What Is a “Thane”?

One problem with Macbeth is the possibility of getting thrown by vocabulary that would have been familiar to any self-respecting eleventh-century Scot but that we never use. The most conspicuous such word is “Thane.” I’m willing to bet that you will never see this word in any context other than that of Macbeth.

So what is a thane? This is what glossaries are for, but in case your copy of the play doesn’t have one, I’ll beat you to Wikipedia and note that “Thane was the title given to a local royal official in medieval eastern Scotland, equivalent to a count, who was at the head of an administrative and socio-economic unit known as a shire or thanage.” See? I’m here to help.

You all know what a “shire” is. You’ve seen those interminable hobbit movies. Just don’t imagine that Macbeth is three feet tall and that his feet are covered with hair. And don’t expect any dragons. There are no dragons in this play.

Yes, I admit it. This post is clickbait. Well, not really, since I haven’t done any serious search engine optimization on it except for the title. It’s more of an experiment to see whether this post, a simple explanation of a term that can be easily found elsewhere, gets appreciably more clicks than others. (I’ve been curious for some time because one of my Romeo and Juliet posts gets substantially more traffic than others, perhaps because it has such an explanation.) If it does, more to follow. I’m trying to learn how to revel in my shamelessness.

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