In Richard's case the different ancestral line . . . the one apparently proving that he seems not to have been of the royal house from which he claimed to be descended . . . hmmm, did he know? And was that why he was always so evil and grumpy, at least in Shakespeare's version of him? Shakespeare really knew how illegitimacy could disappoint one. Think of Edmund in King Lear:
Thou, nature, art my goddess. To thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? 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!
Just think what being a bastard can do for you: you worship Nature, instead of God, and that, back in sixteenth-century England, was probably a hanging offense. (Nature was after all female. And pre-dated Christianity. She played chess with the pieces of Stonehenge). Plus marriage ruined sex, Edmund was claiming. Bastards were the only ones, he believed, whose parents had enjoyed producing them. Which leads to his final line: "Now, Gods, have some erections in support of bastards!" So to speak. A line which "No Fear Shakespeare" glosses most bowdlerizingly as "Three cheers for bastards." Yes. Well.
Back to Richard: Oh, What if? What if not only I were illegitimate, like Richard, but what if he were the current queen's great-great-great-somethingorother? Would the descendents of Mary, Queen of Scots, if she had any, get to charge in and claim the throne? Or some other even rowdier ancestors? Stay tuned. Hala Gorani just trotted us all through the basics on CNN, but I can't wait to hear what happens next.