What do Glamis and Cawdor mean in Macbeth?

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Original question has been edited down to a single question (per eNotes policy).

In Act I, scene three, the witches' wait for Banquo and Macbeth in order to make their cunning predictions concerning the two men. When Macbeth approaches, three different witches address him by three distinct titles: Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and "Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter!" (I.iii.52)

Of course, these are titles that represent a feudal position in King Duncan's kingdom.  A 'thane' is another word for a high ranking nobleman like a Baron.  Macbeth is already Thane of Glamis, but when the witches also name him as being Thane of Cawdor. 

Glamis and Cawdor are both villages in Scotland, tied to the surrounding lands, each with a castle for defense and protection.  In the feudal system, the king appointed loyal men (lord, barons, or in this case 'thanes') to be in charge of certain sections of the kingdom.  Glamis and Cawdor are names of two of these sections.  Of the two, the reader can conclude that Cawdor is a promotion, because the previous Thane of Cawdor was very wealthy.

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teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Glamis and Cawdor are both villages surrounded by land in Scotland. In the pre-industrial world, land was the basis of wealth and power. A thane was a nobleman, similar to an earl, who controlled a large area of land. At the start of the play, Macbeth is thane of Glamis, making him a powerful figure. After the thane of Cawdor rebels against King Duncan, Macbeth bravely defeats Cawdor in battle. To thank Macbeth, Duncan, a good and just king, rewards him by making him the new thane of Cawdor. However, just after the battle, when Macbeth runs into the three witches, he doesn't know yet what Duncan has done. Therefore, when they greet him as both thane of Glamis and thane of Cawdor:"hail to thee, Thane of Glamis ...hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!", Macbeth is at first confused. Later, when he learns he actually has become thane of Cawdor, he takes the witches' words as prophecy, as their supernatural ability to see accurately into the future. Thus, when they also greeted him as "thou shalt be king hereafter," he comes to believe this is a true prophecy too--and in fact, becoming thane of Cawdor has put him third in line to the throne, so he is not irrational to imagine he might become king. It's what he does to achieve the goal that becomes the problem. 

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bigmama97 | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) eNoter

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thanes are soldiers who are awarded with land by the king because of their work or credits. so in this case, the thane now own the land and in those days, glamis, cawdor, fife was just names of a part of england.