Bastardy In Don John

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When William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing was written in 1598-1599, there was still a stigma against children born out of wedlock. Illegitimate children were considered tainted by the salacious act that conceived them, and thus, were suspected of being less virtuous than those born from a true and legal marriage. Although bastardy was stigmatized, that did not make it uncommon: according to Richard Greaves’ book Society and Religion in Elizabethan England, “…bastardy rates in England increased sharply from c. 1561 to the 1590s…” (Greaves 214). Shakespeare used this stigma to create the character of the “villainous” Don John. Bastardy is Don John’s defining trait – it is how the audience perceives him, because it is how the author…show more content…
He is not welcomed on his own merit, but only because he is reconciled to his brother, the Prince. Leonato, the Governor of Messina, stiffly greets Don John and says, “Let me bid you welcome, / my lord, being reconciled to the Prince your brother” (1.1.151-152). This interaction is indicative of Don John’s treatment by society – he is acknowledged only with distrust and suspicion; only allowed entrance because of who he is with. Later in the play, Conrade remarks on Don John’s social position saying: “You / have of late stood out against your brother, and he / hath ta’en you newly into his grace” (1.3.19-21). When studied together, Leonato’s and Conrade’s lines imply that Don John and Don Pedro had been fighting in the battle, seemingly on opposing sides. Now that the battle is over, the gracious Prince allows the bastard, John, to reclaim his position as an underling with no possibility of upward mobility. It is this very position that has, thus far, prevented Don John from improving his character, and has molded him into the malcontent presented to us in the play. According to Social Strain theory, this lack of respect and success can motivate Don John to create a new goal for himself – to attain counter-culture success in becoming the
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