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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: December ::
Cordelia (Was Edgar and Edmund)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2382  Monday, 9 December 2002

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Dec 2002 09:55:32 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2377 Re: Edgar and Edmund

[2]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Dec 2002 12:31:44 -0600
        Subj:   Cordelia, Lear's Very Daughter

[3]     From:   Michael Shurgot <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Dec 2002 13:03:21 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.2344 Re: Edgar and Edmund

[4]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Saturday, 07 Dec 2002 17:51:58 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2377 Re: Edgar and Edmund


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Dec 2002 09:55:32 -0600
Subject: 13.2377 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2377 Re: Edgar and Edmund

W. L. Godshalk suggests that

>Shakespeare imports the story of the two brothers from Sidney's New
>Arcadia, which has connections to Medieval and Renaissance romances
>(e.g., Amadis of Gaul and Orlando Furioso).  Is romance a parallel
>tale-tradition?

I was actually thinking of Osiris and Set and their analogues in other
Med region mythologies. But I have a feeling that there are many others
that I am not remembering. (I am not, by the way, disputing the
suggestion that S's immediate source was NA, nor Sidney's AG or OF or
both.)

Ed Taft says:

>Don Bloom writes of _Lear_ that
>
>"But it still strikes me as primarily a terrifying revision of a fairy
>tale theme, and works best when it is seen as such."
>
>Terrifying? Yes. ONLY a fairy Tale? I don't think so. Like _M for M_ and
>_All's Well_, _King Lear_ seems to be a mixture of romance and realism,
>of "fairy tale" and "real life." This is a technique Shakespeare uses
>at least as early as _M of V_, and it seems to be employed to give
>readers/audiences a choice.
>
>If they want, like Don, they can disregard questions of motivation,
>psychology, etc. But they don't have to do so. . . .

Hang on, Ed. I said "primarily" not "only." And certainly from an
acting/directing standpoint you have to produce a real character and not
some cardboard cut-out. Nevertheless, I still feel that you would lose a
great deal of impact by going too deeply into modern ideas of motivation
that would damage or destroy the "fairy-tale" quality.

The director's problem (or job) would be figuring out a way to stage the
play that would keep the numinous and universal quality of the fairy
tale without losing the sense of real grown-up people really destroying
themselves and each other (tragedy). It's an odd sort of business, but,
as you've pointed out, not uncommon in WS.

Cheers,
don

(PS: If I may make a plea: some months ago some list-members cited the
book(s) that had replaced Frazer as the authorities on myth. Stupidly, I
neglected to note these down. Could I ask to have them repeated? dab.)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Dec 2002 12:31:44 -0600
Subject:        Cordelia, Lear's Very Daughter

Carol Barton wrote,

Cordelia is ethical, and that she objects (strenuously) both to her
father's foolhardy contest, and to her sisters' hypocrisy... I think
she's still appealing to her father's reason, expecting him to applaud
her natural and unvarnished declaration of natural (and appropriate)
love, ...I believe that Cordelia truly does love the old man, and at
first despairs because her integrity won't let her pander to his
ludicrous demand: she senses, rightly, that it would be almost
incestuous to do as he commands...... her stubborn temper kicks in, just
as her father's has, and she pushes the point harder than she needs to,
even when she knows it will enrage him as THE KING and challenge his
manhood as pater familias, rather than merely annoying him. No question
that her standing up to him, refusing to give in to his demands, is
admirable; but I am questioning whether the degree of defiance she
exhibits is necessary to achieve the desired end. (I don't think so.)
etc. ...

=======================================

Ms. Barton is certainly correct in noting that Cordelia is as
hard-headed as her father - indeed, that is most of the problem of the
play. But I think all here have missed three  important points:

The first is that Lear is an old man, senile and childishly wishing to
display for the court the love he assumes his daughters have for him
(his attitude here is strikingly similar to that of Richard II, a man
more interested in the theatricality of his surrender than in any other
much more momentous element of it - "Down, down I come, like glistering
Phaeton, etc." ). Cordelia, who knows Lear better than anyone else,
certainly knows this and could certainly bend a little to accommodate
this old man  - after all, what harm is there in a public declaration of
love? This is, after all, a ceremony, an exchange  like the public
exchange of marriage vows - should we abandon the latter because the
bride and bridegroom "heave their hearts into their mouths"? Who will
say so?

Second, when we examine what the two bad daughters have said, do we not
see a *pattern* forming that might well and properly have been closed by
Cordelia's more proper remark, had she not been less determined to be
different from her false-speaking sisters and more considerate of her
father? Goneril has begun with the remark that she loves her father more
than anything; Regan has followed with her insistence that she loves
nothing but her father.  An Elizabethan audience, a society that spent
every Sunday in Church listening for hours to religious wisdom, must
certainly have been prepared to hear Cordelia close those comments with
her announcement *that she loves everything and everyone because of her
love for her father*, that last step anticipated because it was
well-known as  the last of three in the spiritual life of one who is
finding his/her way to God.  Wouldn't an Elizabethan audience have
gasped at Cordelia's missing that point?

Third, perhaps we have not given enough force to the truth, denied by
Lear (and  by Cordelia, who plans to take "some of" her love to her
husband and thinks of her love for her father as expressed by her
answering to her daughterly *duty*) that love is not divisible, it grows
for each when extended to more.  And whether or not one's belief about
love is correct, it is certainly condemned in this and other of
Shakespeare's plays that united kingdoms should for any reason be
divided. And it is particularly wrong here in "King Lear" where Lear
treats the public realm as private property, a lesson Lear learns too
late and too harshly when, in the midst of the storm on the heath, he
says, "Take physic, pomp, etc."

Like Antigone, Cordelia cannot negotiate to achieve her ends; both of
these strong-jawed-janes must don their blinders,  wrap themselves in
the robes of stern personal rectitude and hold their heads so high that
they cannot see that they are striding to the cliff's edge - and taking
everybody else with them.

We might even consider that "King Lear" is more the tragedy of Cordelia
than it is of Lear, himself.

L. Swilley

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Shurgot <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Dec 2002 13:03:21 -0800
Subject: 13.2344 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.2344 Re: Edgar and Edmund

Dear Colleagues:

I admit to being miffed by this continued investigation of Cordelia's
"motives," a subject that was investigated in several posts this past
spring. As John Velz has noted recently, and I and others noted
previously, 1.1 has the structure of fairy tale: many "givens," such as
Lear's foolish love test that acts out a second separation of the child
from the parent, and Cordelia's line that actually explains all we need
to know about what she does: "What shall Cordelia do? Love, and be
silent."

The first separation occurred for the sisters, as for all of us, at
birth; 1.1 is their second enactment of this fundamental ritual. Lear
demands a "test" for which there is no reason or explanation; it is
simply time in this particular enactment of this ceremonial breaking
away. Why does Jack seek the seeds of the beanstalk when he does? Well,
the milk-cow (mama's breast) has ceased to give milk, and Jack must
leave his mother's breast and assert his adulthood. As Jack enacts this
ritualistic breaking away, he follows a pattern of assertion-retreat, as
he is hidden by the giant's wife in ovens (obvious womb symbols) before
he can assert himself fully and destroy forever the shadow of his
father's masculinity and sexuality and assert his own masculine and
sexual identity. The opening of Lear is analogically structured; Lear
has a repeated, ritualistic turning to three daughters as he
symbolically abandons his paternal power, asking only for a testament of
the love he ignorantly thinks he has imparted to them.  The "why" of the
timing or occurrence of this scene is meaningless; it just is. The
ritualistic ceremonies of this scene are as patterned as any in fairy
tales, as Bruno Bettelheim makes clear in The Uses of Enchantment.

The elder sisters' protestations are lies, and Cordelia tells us so. She
cannot heave her heart into her mouth; she knows that she cannot lie
about her love for her father because she knows that love cannot be
quantified.  Whether or not she is weighing one suitor against another,
or hedging her odds about how to get a third more opulent than her
sisters, misses the point completely in this scene. If we load our
students down with psychological theories or medieval jurisprudence or
Renaissance family behavior, patriarchy, and inheritance customs, we
will drive our students away from this powerful, ritualistic play and
back into video games.  Cordelia realizes in a flash her father's huge
mistake, and tries to tell the old man, whom she continues to love
despite his errors and terrors (see 4.6), why he has gone so terribly
wrong. But Lear and Gloucester compound their errors, so their two
loving children are rejected, scorned, hunted, and then return like
prodigals to try to "rescue" their tortured fathers, another obvious,
ritualistic, patterned element of fairy tales. But the pattern of abuse
must reach its climax, so Gloucester and Lear are punished by children
who return the abuse they have experienced; Lear's "Ah, Goneril with a
white beard," is a line that makes sense mostly, if not only, at the
symbolic, psychological level of myth and fairy tale. As I argued last
spring, Gloucester is the father-figure whom Regan tortures, a
substitute victim of the revenge she would wreck upon her father for his
abuse of her; casting Lear out of Gloucester's castle and into the
storm, into the wilderness of so many European fairy tales (see Hansel
and Gretel among many others), is the reverse of the ceremony of parting
from 1.1, with the child now sending the parent away without his supper,
just as Jack is sent to bed by his angry mother with no supper after
selling the cow. Thus the pattern of retribution continues and climaxes
in the blinding of Gloucester, a scene for which little human
"motivation" makes sense. Why this level of revenge, torture, other
than, as Stanley Cavell argues, evil does not wish to be seen, which is
why the thief comes in the night. Gloucester and Goneril become one:
each has violated love, each has been victimized, and each responds
viciously by abusing others in a pattern that ends in the play only with
death.

All of this patterning originates in 1.1, and speculation that takes
from the elemental terror of what we are witnessing on stage detracts
from our (and hence our students') appreciation of this powerful scene.
We should teach them to see what so brilliantly and terrifyingly is
there before us, not to speculate about what is not there because it is
not essential to the scene.

Sorry this got so long; I'm outta here! May your ceremonies and rituals
be blessed this holiday.

Cheers,
Michael Shurgot

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Saturday, 07 Dec 2002 17:51:58 -0500
Subject: 13.2377 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2377 Re: Edgar and Edmund

Clifford Stetner believes that Cordelia's asides testify to the
sincerity of her position. "Asides such as these are meant to open a
window to characters' inner thoughts and should not be subject to the
same skepticism as their lines spoken out loud.'"

While Clifford's comments on asides may be correct, how can we know that
Shakespeare "meant" his asides "to open a widow to characters' inner
thoughts."  And if asides are windows to "characters' inner thoughts,"
how can we be sure that asides should not be subject to our skepticism?
Why should we accept limits to our questions? After all, inner thoughts
may be just as questionable as soliloquies or dialogue.

Yours,
Bill Godshalk

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