Not So Ratty Bastard (or, Mostly Glourious Basterd)

Yesterday, we discussed the idea of the main character in King John, and we (well, I) didn’t want to bestow that honor on our titular monarch. Now, running second in the speech total race, and more stirring, more intelligent, more — well — studly is first Philip Faulconbridge, later Sir Richard Plantagenet, but always (to Shakespeare, at least) the Bastard.

When we first hear him speak his thoughts (he is the only character–unless I’m mistaken–who soliloquizes in the play), we hear a common man, one of us:

Well, now can I make any Joan a lady.
'Good den, sir Richard!'--'God-a-mercy, fellow!'--
And if his name be George, I'll call him Peter;
For new-made honor doth forget men's names;
But this is worshipful society
And fits the mounting spirit like myself,
For he is but a bastard to the time
That doth not smack of observation;
And so am I, whether I smack or no;
And not alone in habit and device,
Exterior form, outward accoutrement,
But from the inward motion to deliver
Sweet, sweet, sweet poison for the age's tooth:
Which, though I will not practice to deceive,
Yet, to avoid deceit, I mean to learn

— I.i. 184-187, 205-215

He’s not of that “worshipful society,” but he’s willing to play his part, sarcastically forgetting lesser “men’s names,” a failure he has seen of greater men. He then goes on to discuss the flattery that is the lingua franca of his new society; this flattery is a “sweet, sweet, sweet poison” to the Bastard (and don’t you love the thrice-repeated–and thus, I’ll argue–sarcastic “sweet”). Our Bastard is a good guy, he does not “practice to deceive,” but he realizes that he must learn to deceive so that he can avoid being deceived. Pretty damn smart.

When the kings of England and France are held at arm’s length by Hubert, the citizen of Angiers, the Bastard shows his leadership:

By heaven, these scroyles of Angiers flout you, kings,
Your royal presences be ruled by me:
Be friends awhile and both conjointly bend
Your sharpest deeds of malice on this town:
Leave them as naked as the vulgar air.
That done, dissever your united strengths,
And part your mingled colors once again;
Turn face to face and bloody point to point;
Then, in a moment, Fortune shall cull forth
Out of one side her happy minion,
To whom in favor she shall give the day,
And kiss him with a glorious victory.

— II.i.373, 377, 379-380, 387-394

Not only is the Bastard a leader able to sway the intentions of kings, but he’s the smartest guy in the room. If the divided forces cannot force a decision by Angiers, then join forces, kick the crap out of Angiers, then split up and figure out who is king. Pretty damn smart (plus he gets a chance to kick ass).

A no-nonsense Everyman with a biting sense of humor about the upper class, the smartest guy in the room, a warrior leader. OK, we haven’t come to him yet, but I’ve mentioned him earlier in the month… I just see this as a dry run for Harry Percy, the valiant Hotspur of the North.

Compare the Bastard’s mocking of Austria

O, that a man should speak those words to me!

And hang a calf's-skin on those recreant limbs.

Thou darest not say so, villain, for thy life.

And hang a calf's-skin on those recreant limbs.

— III.i.130-133

with Hotspur’s desire to disobey King Henry IV’s order to Hotspur to discuss the captured Mortimer:

He said he would not ransom Mortimer;
Forbad my tongue to speak of Mortimer;
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I'll holla 'Mortimer!'
Nay, I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion.

— 1 Henry IV: I.iii.219-225

Mocking, bordering on petulant, but comically so.

but that’s at least three months away… sigh

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