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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Re: Cordelia and the Fool
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0340.  Tuesday, 11 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Syd Kasten <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Mar 1997 23:35:09 +0200 (IST)
        Subj:   Cordelia and the Fool

[2]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Mar 1997 23:20:10 +0200
        Subj:   Cordelia and the Fool

[3]     From:   Robert Marks <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Mar 1997 15:23:56 -0800
        Subj:   Cordelia and the Fool


[4]     From:   Robert Marks <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Mar 1997 16:54:03 -0800
        Subj:   Cordelia and the Fool

[5]     From:   Robert Marks <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Mar 1997 22:00:02 -0800
        Subj:   Cordelia and the Fool


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Syd Kasten <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Mar 1997 23:35:09 +0200 (IST)
Subject:        Cordelia and the Fool

Brian Turner wrote on Saturday, 8 March (SHK 8.0332):

> I believe that Shakespeare may well have written
>the part of Cordelia for a new boy who was appointed to replace a boy
>actor who became too old to play female parts.

The Americans Jacky Coogan, Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland,
Claude Jarman Jr. have many parallels in European cinematic history as
examples of preadolescent actors mature enough to handle a serious
dramatic movie role.  I suspect that the history of the dramatic stage
as well as the musical would offer as many.  Prodigies may be rare but
competent talent expressed from an early age was probably no less
prevalent in the xvith century as in the xxieth.  I would expect that
religious pageants and other folk entertainment were around long enough
to have provided young people an apprenticeship adequate to what I would
assume to be the Major League of Shakespeare's company.  And in view of
the integrity that I like to ascribe to Shakespeare I find it hard to
accept that he would write down to an inexperienced actor.  I find
elsewhere the explanation for the brevity and simplicity that Turner
described.

Cordelia's brevity and simplicity of speech can be described as laconic:
typical of the people of Sparta whose mothers sent their sons to war
with the simple exhortation to return with their shields or on them.
She says of herself, "I'll do't before I speak". Her manner of speech
confirms her character, as does her later assumption of command.  The
complexity of her sisters' speech in keeping with their hypocrisy can be
seen as an expression of (Athenian?) decadence from the primal virtues
of directness and truth, reflecting a turbulent, changing order. (The
Edgar character perhaps representing a promise of redemption in a new
one.)

Relating to the matter of the form of the lines I recall that Thomas
Larque wrote some time ago (SHK 8.0172) that my

>response, suggesting that Cordelia's pre-Roman heritage might explain such
>earthiness, is a little far fetched.  Whenever Shakespeare set his plays, they
>were all written for Renaissance audiences who interpreted them on the basis of
>their own time's morality and social expectations.  In the same way that many
>of Shakespeare's foreign characters seem suspiciously English in their
>behaviour, Cordelia is (I feel) very much a Renaissance woman.

Brian's remarks show that as "renaissance women" Cordelia is quite
different from her sisters, and Harry Hill (SHK 8.0203) has suggested
that analysis of word structure can differentiate between "vowelly"
Goneril and "consonantal" Regan!

I think of Rembrandt, whose life overlapped Shakespeare's by ten years.
The painter used brush strokes, hues, tones and materials to convey on a
two dimensional surface such things as time, place, emotion and
character.  He had the advantages of working in a concrete medium, and
is techniques can be examined at leisure.  Shakespeare did the same
using the structure of words as spoken by his characters, their
arrangement, their flow, and their number, as well as the ideas and
emotions actually expressed.  That he could do so and still maintain the
brevity and seeming simplicity which I tend to see as his overarching
characteristic continually amazes me.

His medium, the performance, is evanescent; the printed page is dead.
This may be why his interweaving of these techniques seem to be
overlooked by many or taken for granted.  I am not a scholar, so the
material is not readily available to me, but I would find it
unbelievable that the ideas expressed in the previous paragraph haven't
been the subject of much study.  It probably even has a name.

Finally with regard to my "thesis": I don't know if the foregoing has
any relevance to whether or not the Fool is really Cordelia in disguise,
except  insofar as the combined role would give an actor a more
reasonable amount of stage time as well as a strong, though probably not
insurmountable, challenge to his virtuosity.  But forgetting that
question, would an actor agree that it takes less skill to deliver a
simple line?  Is it standard practice today to give the Cordelia role to
the less experienced actress?

Respectfully,
Syd Kasten

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Mar 1997 23:20:10 +0200
Subject:        Cordelia and the Fool

I have come a little late to the debate on Cordelia and the Fool.  If no
one has noted it, some may like reading an essay in *Texas Studies in
Literature and Language* 27 (1985): 354-68.  "The Double Casting of
Cordelia and Lear's Fool" by Richard Abrams argues that it supports both
the characterization of Lear and the moral design of the play.

Cheers,
John Velz

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Marks <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Mar 1997 15:23:56 -0800
Subject:        Cordelia and the Fool

Regarding Syd Kasten's remarks in SHK 8.0119, Friday, 24 January 1997.

No Syd, you haven't been watching too much "Lois and Clark". This is
just the principle that is functioning in _Lear_.  Act 4 Scene 3 is not
superfluous. I believe the Gentleman (France in disguise) is taking the
mickey out of Kent who has failed to penetrate his disguise and that of
Cordelia as the Fool. Kent is so taken up with his own disguise! I
believe Kent is a figure of anti-Puritan satire. Shakespeare could get
away with this anti-Puritanism in the presence of King James I, but not,
I suggest, before the audiences at the Globe.

Your comment about "And my poor fool is hang'd!" is exactly right. If
the audience has not seen the disguise before this, they hear it now,
after Cordelia has served all unknown to any and gone to heaven for her
Heavenly Father's reward.

In response to Bill Godshalk's remarks in the same digest:

You might also want to look at: Stringer, A.J. "Was Cordelia The King's
Fool?" The American Shakespeare Magazine Vol. III (New York, January
1897), and, Anshutz, H.L. "Cordelia and the Fool" Research Studies
Volume 32 (Washington, 1964)

Thomas Larque wrote:

>I have always been fascinated by the idea that Cordelia and the Fool might have
>been doubled, and was (secretly) disappointed when in my own studies I came
>across the evidence about Armin which seems to prove fairly conclusively that
>it wasn't done.

Thomas, I've looked and I haven't found any evidence to support Armin's
role
here as Fool. What is it and where is it?

Larque continues,

>Within the play itself, however, it is fairly clear that this was not what was
>intended.  Since Shakespeare's theatre used doubling, Cordelia (if playing the
>SAME CHARACTER in different costume) would have needed a little speech to tell
>the audience that this is what was happening.  Kent transforming to Caius, and
>Edgar changing into Poor Tom, both get these speeches.

Not if the audience was aware of the principle of doing something in
secret for someone without talking about it. The original audience was
King James I who espoused this principle in his writings.

>Even more problematic for this interpretation are the Knight's lines in Act 1,
>Sc. 4.  "Since my young Lady's going into France, Sir, the Fool hath much pined
>away".

Not if the Knight were in fact France disguised and providing the plot
device of a false report. Knights were sometimes disguises for people -
case in point Edgar later in Lear.

>There are also problems about the consummation of the marriage between Cordelia
>and France, and the arrival of the French army - but these are (theoretically)
>not insurmountable.

It seems that the marriage was not consummated before the French army
arrived. Until then she was "a maid".

        "She that's a maid now and laughs at my departure,
        Will not be a maid long except things be cut shorter."

Fool (Cordelia) is speaking in the presence of Gentleman (France in
disguise) concerned at the state of affairs.

Derek Wood wrote,

>Syd Kasten wondered about Cordelia doubling with the Fool. How do we deal with,
>"Since my young Lady's going into France, Sir, the Fool hath much pined away?"
>The fuss with Goneril seems to have begun when Lear struck some one "for
>chiding of his Fool."

Derek, Oswald was the Original Fool who (like Skalliger in _Leir_) ran
away
from Lear's service and joined up with Goneril. He chided Cordelia
(though he didn't know her) dressed in his old Fool's motley which he
didn't want anymore!

>So Cordelia cross-dressed pretty smartly and Shakespeare
>cheated us a little whhile he played fair with Caius and Poor tom. Mind you,
>Syd's insight would give a whole new dimension to feminist studies of WS if the
>queen of France is allowed by her husband into service as a clown,
>unaccompanied by her ladies. And would he overlook some of her filthy humour?

Those lines have a better explanation if we understand that Cordelia is
speaking them.

>I
>always thought Cordelia was a problem for feminist readings anyway, if she
>organised the whole CIA type infiltration of English ports by special agents
>and then led an invading army into the country i.e. those readers who claim
>that powerful women are demonised in Shakespeare: Gonerils and Mrs Macbeths and
>the like. But if Cordelia organised the raising of the army, its logistics,
>embarkment and supplies from her unprivileged position in Goneril's house,

She was aided by the disguised France.

Pat Dunlay wrote,

>In response to Syd Kasten, I have read numerous essays and heard lectures that
>s suggest that the Fool and Cordelia are one, but have never heard such a
>concise and plausible explanation. Disguise is a major theme in Lear, so why
>wouldn't Shakespeare round out the play with a third character disguise.  I
>guess in this case, it would really be an exchange as we must believe that the
>Fool did really exist in Lear's court prior to Cordelia's banishment.

I believe Oswald had worn the motley. He is closely associate with the
word "fool" in the play and is the bungling messenger, sometimes played
by Clowns in other plays, in this play. Edgar's "I know you..." is meant
to suggest that he was the knave who turns out to be the Fool that ran
away.

>Does the
>Fool's calling Lear "nuncle" suggest any possibility of actual relationship?
>Could that have been the reason that Cordelia could disguise herself as the
>fool - because they are cousins, or(darest I throw this one out) half siblings?
>It would be within the character of Corelia to remain so loyal to Lear that she
>literally shadowed him. There have been a number of productions that have cast
>the two with the same actor, which would certainly create the illusion of
>another disguise. I like the idea and am eager to hear the ensuing discussion.

>Pat Dunlay

Perhaps I should stop here and respond to further points in another
submission.

Hope this makes sense.
Sincerely,
Bob Marks

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Marks <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Mar 1997 16:54:03 -0800
Subject:        Cordelia and the Fool

Further to my earlier response to this debate I submit the following
interspersed comments.

>SHK 8.0165.  Monday, 3 February 1997, Syd Kasten

>In  Act 4 scene iii in which a gentleman describes Cordelia reading a letter,
>presumably from Kent and uttering comments that imply the events of the
>expulsion of Lear are new to her: "What, i'the storm? i'the night? Let pity not
>be believed!"

Syd, I believe that this is France (disguised as Gent) fabricating a
response
for Kent's egotistic ears . "....Kent" This is France playing with Kent
who thinks himself so great. It is anti-puritanical satire at its height
which is the reason, I believe, it was not allowed in the Folio edition
for performance before the general public.

>However, this raises another question.  A.W. Verity, editor of my high school
>edition credits Bradley with "the acute criticism that there is no other
>character in Shakespeare who, appearing so little and speaking so little, makes
>so profound an impression".  Surely the author could have found a way giving
>Cordelia a few more lines to show her state of mind without damaging her image
>of strength.  Instead he gave them to an anonymous third party just as he did
>with the Fools introduction.

And the anonymous third party is the same - France in disguise.

>If 4,iii is omitted as in the folio version
>there is no problem.  In the following scene when the messenger tells her of
>the state of her sisters' forces, her answer "T'is known before" refers to the
>information she has gathered herself.

The Gentleman (France) has been there too and has been the "secret feet"
spying out the enemies movements.

>First of all, in commenting that Cordelia was not a stranger to the jester's
>craft I didn't mean to imply that she was previously the court jester in
>disguise, only that she was a very good student and was equipped to accomplish
>the substitution.

She was not the first to don the disguise of the motley. There are also
other examples of girls disguising themselves as pages. She did have
limitations though. She has difficulty lying, because she has been used
to speaking truth, and so she wants Lear to provide her with a tutor
that can help her learn to play what is for her the deceptive role of
Fool. She is, since Lear gave his land to his daughters, now "so full of
songs" suggesting perhaps that she has adopted singing as a means of
disguising her voice. But she does carry the disguise in Lear's world
very well.

>The success of the playwright depends on suspension of disbelief on the part of
>the audience.  We haven't seen the Fool or even thought of him before he is
>announced, so the comment on his pining away isn't necessary for our acceptance
>of him.  It does not matter to us that he has become slight of body and narrow
>of shoulder, but once it has dawned on us who is the owner of that body, we
>might be tempted to ask how come nobody on stage noticed, not the disguise - no
>one saw through Kent either, - but the fact that the Fool himself ought to look
>changed to the members of the court.  The author has primed us to look for
>something special about the Fool, to make the discovery ourselves, and has
>given us the means to accept the acceptance of an altered fool by the other
>characters.

And Shakespeare has presented us with Oswald, the part I believe which
Armin played, the original Fool, who out of his disguise is still a
squirming, bungling fool like Frankie Spenser in _Some Mothers Do "Ave
"Em._

>This attractive objection sent me back to the text, and I found once again to
>my amazement that the author has indeed provided the answer. Look at line 219
>of the opening scene:

>Cordelia: ...
>        If for I want that glib and oily art,
>        To speak and purpose not; *Since what I well intend,
>        I'll do't before I speak*,-

EXACTLY her principle. She was going to remain silent about what she was
doing. She would leave it to Lear to "make known it is no vicious
blot..."

>Several have wondered how the King of France could allow his wife to return to
>England unchaperoned and disguised.  Ask in any case how he could take off to
>France, leaving his to wife fight the crucial battle herself.

I don't believe he left at all. He (disguised as
Servant/Knight/Gentleman) stayed by Cordelia and helped her back into
Lear's company disguised as the Fool. France sent back to France for the
troops to come in the same way Caius Lucius sent back to Rome for troops
to come and land at Milford-Haven in _Cymbeline._

>Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0172.  Tuesday, 4 February 1997.

For a non-Shakespearean, but nevertheless contemporary example, see
_Look About You_ where if my memory serves me correctly, and husband and
a wife appear before each other disguised as each other! Kent says "It's
time to look about."

Do we normally enquire into the identity of a Clown? or do we just
accept that a clown is a clown. The Fool's make up, face patch ,
coxcomb, etc would be adequate disguise to carry this off on an
Elizabethan or Jacobean stage.

>It is just possible that Lear's court would fail to recognise Kent or Edgar
>when smothered in mud or "Razed" (shaven?).  It seems rather more likely that
>they would notice if the Fool they had all known for some time had suddenly
>shrunk, and turned into an entirely different person.

I take pine away to mean become morose, withdraw, thus Lear has not seen
the Fool for two days.

>Besides, if Cordelia and the Fool were being played by one actor, it would be a
>boy actor - so there is no reason to believe that the Fool (always referred to
>as boy) would have shrunk in any case.  In the cross-dressing plays the woman
>in boy's disguise is often told how young and feminine she looks - the deceived
>viewer confusing feminine beauty with boyish youthfulness.  The Fool must have
>been a boy if Cordelia is able to impersonate him successfully, so a change of
>stature would be unecessary.

And she tosses back the "boy" at Lear and then says in contrast, "She
that's a maid..."

>Even if we can interpret Cordelia's "I'll do't before I speak" as her
>announcement that she will return disguised, I fail to see how any audience

Shakespeare's original audience was not "any audience" but King James I
who espoused  the idea of doing good in secret without thought of reward
from men.

>In addition, Edgar and Kent (as Poor Tom and Caius) do not stop after their
>initial "I am disguising myself" speeches.  Afterwards, they frequently step
>out of their assumed roles to speak soliloquies and asides in their own
>characters.  These remind the audience that Poor Tom and Caius are Edgar and
>Kent in disguise, and - more importantly - allow us to eavesdrop on  the
>genuine characters' thoughts and feelings.  Which is surely the entire point of
>a play.

Fool comments on the foolishness of Lear giving away his crown and then
says, "If I speak like myself in this let him be whipped who first finds
it so". Cordelia has given away two crowns - her English and French
crown!

>If Shakespeare HAD intended Cordelia to disguise herself, she would be the
>single most important disguised character within the play.

She is!!! And if she isn't disguised, she is vastly inferior to Edgar,
to Portia, and you name them ....

>At the
>end of the scene, Edgar turns to us again and gives us another (fairly long)
>soliloquy about his disguised state.

"Winter's not over yet if the wild-geese fly that way."
"She that's a maid now ...."

>If Cordelia were disguised and present, I would personally be much more
>interested to hear what SHE had to say about her father's suffering.  The fact
>that we hear from Edgar instead seems to prove fairly conclusively that she
>isn't there.

Was this the face....."that night"

>We also lack any sort of explanation for Cordelia's strange behaviour (dressing
>up as the jester).  Edgar explains (when disguised and fooling his father) "Why
>I do trifle thus with his despair / Is done to cure it" (4.6.32-33), similarly
>Kent at his first appearance explains the reasons for his disguise - "my good
>intent / May carry through itself ... / thy master, whom thou lov'st, / Shall
>find thee full of labours" (1.4.2-7). Even if the audience knew that Cordelia
>had disguised herself as the Fool, they would want an explanation as to why she
>had done it.

King James I would not have needed an explanation. He would have wanted
an explanation from Shakespeare if Cordelia were not disguised as the
Fool!

>If Cordelia's love and duty to her father was such that she was willing to
>undergo such a degradation (changing from female princess to a hireling boy)
>Shakespeare would have been missing a chance for some wonderful lines about it.
> Besides, this would have become one of the most important aspects of the
>entire play - and it is extremely unlikely that Shakespeare would simply ignore
>it within his text.

It was done in silence! That was the point!

>There are still many problems with the marriage to France, also. Theoretically
>there is no reason (from a modern point of view) that France should not allow
>his bride to wander unaccompanied disguised as a boy around a violent and
>increasingly dangerous country.  However, I suspect that a Renaissance audience
>would have expected him to make sure that his wife was accompanied by at least
>one servant / bodyguard.  In the earlier (anonymous) play version of the Lear
>story KING LEIR, the King of France (the Gallian King) is himself disguised as
>a pilgrim when he meets Cordelia (Cordella), but is of course accompanied by
>one of his courtiers (Mumford - also in disguise) as befits his Royal rank.
>>From a Renaissance perspective, it would be a poor husband (let alone a King)
>who let his wife wander into danger without company or protection.

In the later part of _Leir_ the Gallian King proposed that they (France,
Cordella and Mumford) go into the country in disguise all unknown to
any! It is while all three are disguised from all that they meet Leir
and Perillus (Kent's counterpart). In Lear France and Cordelia are
disguised throughout the whole journey as Servant/Knight/Gentleman and
Fool.

>Also a Renaissance marriage was no marriage unless it was consummated.

Cordelia's marriage to France was not consummated until after the
arrival of the French troops. Thus "She that's a maid now...."

>It is
>possible that France (who apparently left "in choler" the next day) could
>consummate his marriage in that one night, but would he then leave his wife
>(perhaps pregnant) to play the part of a young boy?  She would risk not only
>the dangers of unsupervised childbirth, but - after a few months - fairly rapid
>discovery.

>If Syd Kasten is right, of course, France's "choler" suggests

These are Gloucester's words estimating France's feelings. France was no
doubt annoyed. But Cordelia importuned him with tears.

>Like Syd Kasten, I disagree with Derek Wood's suggestion that Cordelia would
>not be allowed to make dirty jokes.

I don't believe that there are any dirty jokes. They only appear that
way to us.

Well, I will leave it yet again for the moment.
One more response will follow.

Bob Marks

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Marks <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Mar 1997 22:00:02 -0800
Subject:        Cordelia and the Fool

This is my third response to messages on this subject which were sent
prior to my joining the list. Thanks for being patient with me and
allowing me to fish back over the past couple of months. I hope that
what I have had to say has been helpful to those who are looking at the
possibility of seeing Cordelia in the Fool.

>Thomas Larque writes:

>>It is just possible that Lear's court would fail to recognise Kent or Edgar
>>when smothered in mud or "Razed" (shaven?).  It seems rather more likely that
>>they would notice if the Fool they had all known for some time had suddenly
>>shrunk, and turned into an entirely different person.

As I have already stated, we don't pay much attention to the identity of
a clown at a circus - we just accept that the clown is the clown. There
would be little difference with the Elizabethan Fool. Let's face it,
Lear's Fool does not have a name ... unless it is "Cordelia."

>But disguise in Shakespeare's plays seems to be absolute.  When a woman puts on
>man's clothes, not even her father can recognize her, let alone the man who
>says he loves her--witness <italic>As You Like It.</italic> In <italic>Two
>Gentlemen</italic>, Proteus does not recognize the woman he used to
>love--because she has on male apparel. Portia and Nerissa are similarly
>unrecognizable in <italic>Merchant</italic>.

And the records show that King James commanded a second performance of
the Merchant of Venice a year or so before Shakespeare performed King
Lear for him. Based on James' writings it is not hard to see him really
liking what Portia and Nerissa did in disguise. In fact, I'm sure for
most it is the highlight of the play. It is therefore not stretching it
to imagine Shakespeare having Cordelia attempting the rescue of her
father while disguised as his Fool.

>Shakespeare's convention is that people who are disguised are unrecognisible -
>not that they can make themselves look exactly like a third party.  In any case
>these conventions are always underlined for the audience by lines to tell them
>what is happening.

My point is that the underlining is done at the end with "And my poor
Fool is hanged! Thou wilt come no more ...." If people didn't see it
earlier in the play.

But I believe that King James I, before whom _King Lear_ was originally
acted by Shakespeare, would not only have been able to see it early in
the play, but would have been looking for it. Read his _Basilikon Doron_
of 1603. It's in my book.

>The questions are: Why is Cordelia's part so short?

The reason she says little is because we haven't recognized all that she
says - as Cordelia and Fool. It is also because as Kent puts it, there
is something worthy about one that "is wise and says little".

>Why was that funny
>little scene included in the quarto and cut in the folio? (I indicated
>previously that a costume change would be an unlikely reason.)

As for the excising of Act 4 Scene 3 - I believe that it is cut because
it is extremely anti-puritan, and while this would have been appreciated
by James I, who had an extreme dislike for the Puritans, it would not
have been tolerated in the Globe Theatre over which the Puritans
apparently exercised some sway. In this scene the Gentleman (France in
disguise) is taking the mickey out of Kent, who thinks himself so
wonderful (a bit like Malvolio in Twelfth Night). Despite his protest
that to be acknowledged is overpaid, Kent wants acknowledgement, yet he
doesn't see that he not the only one in disguise. "Monsieur La Far" like
all Shakespeare's Monsieurs, is clearly a contrived name. It is meant to
suggest someone who is afar off, as opposed to France himself who is
very near!  As Cordelia's "happy smilets" did not know "what guests were
in her eyes", so Kent does not know what guest is in his eyes - France!

There is no indication in the play of any ability on the part of the
Fool to play the lute. Lear's Fool sings - Cordelia would have been
capable of that. In fact the Fool sings in the voice of a Nightingale!
She has a beautiful voice that comes from her minikin (little, delicate)
mouth. There is nothing more than tradition, and that a modern one,
behind the suggestion that Armin played the Fool. I believe that we
don't know who played Cordelia and Fool but that we can be sure it was
the same person since Cordelia became Lear's Fool.

I believe that if Shakespeare himself performed in this play it would
have been as France/Servant/Knight/Gentleman. I have no more evidence
for this statement than anyone does for the statement concerning Armin's
role in the play.

Incidentally, since France never went back to France, he must have paid
the ultimate price of his life in the battle against the British forces,
which I believe is the reason for Cordelia's tears in her father's
presence, and I believe she is thinking of him when she says, "We are
not the first who with best meaning have incurred the worst."

There is a whole lot more in my book, _Cordelia, King Lear and his Fool_
which, let me say again, you ought to get and read. I promise you that
you will not be disappointed.

Let me hear from you.

Sincerely,
Bob Marks

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