Yesterday in my Shakespeare class we had what was known as “Bastard Day”. We’re reading King Lear and Act 1 Scene 2 has the famous bastard speech from Edmund. For bastard day as a class we said the word “bastard” 182 times within a 55 minute class period. Anyways, that got me to thinking about this term “bastard”.
First of all, what is a bastard? Well, dictionary.com defines it as such:
Looking at the first definition, you’ll see me. I am a bastard child, no biggie. But then we look at the second definition and we see where the issue lies. For those that don’t know me personally, you should know that I don’t cuss, but the one word that I was totally fine with using was bastard. It’s not a bad thing, it just makes me wonder, why has society made the term “bastard” mean something bad?
While you guys ponder that question, let’s look at some famous bastards.
Looking back in Shakespeare’s works we have two bastards that come to mind (only because I’ve done them in class). Edmund from King Lear and Don John from Much Ado About Nothing. What do these two guys have in common besides being illegitimate? They’re also the second definition. Don John is completely against everything good in Much Ado. Edmund, while starting out good enough, spirals into the despicable zone.
That’s all good for past literature, what about real life?
I did some googling and found this site: http://mentalfloss.com/article/17427/6-famous-bastards-who-made-their-mark
One really notable one I’d like to point out (for those who don’t really wanna click the link), is Leonardo Da Vinci. Yay, a good bastard! I wish we knew more about this aspect of him and how it affected his life… it would be really interesting and pertain to this discussion quite a bit.
Moving on to some more fiction, only a little more current. My two favorite bastards in all of literature: Jon Snow, and Ramsay Snow (Bolton) from A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones for the TV show only people).
I’m sure a majority of us can agree that Jon Snow does not really fit the bad slang definition for this term bastard, yet it’s something that he’s plagued with his entire life. We see Jon Snow in the beginning trying to fit in with his siblings, but he’s always on the outside, which is why he goes to the Night’s Watch. He doesn’t really belong in Winterfell, even though he’s still considered family. What makes it sad is that there are bastard children that have gone through that feeling, even in real life. Personally I never had that problem since my family was mixed up anyways (I’m not the only bastard child), but there are others that feel the otherness between them and their siblings. I think Jon Snow is a good example of a bastard in the literal sense without having to be the slang version. But it’s sad that because he’s a bastard he doesn’t have the same rights and things as the rest of the Stark siblings. (We’re not getting into his parentage debate, I could probably discuss that quite a bit but I’ll save that for another day.) So being a bastard still has bad connotations for him, regardless if it’s the slang version. Being a bastard child has robbed (heh, see what I did there?) him of his rightful place in society. And what makes things worse is society has made it that way!
In the world of Westeros it paints a very poignant picture of bastards. There are specific last names for them: Snow, Stone, Flowers, Hill, Pyke, Sand, Storm, Waters, and Rivers. Why does even a fictional society in Westeros have such customs?
“Bastard children were born from lust and lies, men said; their nature was wanton and treacherous. Once Jon had meant to prove them wrong, to show his lord father he could as good a true son as Robb” — Jon Snow, A Storm of Swords.
Just a little quote to point out that while Jon was a proper bastard, he was as capable and level headed as his brother. He just wanted to be recognized as important much like Edmund in King Lear, except Edmund was also bad so he failed at that… anyways, moving on to the next (and most vile) bastard of all.
Ramsay Snow (Bolton). Ramsay is the most despicable of all the bastards I’ve come across. When reading the books the first time I hated him with a passion because he was such a twisted human being. I came to like the character when watching the show just because the actor was phenomenal (plus I already liked the actor in an earlier work he’d been in). Ramsay is the best example of both major definitions. What makes this character especially interesting though is the fact that his father legitimizes him (yes sorry for the spoiler, but really it’s not that huge… well it is in terms of society and all but not books/show). So, even though he’s such a vile human being, his father gives him the honor of the Bolton name. Is this George R.R. Martin’s way of letting bastards take back some rights? If so it’s not a good person to bestow that upon. But the legitimizing needed to be pointed out so everyone can see that it is society doing this
Time to move away from the fun stuff and look at today. In today’s time, being a bastard is nothing. Society doesn’t care that anymore. It’s no longer a big issue. The only way it would be an issue is if there was a Royal bastard or something in the UK. But then only those worried about kings and succession (anyone get that reference, it’s a little subtle) would be concerned with it. Regardless if the term bastard as an illegitimate child has lost its standing nowadays, the term as the slang is even more prominent.
Why is it in the literature I listed that we only have one good bastard child whereas in real life there are several bastard children who were phenomenal? Why do bastard children have to have that label on them? Why should society dictate that this word mean something bad? I realize now that I really have no answers for these questions so you’ll just have to ponder on them for yourselves.
This bastard is off to bed, until later Chaos Seekers!