Longing to Belong: the Literary Evolution of the Bastard Character Archetype from Shakespeare to Byron



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Exploring the connections between Shakespeare’s Bastard Character archetype and the Byronic Hero, this paper argues that there are similarities between the two which have not been adequately considered before. Beginning with the archetype’s origins in the Vice character of Medieval Morality Plays, the Bastard Character evolved in light of socio-political pressures of the English Renaissance. In Shakespeare’s theater, it traces the Bastard Character’s development over three plays to show the fundamental problem facing the character, that is the longing to belong in a society unwilling to accept them. Moving into the Romantic period, the origins of the Byronic Hero are considered in order to show how what has been assumed to be Byron’s literary self-insert character is indebted to the archetype established by Shakespeare. By recognizing the differences between their portrayals of this character type, the study reveals how Byron reduces the Bastard Character’s crisis from the political sphere to the personal, and the difficulties which emerge from his hero’s choices. Finally, the essay concludes with a few thoughts about the implications of this archetype’s journey, and its prevailing popularity in literature and other media today.



Shakespeare, Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616, Byron, Byron, George Gordon Byron, Baron, 1788-1824, Bastard character, Byronic hero, isolation, archetypes, Richard III, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, Manfred, Corsair