Edmund Blackadder

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Edmund Blackadder is the single name given to a collection of fictional characters who appear in the BBC mock-historical comedy series Blackadder, each played by Rowan Atkinson. Although each series is set within a different period of British history, each character is part of the same familial dynasty and is usually called Edmund Blackadder. Each character also shares notable personality traits and characteristics throughout each incarnation; while each individual incarnation may be found in different circumstances, they are usually considered to be the same character.

Common characteristics[edit]

Although each Blackadder is positioned in a different place in British society over each series, generally falling in class over the centuries – starting out as the King's nephew at the very beginning of series one – before he mistakes his uncle for an enemy commander, kills him and allows his father (played by Brian Blessed) to assume the throne – and ending as a front line soldier (a Captain) in the British Army of World War I – there are certain common characteristics that each Blackadder shares. Throughout each series, Blackadder is a self-serving, cynical opportunist concerned solely with increasing his own influence and status within his society (and, usually, making a lot of money along the way) rather than serving any idealistic goals. His character is symbolized by the adder, the United Kingdom’s only native venomous snake, which sometimes appears in the series as a visual motif.

With the exception of the first Blackadder incarnation, Prince Edmund, each Blackadder is generally witty, charming and intelligent. While he is beset by bad luck, he is usually very capable of manipulating his way out of a crisis and in securing for himself some degree of prestige and fortune. Blackadder is also usually one of the few intelligent people present at any given time and usually is surrounded by incompetent, stupid and at times mad servants, equals and superiors. As a result, he possesses a scathing wit and is usually prepared with numerous sarcastic put-downs, which are often wasted on those they are directed at. He always has an amusingly exaggerated simile to describe whatever situation he finds himself in.

He is frequently present at some of the defining moments of British history, but usually views his contemporaries with unbridled contempt, regardless of their historical importance or interest. In particular, he tends to comment sardonically on what might, to modern eyes, be considered the more ludicrous follies of history (from the injustice of the medieval witchhunts, to the petty whims and stupidities of various British monarchs, to the pointless butchery of World War I). As a result, he is something of a modern perspective placed in past societies. He is also generally dismissive of the contemporary arts and culture in the various eras in which he lives, such as medieval folk pageants, Shakespeare, Georgian Romanticist poetry, theatre and Charlie Chaplin films.

Each Blackadder is also surrounded by various other figures who reappear over the series. Most, such as his repulsive manservant Baldrick and the various imbecilic aristocrats with whose company he is lumbered (such as Lord Percy Percy or George), are usually hindrances to him of whom he is repeatedly incapable of ridding himself. There is also usually another main character who is on a par with him in terms of intelligence and serves as someone for him to play games of one-upmanship with, such as Lord Melchett and Captain Darling, but these characters are typically sycophantic toadies who suck up to their superiors like Queenie and General Melchett, whom Blackadder himself is also forced to reluctantly serve.

Main Blackadders[edit]

In this section, brief descriptions of the various Edmund Blackadders who have appeared in their own series or in another notable Blackadder production are provided.

Prince Edmund Plantagenet / The Black Adder (Medieval England)[edit]

Prince Edmund is the first man in the dynasty to refer to himself as 'the Black Adder' (although in Blackadder: Back and Forth, a centurion in Roman Britain also possesses a similar name). The first Blackadder is named after the treacherous Edmond from Shakespeare's King Lear. He appears in the first series, The Black Adder, set shortly after The Wars of the Roses. He is the second son of the fictional King Richard IV of England, who, we are told at the beginning, was cast from all historical references by his successor, Henry Tudor. Prince Edmund is a very different character from his descendants: he is slow-witted, and when he carries out something Machiavellian he is shown as half-hearted or regretful. This is demonstrated in the first episode when, after accidentally cutting off the king's head, he later returns to haunt him in a Macbeth-like scene at the banquet. The Prince does show wit on occasion and is creatively insulting, although, with the exception of Baldrick and Percy, it is usually once his target is out of sight. He can be cunning and devious himself, but usually needs more help than his descendants—occasionally claiming Baldrick's plans as his own after dismissing them moments before. He is shown to have a talent for sword-fighting in "The Archbishop". For all this he is determined and driven to power: his primary concern is to seize the English throne and become king. After the death of Richard IV and Edmund's older brother Harry, he is briefly King of England; a lyric one of the closing credits for Blackadder II describes him as "a king / Although for only thirty seconds". Prince Edmund is one of the many Blackadders to be killed on screen: he dies after accidentally drinking poisoned wine, although he had already been severely mutilated by the Duke of Burgundy.

Edmund, Lord Blackadder (Elizabethan England)[edit]

Edmund, Lord Blackadder is the next-seen member of the dynasty, appearing in Elizabethan England. He is the central character of Blackadder II, and is a nobleman in the court of Elizabeth I of England. Although his 'great-grandfather' was Prince Edmund, he is much more intelligent, reserved, charming, handsome and witty than his ancestor. Despite that fact, Edmund's aristocracy has lowered; he is now simply a lord, rather than a Prince. His main concerns are pleasing his Queen, depicted here as a childish, spoiled tyrant, and in outwitting his various contemporary rivals, usually in the form of Lord Melchett, for her favour. At the end of his series, this Edmund was murdered by Prince Ludwig the Indestructible of Germany. Blackadder thought he had murdered Ludwig but at the end of the credits, Ludwig came back and murdered Edmund, Queenie and the rest of the court. He then posed as Queenie after the assassination.

The character shift from Prince Edmund in the first series to Lord Blackadder in the second is credited to the involvement of Ben Elton, who joined as the show's co-writer alongside Richard Curtis. The latter Edmund became the de facto archetype; nearly all subsequent Blackadders in the series were modelled after Edmund, Lord Blackadder, the exceptions being MacAdder, who appeared as a cameo in the finale of Blackadder the Third, and Ebenezer Blackadder, who initially began as the nicest man in England to the point of naivete but who gradually fell back into the standard persona.

Mr. Edmund Blackadder (Regency Britain)[edit]

Mr. Edmund Blackadder, Esquire is the Blackadder appearing in the Regency period of British history. His family having fallen on hard times, he is reduced to a life of servitude, a fall made even more insufferable by his position as butler to the oafish and uncouth George, the Prince Regent. Despite this, he remains keenly intelligent (by far sharper than most of the people he associates with), and is usually found stealing from his employer. This is the only one of the main four incarnations not to be killed onscreen (the first two are murdered, whilst the fourth dies in battle); this time out, he's mistaken for the Prince of Wales by a befuddled George III and taken "home" to the royal court.

MacAdder (Regency Britain)[edit]

MacAdder is the Scottish Cousin of Mr. E. Blackadder. He is known as being the "most dangerous man ever to wear a skirt in Europe". He believes he is rightful king of England and plans to incite rebellion, meaning his cousin hates him. He is apparently a skilled swordsman, but also a kipper salesman and married to a woman named Morag back in Scotland though he begins an affair with Mrs. Miggins. He had two children, a boy named Jamie and a girl named Angus who together make up the entire 'army' of the Clan MacAdder. Edmund Blackadder wants him to take his place in the duel with the Iron Duke of Wellington, but MacAdder prefers to contemplate the possibility of taking the Duke's place to kill the Prince in order to be crowned with the ancient stone bonnet of McAdders. However, when Edmund Blackadder tells MacAdder that if he does this he will incur the wrath of the bailiffs, MacAdder thereby declines and leaves for Scotland with Miggins, foiling Blackadder's plan.

Ebenezer Blackadder (Victorian London)[edit]

Ebenezer Blackadder, the Victorian Blackadder, appears in Blackadder's Christmas Carol. Unlike his miserly, cynical ancestors, he is by repute the nicest man in Victorian England. Unfortunately, this only serves to make him a target for the cynical crooks and cheats he is surrounded by, and a Christmas Carol-like encounter with a Ghost of Christmas Past sees him greatly inspired by his snide-yet-triumphant ancestors, and he sees if he becomes bad his descendants will rule the universe, if not they will end up as Baldrick's slaves in the same time period.

Captain Edmund Blackadder (World War One)[edit]

Captain Blackadder in the Suffolk Regiment

Captain Edmund Blackadder appears in Blackadder Goes Forth, and is an officer in the British Army during World War I. Characteristically reluctant to meet his end in the mud of the trenches of the Western Front, this Blackadder's sole goal is to escape his inevitable fate. Blackadder's attempts to escape are opposed by Melchett, who does not realise the futility of the war, and Melchett's assistant Captain Darling, who does. Darling and Blackadder have a natural animosity towards one another, since Darling is aware that Blackadder is attempting to avoid his duty, while Blackadder hates Darling for his comfortable position several miles behind the front. This animosity fades away and turns into a mutual respect for one another when Darling is given a front-line commission by Melchett, as Blackadder and Darling are both aware that they are both very likely to be killed once going over the top.

Blackadder shares his trench with Private S. Baldrick, and Lt. The Hon. George Colthurst St Barleigh. Although well-intentioned, both fail to understand their predicament and demonstrate a high level of incompetence, hindering Blackadder's escape attempts and augmenting his sense of frustration.

In the series finale, "Goodbyeee", Captain Blackadder and his company go over the top in 1917 to their implied deaths.

Lord Edmund Blackadder V (Modern)/King Edmund III[edit]

Lord Edmund Blackadder is the modern representative of the Blackadder family. He intends to play a turn-of-the-millennium-prank on his friends by claiming that he has a time machine - only to be unpleasantly surprised that the device that Baldrick has actually built (following Leonardo da Vinci's instructions to the letter, except for marking values on the instrument display) actually is a working time machine. He manages to alter time by:

  1. Accidentally leaving his biro with William Shakespeare, leading Shakespeare to be viewed by history not as the great author, but the inventor of the ballpoint pen.
  2. Convincing Robin Hood's men that robbing from the rich is fine, but giving to the poor is stupid, causing them to kill their leader with arrows.
  3. Causing the Time Machine to land on top of the Duke of Wellington during the Battle of Waterloo leaving Emperor Napoleon I to conquer the United Kingdom.

He restores history but then has the idea of changing history in his favour. In the present day, a news report shows the popular King Edmund III and his queen, Marion of Sherwood, being greeted by the prime minister, Baldrick. With Baldrick working as his prime minister and Parliament dissolved, the Blackadder and Baldrick families have finally triumphed and become rulers of the UK.

Other Blackadders[edit]

Although not appearing within their own series or one-off special, various other Blackadders have appeared or been alluded to over the course of the series. Most prominently is Sir Edmund Blackadder, who appears in the Comic Relief special Blackadder: The Cavalier Years. Set after the English Civil War, Sir Edmund is (apparently) a loyal royalist and friend of Charles I of England, played by Stephen Fry. This Blackadder also appeared in an introductory sequence for Charles, Prince of Wales' fiftieth birthday Gala Performance, in which he was supposedly organising a birthday show for Charles II (also Fry).

Several relatives of the Blackadder family include the Puritan Whiteadders, and the Highlander clan of MacAdder. Various one-off specials have introduced other Blackadders throughout history, from the Roman Centurion Blaccadicus, to a Grand Admiral Blackadder in the distant future who becomes ruler of the universe.

At the 2000 Royal Variety Performance, Atkinson performed a short monologue as Captain Lord Edmund Blackadder of Her Royal Highness's Regiment of Shirkers.

In 2002, during the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II trailers for the Party at the Palace featured the Keeper of Her Majesty's Lawn Sprinklers, Sir Osmond Darling-Blackadder, who was against the idea. Sir Osmond also co-hosted the light-hearted documentary on the celebrations Jubilee Girl. He is notable for being one of the few members of the family not to be named Edmund, and also for his double barrelled name, suggesting a family connection to Kevin Darling.

At the 2008 charity event We Are Most Amused, Atkinson appeared in a sketch parodying the then current banking crisis as Sir Edmund Blackadder, CEO of the Melchett and Darling Bank.

The Blackadder Dynasty[edit]

  • Centurion Blaccadicus - Roman Britain (Blackadder Back And Forth)
  • Lord Blackadder - Medieval - First name unknown, a contemporary of Robin Hood (timeperiod visited in Blackadder Back And Forth)
  • Prince Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh "The Black Adder" - Middle Ages (The Black Adder)
  • Prince Edmund, Duke of York "The Black Adder" - 400 years ago (The Black Adder pilot)
  • Nathaniel Whiteadder - Elizabethan - apparent grandson to Prince Edmund.
  • Lord Edmund Blackadder - Elizabethan (Blackadder II)
  • Blackadder (Shakespeare's agent) - Elizabethan
  • Sir Edmund Blackadder - Stuart, English Civil War (Blackadder: The Cavalier Years)
  • Lord Edmund Blackadder, Privy Counsellor - Stuart, 1680 (Blackadder And The King's Birthday )
  • Mr. E. Blackadder - Regency (Blackadder the Third)
  • MacAdder - Regency - cousin of Blackadder (Blackadder the Third)
  • Mr Ebenezer Blackadder - Victorian (Blackadder's Christmas Carol)
  • Captain Edmund Blackadder - First World War (Blackadder Goes Forth)
  • Lord Edmund Blackadder - 1999 (Blackadder Back And Forth)
  • King Edmund III - 1999 (Blackadder Back And Forth) (alternate)
  • Lord Edmund Blackadder, Captain In Her Royal Highness' Regiment of Shirkers - 2000 (Blackadder: The Army Years )
  • Sir Osmond Darling-Blackadder, 'Keeper of the Lawn Sprinklers' - 2002 (BBC Golden Jubilee advert and Jubilee Girl)
  • Grand Admiral Blackadder of the Dark Segment - Distant Future (Blackadder's Christmas Carol)

Historicity[edit]

Blackadder is a genuine surname, its usage in the UK currently documented back to the 15th century, which may explain the choice of the name, with the first series being set in this time period. The name is thought to be mostly Scottish in origin, which is not contradicted in the series, as the first Blackadder begins as the Duke of Edinburgh. In the third series it is revealed that a branch of the Blackadder family is a significant clan in Scotland, although they have become known by the name MacAdder.[1] There is a Clan Blackadder in reality. Dr Eric Blackadder, Chief Medical Officer at the BBC at the time of the first programme, claims that the series is named after him.[2]

Among historical members of the Clan, in 1502 Robert Blackadder Archbishop of Glasgow presided over a botched ceremony where James IV of Scotland swore to keep perpetual peace with England. At the first attempt the King read his oath from a paper where "France" was written instead of "England."[3]

George Buchanan introduced a real Edmund Blackadder in his Rerum Scoticarum Historia, writing that Mary, Queen of Scots embarked on a boat at Leith to sail to Alloa Tower in June 1566, crewed by "William and Edmond Blackadder, Edward Robertson and Thomas Dickson, all Bothwell's vassals and notorious pirates."[4] In 1567 her husband Lord Darnley was assassinated in mysterious circumstances after an explosion in Edinburgh. This Captain William Blackadder was one of the first upon the scene and taken to be one of the conspirators. He was accused, scapegoated for the murder, and executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered, with each of his four limbs being sent to a different Scottish city to be put on display. Later it was said that he had only appeared on the street after hearing the explosion while drinking in a tavern at the Tron on the Royal Mile.[5] Edmund Blackadder was at the battle of Carberry Hill in June 1567, and was one of the first to abandon the Queen and ride away.[6]

The name 'Baldrick' is also authentic – but much rarer – and has been dated in Britain all the way back to the Norman Conquest of 1066. This name is Germanic in origin.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Blackadder surname meaning". SurnameDB. 2007-02-24. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  2. ^ MacGregor, James (2 February 2001). "Step Forward The Real (Unhappy) Blackadder". Netribution.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  3. ^ Bain, Joseph, ed., Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, 1357-1509, vol. 4, HM Register House, Edinburgh (1888), p.339, nos.1690-2
  4. ^ Aikman, James, trans., History of Scotland by George Buchanan, vol. 2 (1827), p. 485
  5. ^ Lord Herries, Historical memoirs of the reign of Mary Queen of Scots and a portion of the reign of King James the Sixth, (1837), p. 84
  6. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 2 (1900), p. 333 (see index p. 742 fornamed "Edmund.")
  7. ^ "Baldrick surname meaning". SurnameDB. 2007-02-24. Retrieved 2009-02-27.