“Now, gods, stand up for bastards!”

Shakespeare and Edmund – or Philip Sidney for that matter – could never have anticipated that by 2016 over half the children born in Great Britain (which country they knew not of) would be “bastards”.

The Telegraph:

The proportion of children born to unmarried mothers hit a record 47.5 per cent last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. The figure has risen from 25 per cent in 1988 and just 11 per cent in 1979.

If the trend continues at the current rate, the majority of children will be born to parents who are not married by 2016.

Four hundred years ago Shakespeare got Edmund to exclaim:

… Why “bastard”? Wherefore “base”?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true
As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us
With “base,” with “baseness,” “bastardy,” “base,” “base”—
Who in the lusty stealth of nature take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth within a dull, stale, tirèd bed
Go to th’ creating a whole tribe of fops
Got ’tween a sleep and wake? Well then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.
Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate.—Fine word, “legitimate”!—
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top th’ legitimate. I grow, I prosper.
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

But now 400 years on, “bastardy” continues in many shapes and forms even if “bastards” have all but lost their illegitimacy. I wonder what wonderful terms Shakespeare would have invented and what fun he would have had in describing the children of today. Children of two fathers, of two mothers, of one parent, of 3 parents, of the senior wife, of the junior wife and perhaps – in another 400 years – of no parents!

As long as there is even one parent we will of course continue to burden our children with our prejudices and foibles, with names not of their choosing, to brainwash them into our religions and “to suffer the slings and arrows” of our sins.
And without making any recourse to legitimacy, even 400 years from now some of them will still be “bastards” and “base”.
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