady Macduff’s focus is on the well-being of her family while Lady Macbeth allows greed and ambition to cloud her judgment. By setting these two women up as foil characters for one another, Shakespeare is able to examine which traits are responsible for Lady Macbeth’s downfall.