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Bastards! A Look At Illegitimacy From ‘Game Of Thrones’ To ‘Hamilton’ And Beyond

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The word “bastard” hasn’t always been meant to offend. Used simply as an indication of illegitimate birth at first, the label “bastard” didn’t bring with it shame or stigma until long after it first appeared in the Middle Ages.

Today, while its original meaning has not been forgotten, its use is largely reserved for insult. Yet, ironically, the underdog status once associated with a person of illegitimate birth is now something our modern culture celebrates.

From Alexander Hamilton to Game of Thrones’s Jon Snow, the bastard’s ability to rise above his or her unfortunate circumstances to achieve greatness has become something to root for.

This hour, a look at the origin, evolution, and pop culture triumph of the bastard!


  • Scott Andrews - Science fiction reviewer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, columnist for Winter Is Coming, and the author of The Guild Leader’s Handbook
  • Joanne Freeman - Professor of history and American studies at Yale University and the editor of The Essential Hamilton: Letters & Other Writings
  • Sara McDougall - Associate professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York and the author of Royal Bastards: The Birth of Illegitimacy, 800–1230

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Colin McEnroe, Betsy Kaplan, Jonathan McNicol, and Chion Wolf contributed to this show, which originally aired July 18, 2017.

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Josh is a producer for WNPR's talk shows. He has produced for Where We Live and is currently producing for The Colin McEnroe Show.
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