Malcolm is one of King Duncan’s sons, the other being Donalbain. In the early part of the play, he is scarcely present, but overall he has one of the three main speaking parts, the other two being Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Early in the play, Malcolm introduces to King Duncan the sergeant who saved Malcolm from capture. When the king’s assassination is discovered, Malcolm agrees with his brother’s suggestion to flee for their lives, and he goes to England, where he is later said to be living at the court of King Edward the Confessor, an English king noted for his holiness. The sudden departure of the king’s sons casts some suspicion on their complicity in his murder.
In IV.iii, Macduff goes to England to seek Malcolm’s help in restoring rightful rule in Scotland. In the interview that then takes place, Malcolm acknowledges his doubts about Macduff’s motives quite directly to Macduff. He wonders whether Macduff is a paid agent of Macbeth, and he also questions why Macduff suddenly left his family unprotected to come to England. In order to test his suspicions about Macduff, Malcolm tells Macduff that he himself loves women, land and jewels, and discord among people. In sum, he accuses himself of lacking all kingly graces. When Macduff responds with a cry of hopelessness and despair for his country, Malcolm reveals that this is the first lie he has ever told. Later, Malcolm encourages Macduff to use the sudden news of his family’s slaughter as a motive to fight Macbeth.
In the final scene of the play, Malcolm shows himself assuming the role of kingship with grace and dignity, expressing his concern for the soldiers who are not present, and urging Siward to take time to mourn for his son. In his final speech, he states his plans to inaugurate a new era in Scotland, rewarding the soldiers, calling home exiles, and serving by the grace of God.