[Edmund the] bastard

During our discussions in class today I was really interested in the conversation that surrounded Edmund’s status as a bastard, or illegitimate child. I found that during both the small group that I was a part of, and when we all reconvened as a class, people had interesting ideas and interpretations of what it meant for Edmund to identify as a bastard and in particular, the connotations that the word, bastard, has.

I briefly researched the etymology of the word, bastard, to see if this term was always as pejorative as society sees it today, or even as negative as the characters in Shakespeare’s King Lear viewed the societal status of a bastard to be.  This term comes from the 11th century Modern French word, bâtard, which suggested a person of low origins.  Upon further Googling, I was surprised to see the synonyms of bastard listed to include the following: scoundrel, villain, miscreant, and good-for-nothing. This really made me think about the way that Edmund is set up to be viewed as a character in King Lear.

At the very beginning of Act I Scene 2, the stage directions read, “Enter [Edmund the] bastard.” Someone in the large group today (please forgive me, I’ve forgotten who specifically introduced this line) explicitly brought this piece of paratext to our attention to show how the text is specifically introducing Edmund not as a human character, but solely as a bastard.  This discovery really sparked some great discussion about Edmund and whether or not his conniving, trickster ways was a product of his environment and the society that perceived him to be less-than.

In my reading of the text, I see Edmund to have truly taken to heart the label that society had placed upon him, and in turn, act out of a perceived justification for the world already wronging him due to the condition of his birth. Whilst I do believe that Edmund lived up to the synonyms of bastard, such as scoundrel, villian, etc., I agree with the class’ general assertion that it was Edmund’s own self-identification as a bastard that led him to feel the need to act on the offensive in order to secure what he felt would have been denied to him due to his societal standing.

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