In this lesson, we will consider the term ‘Thane of Glamis,’ its meaning and its implications in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. You will then be asked to take a short quiz to test your understanding of the concepts.
What’s In a Thane?
To understand what the Thane of Glamis means, we must first define that a thane is. In the Middle Ages of Europe’s past, areas of land would be ruled by kings who would allow certain noblemen to own portions of the land in exchange for their military service to the king. These noblemen were thanes.
This entire system is known as feudalism. In the chart here, a thane would be at or above the level of ‘vassals,’ who were land holders who oversaw ‘serfs’ or non-landowners.In the play, Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, Macbeth is a Scotsman and a thane. At the beginning of the play, he is Thane of Glamis, Glamis simply being the name of the area Macbeth ruled over. After his success in battle, Macbeth became Thane of Cawdor as well (we’ll look at how this happened shortly). So, thane is simply a title given to someone of nobility; you might compare it to the more modern-day term of ‘duke’.
What then does this have to do with Macbeth’s future and its implications in the play? Let’s dig a little deeper and see!
Thanes of Glamis and Cawdor
In the play, Macbeth is a great leader in battle and is rewarded for it by King Duncan by being named thane. Macbeth begins the story as the Thane of Glamis, already having been successful in battle. After Macbeth defeats Norwegian forces, who were assisted by the traitorous original Thane of Cawdor, the latter is executed for his treason and his title, Thane of Cawdor, is bestowed upon Macbeth.
Meanwhile, returning from the aforementioned battle against Norway, Macbeth meets up with the ‘weird sisters,’ or witches, who predict Macbeth’s promotions, not only to Thane of Cawdor, but ultimately, to king! When Macbeth gets home and tells all of this to his wife, Lady Macbeth, she begins to get it into her head that Macbeth shouldn’t wait around for the kingship, but that he should make it happen. How do you suppose that might happen? In this case, it’s through deceit and murder!
From Thane to King
So we now see that the title of thane was simply a stepping-stone in the eyes of Macbeth and especially his wife.The implications of the thane titles are that these titles, along with the predictions from the witches and the conniving Lady Macbeth, move the story from one of glory and honor to one of suffering, treason, murder and shame.As a thane, Macbeth is honorable and good, but when the idea of becoming more than a thane presents itself, the story takes on a whole new darkness. Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth begins killing everyone who could get in his way of becoming king, including the king himself. By the time it’s all over, he has killed his own best friend, Banquo, and lost his wife to suicide. There’s certainly a reason Macbeth is known as a tragic play.
In the end, the title of thane has less to do with the overall play than it does with what motivates Macbeth to carry out so many evil deeds. There is an old saying you may have already heard: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts, absolutely.A thane is simply a title of European nobility, similar to an earl or a duke. But for Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis becomes a title that drips with blood, sorrow and a stern warning: don’t let the pursuit of power control and corrupt you!