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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: November ::
Lear's Illegitimate Son?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1884  Tuesday, 15 November 2005

[1] 	From: 	Arnie Perlstein <
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	Date: 	Monday, 14 Nov 2005 13:12:34 -0500
	Subj: 	Lear's Illegitimate Son (and Unmentioned Wife)

[2] 	From: 	John W. Kennedy <
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	Date: 	Monday, 14 Nov 2005 13:59:36 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1874 Lear's Illegitimate Son?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Arnie Perlstein <
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Date: 		Monday, 14 Nov 2005 13:12:34 -0500
Subject: 	Lear's Illegitimate Son (and Unmentioned Wife)

To those of you who responded so vehemently to my (self-described) wild 
idea, all I can say is, gee whiz, I was not exactly casting a personal 
aspersion on the legitimacy of a member of your family. I get it, you 
think the idea is crazy.

But for those who enjoy considering wild ideas, for fun, and also 
because occasionally wild ideas lead to interesting interpretations, let 
me clarify first that your answers were helpful to in pointing out that 
my suggestion, in addition to being wild, was poorly framed.

Of course you are correct, Edmund would not have been the son of 
Gloucester's wife, he would've been the son of an unmarried woman, and 
probably one of low status.

It is mildly curious to me that we never hear about Gloucester's wife 
after Gloucester's initial macho comments about his encounter with her. 
But it is noteworthy that we never hear a word (at least, to my 
recollection) about Lear's Queen, either from Lear or from any of her 
daughters. Even though this play is an archetypal family myth. What do 
you make of that?

 >"....Shakespeare's Villains: Richard III, Lear's bastard, Edmund, and
 >Claudius...-----A typo? Probably." Nah, probably meant to reflect the 
TITLE
 >of the play rather than the illegitimacy and lineage."

You are absolutely correct, Jim, at first I read it the way Joe did, 
then I realized what the writer really meant. In fact, later in the same 
piece, there is another similar sort of reference, to the play rather 
than the character of the same name.

Arnie Perlstein
Weston, Florida

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John W. Kennedy <
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 >
Date: 		Monday, 14 Nov 2005 13:59:36 -0500
Subject: 16.1874 Lear's Illegitimate Son?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1874 Lear's Illegitimate Son?

Larry Weiss <
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 >

 >>the child of an adulterous mother is, in common law, deemed to
 >>be the legitimate son of the husband.

 >There is no reason to think that Edmund's mother had a husband,
 >so this is beside the point.

I quite agree, but I was addressing the hypothesis that Edmund's mother 
was Gloucester's wife. Under common law, in this case, he would have 
been regarded as the legitimate son of Gloucester, unless Lear publicly 
acknowledged him. Therefore, the hypothesis requires us to believe that 
Lear has acknowledged Edmund, while apparently doing nothing to favor 
him, and that somehow Edmund blames Gloucester for it all, which I think 
can be safely taken as too great a mass of contradictions to be accepted.

 >In fact, it seems improbable that Edmund had a legitimate "father"
 >as Lear acknowledged and raised him as his own.

No, we are expressly told that Gloucester raised him, and the plain 
reading of the text is that he acknowledged him, too.

 >As an aside, Lord Mansfield's Rule (that a child born of a married
 >woman was presumed to be her husband's child and neither
 >spouse was competent to offer contrary evidence) was enunciated
 >in the 18th Century.  See Goodright v. Moss, 2 Cowp. 591, 98 Eng.
 >Reprint 1257 (1777).  BUT Shakespeare anticipated it in King John,
 >so there was probably an antecedent precedent.  Can anyone cite it?

The fact that it was a ruling, and not legislation, suggests immediately 
that it was already in the air.

Jim Blackie <
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 >

 >Nah, probably meant to reflect the TITLE of the play rather than the
 >illegitimacy and lineage. The copywriter probably, (like me, sad to
 >say) could never remember who was Edgar and who was Edmund.
 >Gloucester might have been considerate enough to name one
 >"Galahad" and the other "WalMart" or some other sinister name.

I am reminded of a long-ago high-school production of "Finian's Rainbow" 
in which our Og broke down in one of the later rehearsals and cried out 
in anguish, "'Susan!' 'Sharon!' 'Sharon!' 'Susan!' Can't we just call 
them 'Ermentrude' and 'Griselda'?!"

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