The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0506. Tuesday, 29 April 1997.
 From: Roger Schmeeckle <
Date: Monday, 28 Apr 1997 13:24:36 -0700 (PDT)
Subj: Re: SHK 8.0461 Re: The Fool; Cordelia
 From: Steve Urkowitz <
Date: Monday, 28 Apr 97 21:54:44
Subj: [Re: Cordelia]
From: Roger Schmeeckle <
Date: Monday, 28 Apr 1997 13:24:36 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 8.0461 Re: The Fool; Cordelia
Comment: Re: SHK 8.0461 Re: The Fool; Cordelia
Derek Wood wrote:
> Yes, I too have had trouble dealing with Cordelia's stubbornness, as
> uncompromising as her father's, though to be fair, he is different in
> that he does not hear what she says or listen to her words, demanding to
> be offered up a verbal incense of loving cliche's, a pre-set bunch of
> tired, formulaic flattery. But why does she not humour the old fool: few
> people know better than she what he needs. It would take thirty seconds
> of playing the old man's game: not long to hold your nose. If the
> tragedy comes about because Lear uses power perversely and then
> abdicates power irresponsibly, Cordelia is equally guilty.
Lear acts out of anger. Cordelia acts out of a love for the truth,
which is incompatible with flattery. Clearly, Shakespeare is
contrasting truthfullness and flattery through these characters. The
supposition that Cordelia could have held her nose and lied for 30
seconds is contrary to her character. To say she is guilty, is to miss
the point that Lear has all the political power, Cordelia has none;
Cordelia has done nothing wrong, although some consider her to have done
> What makes me hesitate about going further on this road is the presence
> of France and Burgundy. They've been sniffing her over for about two
> months. Soon she must leave her father's home for ever with a man she
> hardly knows. It must be terrifying. What love means, how it can be
> located, tested, verified, that's "the entire point." No doubt Burgundy
> was a charming man, a gracious, refined courtier. He clearly had been
> satisfied with the dowry offered by Lear ("I crave no more") so all he
> awaited was Cordelia's decision. For France, "She is herself a dowry."
> Cordelia's stubbornness, "Which often leaves the history unspoke That it
> intends to do," actually does the job. Her unspoken question is
> answered: Burgundy is anatomised and revealed to her. "Since that
> respect and fortunes are his love, I shall not be his wife." The same
> stressed, anxious, self-punishing precision ("What shall Cordelia
> speak?"), which so disastrously infuriates her father, delivers her a
> husband who comes through the ordeal so splendidly, more romantically
> than any golddigging Bassanio, with only love and respect for the
> "unpriz'd precious maid."
Good analysis. Burgundy wants Cordelia for her wealth. France wants
her for her worth as a person. So in this scene we have contrasted
persons as means to an end, persons as having inherent worth, and
persons as subordinate to a higher good.
Cordelia values a higher good, namely truth, than pleasing her father,
whom she loves with that love which is appropriate to a human being as
one among many human beings, towards whom our love is conditioned by the
relationship we have to each. But it is not, or at least should not be,
absolute. Goneril's and Regan's flattery echo language that would be
appropriate to a god. Cordelia knows that Lear is not God and acts
From: Steve Urkowitz <
Date: Monday, 28 Apr 97 21:54:44 EDT
Subject: [Re: Cordelia]
Cordelia . . . .
In the last few weeks of department-chairing (three years that have gone
on like decades), I'm getting to sympathize more and more with that old
King. But what hasn't been mentioned about the youngest daughter's
response to the contest is that she also is refusing to participate in
what is from the outset not a contest but rather a fixed mock-contest, a
set-up, a job-search with the successful candidate already chosen.
Which of you shall we say doth love us most . . .? sez the King.
"Goneril . . . speak first."
And then he gives her her chunk BEFORE he hears what anyone else says.
In my part of the Bronx we'd say that the basic rules of contests had
been violated if the prizes and the recipients of them had been
determined before the contestants took their best shots. "Not fair!"
Cordelia breaks the old guy's rules. Have you ever been a participant
in a fixed race? Not fun. She reminds poppa that family relationships
are not a game of Jeopardy. The "bonds" are tougher than the rules of
Scrabble or Monopoly. When Kent also breaks those "courtly" rules and
Lear tries to chop him, two voices --Alb. and Cor.-step in to cry out,
"Dear Sir Forbear." (But only in F.) Killing a truth-teller breaks the
rules of something tougher than courtly decorum.
A few minutes later, after Lear plays out his dismal game of banishment
and disowning, "Cor." (in F, "Glost." in Q) again tries to bring him
back to a world more complex, more lasting, than his strut-your-stuff
bluffness. "Here's France and Burgundy, my noble Lord."
Cordelia breaks surface rules repeatedly. She takes terrible and deadly
risks because she plays according to deeper values. At his best Lear
laughs wildly when he learns to manipulate the social codes rather than
feel bound by them, and his language glows, laughing in the pain. We
laugh with him, but then watch pained ourselves as he collapses back,
finally, into questioning, Why should a dog, a horse, a rat . . .
When students and faculty gripe about a particular anomaly or injustice
in the batty kingdom I chair, I take 'em to a window. "See, out there,
that's the world. It comes in, right through the glass, no
discontinuities." Lear gets it for a while, then loses it; Cordelia
knows it all the way.
Urquartowitz, the short-timer