The Bastard to the Time in King John


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Despite the complexities of Shakespearean characterization, one occasionally encounters a figure around whom there has evolved a "standard interpretation," and such is the case with the Bastard in King John. The Bastard's essential dishonor is almost axiomatic among those who have commented at any length upon his character in the play. Some readers are unequivocal in their denunciations. Julia C. Van de Water calls him a "thinly-disguised vice,"1 and M. M. Reese finds that, except for Constance, Blanche, and Arthur, "no one else in the play is a person of integrity, not even Fauconbridge, who cheerfully admits that he is tarred with the same brush as the people he condemns."2 Even those who are sympathetic toward the Bastard offer a no more positive assessment than that his dishonor is less pronounced toward the end of the play (if only because of John's decline). Gunnar Boklund labels him a "crude materialist" even though he believes that the Bastard never really "throws consideration to the winds" to become a "faithful servant to commodity."3 Noting a similar modulation, Irving Rihner argues that the Bastard has "little initial claim to virtue" and that "only as John declines does the Bastard's moral stature begin to be evident."4 Likewise, James L. Calderwood finds him obsessed with self-interest and lacking responsibility to England early in the play but yet resembling a political hero by the end.5 And in the same way, Adrien Bonjour feels that the Bastard becomes the "natural ruler John has ceased to be."6 But alas for the Bastard, E. A. J. Honigmann disputes even his political honor. 7

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