Glamour and Shakespeare’s Glamis – Any connection?

When devils, wizards or jugglers deceive the sight, they are said to cast glamour o’er the eyes of the spectator.

~ 1721  A. Ramsay Gloss. to Poems, OED

The root of the word glamour (or glamor) comes from the Scottish glaumour (a corrupt form of grammar) and the French grimoire

Glamour originally refers to knowledge of the occult, such as the art of black magic found in the Middle Ages. This may have involved magical spells cast by witches to make ugly persons or things appear beautiful or simply to distort one’s perception of reality.

Over time, the meaning of the word glamour shifted to refer to the art of creating an illusion of beauty or attractiveness, often through makeup, fashion, or other forms of visual art. Today, the word glamour is often used to describe a sense of allure or fascination, usually associated with celebrities, high fashion, and an ostentatious lifestyle.

We could stop there but I think there might be an informal connection between the word glamour and Shakespeare’s use of the village and castle of Glamis in Macbeth. Anyone who’s read or seen Macbeth (1603, 1607) will recall that the three witches in Shakespeare‘s tragedy proclaim that the young Scot will become Thane of Glamis.

ChatGPT, in its linear ‘nuts and bolts’ non-human way, disagrees with me. I asked it to

Give me a history of the word glamour, and tell me if it’s related to Shakespeare’s Glamis.

In the above, I’ve incorporated some of the chatbot’s answer for the first part of my question. For the second part, it says:

As for whether glamour is related to Shakespeare’s Glamis, the answer is no. Glamis is a place in Scotland, and while it may have been used as a setting in some of Shakespeare’s plays, there is no linguistic or etymological connection between the two words.

And this is where I might disagree with my inhuman assistant. After all, the Bible’s Old Testament makes ample use of puns, sometimes influenced by etymology and semantics but other times simply on how two or more Hebrew words sound—that is, on the basis of their phonology.² These humorous and dramatic aspects of the Old Testament are pretty much lost in translation unless one reads a good set of study notes along with the Bible.

So to return to glamour and Glamis, there doesn’t appear to be any strong linguistic connection between the two words – especially since the first surviving written appearance of the English word glamour is from 1720. But possibly Shakespeare about a hundred years earlier is playing on known slang words that hadn’t yet been written or formally incorporated into the English language (somewhat like “Klingon,” for a contemporary example). Or possibly The Bard was intuiting future English usage. After all, many creative geniuses do seem to get glimpses of the future.

Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more!”³

While this connection might seem a little far-fetched, maybe it isn’t. Scholars suggest the three witches use their otherworldly wiles to subtly tempt Macbeth through prophecies of worldly power and glory.

While the witches do not tell Macbeth directly to kill King Duncan, they use a subtle form of temptation when they tell Macbeth that he is destined to be king. By placing this thought in his mind, they effectively guide him on the path to his own destruction. This follows the pattern of temptation used at the time of Shakespeare.4

Macbeth indeed was deceived by evil as his worldly success didn’t do him any good. His wife, Lady Macbeth, committed suicide and he ended up beheaded with his name becoming “a hotter name than any is in hell.”5

¹ “glamour | glamor, n.”. OED Online. December 2011. Oxford University Press.

² Just as modern writers make a play on, for instance, history and herstory. I remember a woman mentioning this in a religious studies seminar and the backward, second-rate professor conducting the seminar responded with a cynical, condescending smirk.


4 – 2012 entry



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