Bastards in Shakespeare’s England

Edmund the bastard has a label scarred onto him which he cannot shake off, and which causes him to hold a unquenchable desire to secure power and prove himself worthy of respect and his fathers title. In introducing Edmund, Shakespeare ensures the bastard label is made clear, and makes Edmund’s feelings around the label known. “Why brand they us with base?….” Shakespeare must have included “bastard” as a central character trait for a reason, given the English societal customs of his period.

Using “bastard” as a central character trait was not unique to King Lear for Shakespeare. In “King John” Phillip the Bastard served as a more noble representation of a bastard. Bastards are included in a number of other Shakespeare plays, but with more minor roles.

Shakespeare seems to feel sympathy for bastards in his plays, even for the villainous Edmund. His writing appears to sympathizes with the grievances Edmund lays out in his “Stand up for Bastards” speech.

One theory for Shakespeare’s bastard focus is rumored to be that he had a bastard son of his own. A book recently published called “Shakespeare’s Bastard” suggests Shakespeare’s godson, who became a famous poet and shared a unique facial feature with Shakespeare, was actually Shakespeare’s illegitimate (and only) son.

Of course the book merely speculates, but the importance of the Bastard label in English society remained. The coat of arms of all royal bastards was required to feature a band dexter to signal their baseness. A papal decree from 786, almost 750 years before the birth of Shakespeare, declared english royalty “must not be begotten in adultery or incest” and that “he who was not born of a legitimate marriage” could not succeed to the throne.

There had been a few famous English Royal Bastards, but none who became as powerful as Edmund in Lear.

Robert, 1st Earl of Glouster, for example managed to secure power by being the oldest illegitimate son of the king. He was entrusted with holdings in Normandy by his father.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

On Jan. 30 1970, British soldiers opened fire on a crowd of Irish Catholics protesting internment without trial of suspected Irish Republican Army members. 26 people were shot, all of them unarmed. Of the 26 shot, 14 died. Many victims were shot while fleeing from the soldiers, some were shot while trying to help the wounded.

13 years later, U2, a four-man band from Dublin, released “Sunday Bloody Sunday” a condemnation of widespread violence in Northern Ireland.

U2 painted scenes of violence through their lyrics.

Broken bottles under children’s feet

Bodies strewn across the dead end street

U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday

References to the use of Molotov cocktails in streets where children play and corpses backed up into a corner encapsulate the decades of violence in Northern Ireland which claimed more than 3,000 lives. Children are supposed to be innocent and not caught in the middle of murder and violence from adults. By describing the conflict’s impact on children, U2 shows the consequences to the most innocent.

The events of Bloody Sunday would become a rallying cry for Irish nationalist groups, however, the song was not a rallying cry for either side of the conflict. 

But I won’t heed the battle call

It puts my back up

Puts my back up against the wall

U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday

“This is not a Rebel song” Bono, the lead singer of the band said before a live performance of the song. Instead, the song was a condemnation of the unnecessary violence throughout Northern Ireland. By comparing “taking a side” in the conflict to putting your back up against the wall, U2 uses metaphor to describe the futility of becoming a foot-soldier in a tit-for-tat game of murder.

A central focus of the conflict were disputes between Catholics and Protestants, U2 mentions the conflict and the uselessness of violence surrounding the religious conflict.

The real battle just begun

To claim the victory Jesus won 


Sunday, Bloody Sunday

U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday

By stating the paradox of killing for a victory that has already occurred, U2 exposes the worthlessness of religious violence.

“Sunday Bloody Sunday” takes a neutral stand and displays the consequences of violence. Through metaphor, imagery, and paradox, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” inspired a movement towards peace in Northern Ireland.

What does it mean to be a nation?

In Exit West Mohsin Hamid explores what it means to be a nation. The traditional way of defining a nation is a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory. In Exit West, nations seemingly disappear as migration to other parts of the world becomes unstoppable. Landmasses that used to have national identity see that identity rapidly disappear. “Their grandparents had been born on the strip of land that stretched from the mid-northern-Pacific to the mid-northern-atlantic.” Instead of saying America, or the United States, people describe the region in terms of its general geographical location, implying that the United States no longer exists in the form the Nation used to have. Its history, ideas, and culture evaporated as people from the entire world came to occupy the area. Though the existence of personal national identity still exists, as evidenced by Saeed’s longing to join the community in London that comes from his home country, nations within land masses no longer exist.

Bill Murray: Sisyphus, But Better

Groundhog Day, easily one of the greatest movies of all time, stars Bill Murray, also one of the greatest people of all time, in a modern take on the ancient myth of Sisyphus.

In Groundhog day, Bill Murray finds himself in a mystical time loop that has forced him to relive the same day over and over again.

At first, Murray is confused, but upon realizing his situation, he begins living his days as if there was no tomorrow, because there wasn’t. He does all the things most of us would do if we knew our actions didn’t have consequences: punch salesmen, drive trucks into quarries, endanger the lives of others, classic stuff.

Murray, like Sisyphus, probably doesn’t find his magical predicament very enjoyable at first. Murray tries to kill himself a number of times, only to find that he cannot escape the time loop.

But through acceptance of his situation, Murray, like Sisyphus, becomes powerful. “I’m a god”, as Murray puts it.

After acceptance of his situation, Murray finds purpose in the life presented to him, and tries to become a better person in order to help others. According to google, Bill Murray’s character spent about 33 years trapped inside of the time loop, practically an eternity to the average person. If Camus is right about Sisyphus, it might be that an eternity in groundhog day wouldn’t have been that bad.

Apathetic people: the worst humans

The most clear thing throughout part 1 of “The Stranger” is the total apathy that Meursault feels towards just about everything. The author has gone to considerable lengths to make this fact abundantly clear.

The first paragraph of the story is written with the almost explicit purpose of shoving in the readers face that the death of Meursault’s mother “doesn’t mean anything” to him. No emotion. No reflection. Nothing but an itinerary for his next two days.

It isn’t that the narrator chooses not to document his emotions, he feels nothing, and shows nothing. When informing his boss that he would be taking the days off, his boss reacts negatively, and Meursault notes that the boss would regret not offering his condolences “day after tomorrow, when he sees I’m in mourning,” implying that Meursault is not currently mourning the death of his own mother.

When Raymond describes his abuse of his mistress, Meursault makes his feelings obvious “I didn’t think anything but that it was interesting.”

Meursault’s apathy may be rooted in a screw loose somewhere in his mind, or, more likely, comes from a lack of purpose or meaning to his life. Meursault has no goals, no god, nothing he loves or cares for. Meursault lives for nothing, and may as well not be living at all.