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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: December ::
Re: Cordelia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2391  Tuesday, 10 December 2002

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Dec 2002 09:30:03 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2382 Cordelia (Was Edgar and Edmund)

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Dec 2002 12:28:29 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2382 Cordelia (Was Edgar and Edmund)

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Dec 2002 12:35:33 -0500
        Subj:   Cordelia

[4]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Dec 2002 12:48:58 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 13.2382 Cordelia

[5]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Dec 2002 19:31:22 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 13.2344 Re: Edgar and Edmund

[6]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Dec 2002 21:10:05 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2382 Cordelia (Was Edgar and Edmund)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Dec 2002 09:30:03 -0500
Subject: 13.2382 Cordelia (Was Edgar and Edmund)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2382 Cordelia (Was Edgar and Edmund)

I plead an impending exam on much more pedestrian subjects as my
beg-pardon for not responding to Ms. Swilley's comments or Mr. Shurgot's
Freudian reprimand, but second Professor Godshalk's reply to Mr. Stetner
(hello again, Bill): without question, as he suggests, it is naive to
think, because dramatic convention says that a character does not
consciously lie or dissimulate in soliloquy (that is, he tells what *he
thinks* is the truth), that such speeches are above examination:

>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.

Indeed, one of the most famous demonstrations of this phenomenon is
Satan's confusion over what *seems to him* to be God's denial of
knowledge to Adam and Eve ("Suspicious. Reasonless.") Actually, it is
neither suspicious nor reasonless---he just does not know the reason.
And, quickly, to Ms. Swilley, along the same lines: there are two points
to be considered in relation to your post. The first is that love-tests
(even God's) are typically arbitrary; the second is that we have no
proof (nor even any indication) that Lear is senile: only that he is
old, and is used to having his own way.  Oh: and a third. It was a
commonplace (thanks to the Great Chain of Being) that the king was the
"father of his country"---an analogous authority James I would assert ad
nauseam. I will try to be more specific when I have world enough, and
time.

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 09 Dec 2002 12:28:29 -0400
Subject: 13.2382 Cordelia (Was Edgar and Edmund)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2382 Cordelia (Was Edgar and Edmund)

L. Swilley argues that

>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.

Maybe.  But it's Lear who first insists on love being quantified by
being made equivalent to land and titles.  Cordelia merely reflects back
the same logic.  In fact, she does play along with the game Lear has
designed, perhaps even taking its rules more seriously than Lear, since
she treats love as something not only measurable but also to be divided
out equally, like rations.  The psychological and existential reasons
for wishing to deny a love (which cannot be purchased with land or
extorted with threats) are, I think, fundamental to trying to understand
the play.

>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."

Again, maybe.  There's a wider issue, though, which has to do with his
treatment of almost everything as personal property in the first place;
hence, love is treated as purchasable, the state is treated as divisable
and so forth.

Meanwhile, Michael Shurgot claims that

>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.

But he doesn't give up his power.  He's trying to hold onto it even
while giving it up, retaining the title and all th'addition to a king
and demanding his fool, his daughter and his dinner a couple of scenes
later.  Rather than really giving something away, he demands payment in
several forms, such as flattery, retainers, respect.

Cheers,
Sean.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 09 Dec 2002 12:35:33 -0500
Subject:        Cordelia

Bill Godshalk writes:

"[I]f 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."

Just so. And I'd add that skepticism is warranted, especially in this
play, which begins by introducing the concept of "acknowledgement," and
imperfect acknowledgement at that. Characters who fail to acknowledge
what they really think or really feel have to be judged differently by
the audience. In short, we have to pay attention not only to what they
say or think, but, more importantly, to what they do. Their actions
become crucial. Why does France semi-abandon Cordelia? Why does Cordelia
never really leave Britain? Why in heaven's name does Kent return to a
king who has abused him so? What does this tell us about them? About
Lear?

L. Swilley writes that this play might really be called the tragedy of
Cordelia. I think that's right. I think Swilley should follow that lead
like a hound dog on the trail. Michael Shurgot's post uses the word
_abuse_ more than once. I think he's on the right track too. And I
basically agree with his interpretation of Gloucester's blinding scene,
especially the role of Regan during it.

Look, this is NOT a play about metaphysical uncertainty. It's a play
about the family and the state. And it's not just a fairy tale. This is
a play about what happens when parents don't love their children, or
when they love them in wrong, selfish ways. The railing against the gods
is persiflage designed to protect the psyche from acknowledging what it
knows but doesn't want to acknowledge.

I'll get off my soapbox now. Sorry.

--Ed(mund)

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Dec 2002 12:48:58 -0500
Subject: Cordelia
Comment:        SHK 13.2382 Cordelia

Why do people persist in paying more attention to what the characters
say than to what the play says?

T. Hawkes

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Dec 2002 19:31:22 -0500
Subject: Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        SHK 13.2344 Re: Edgar and Edmund

I would like to respond to Mr. Shurgot, who is

>miffed by this continued investigation of Cordelia's 'motives,' a subject
>that was investigated in several posts this past spring.

As has been noted at least a hundred times on this list since I became a
member, years ago, each recipient of any post is in possession of a
"delete" key. I am not "miffed," but quite surprised, at Mr. Shurgot's
implication that he and unidentified others have resolved the issue of
"Cordelia's motivation" (not the issue I raised, but that of course is
quite beside the point) past the need for further discussion. But until
someone confirms that such is indeed the case, I'm afraid I shall
continue to consider myself privileged to dispute the issue with the
likes of such scholars as Ed Taft, Terry Hawkes, and Bill Godshalk.

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."

Again, I had no idea that Shakespeare was so one-dimensional! Thank you
for clarifying that for me. From now on, I shan't bother to read the
plays: I shall just look to Holinshed and Sidney, et al. to tell me what
I need to know. I am intrigued by your reading, however: do you suppose,
then, that what Lear suffers from is really post-partum depression
brought on by this "second separation of the child from the parent," and
not madness triggered by reality's failure to live up to his
construction of it? My. And what are we to make of a Cordelia who vows
to love and be silent, then does nothing of the kind?

>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.

God also demands a test of Adam and Eve that is without reason or
explanation. So do most arbitrary father figures: the point of obedience
is that it does not ask "why," a fundamental principle of society's
infrastructure. (What do you suppose would happen if, every time a
general said, "Take that hill!" his troops sat around philosophizing
about his hidden agendas and the efficacy of the command?) Fathers and
father figures from God himself---if you don't like Adam and Eve, cf.
Abraham and Isaac, or Job---to Petruchio and Leontes conduct such tests
all the time. Perhaps it is genetically dictated by the presence of
testosterone? Or their separation anxiety at weaning from their mothers'
breasts, that makes them need such dramatic confirmation of the love of
the mother-surrogates in their later lives? (Really, Mr. Shurgot: your
arrogance merits this.)

>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.

Except that Lear NEVER in his own mind "abandons his paternal"--or even
his KINGLY---power---or weren't you paying attention when I quoted the
passage in which he himself says so??

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.

And all's well that ends well, I suppose? Tell me: what does it feel
like,
having all the answers?

> The elder sisters' protestations are lies, and Cordelia tells us so.

No intelligent reader NEEDS Cordelia to tell him 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.

Your evidence? Or are you ascribing psychological motive to a fairy
tale??? Pish tush, Mr. Shurgot.

>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.

Really??? And your dime-store Freudian interpretation, supported by
nothing but your own one-dimensional oversimplification of a play that
has astonied the greatest critical minds of the past four hundred years,
will bring them back by the droves to read it? Hans Christian Andersen
this ain't, Mr.  Shurgot: its very power lies, like all of Shakespeare's
best plays, in its multi-stratified appeal to all aspects of humanity
and levels of education and intelligence . . . even to smugly world-wise
graduate students.

>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.

Now, really: didn't you just say they were trying to crawl back into the
wombs from which they had been so violently separated? Professor Hawkes
is right: it is the absent Mrs. Lear and Mrs. Gloucester who are the
keys to this play.

>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.

You can't really believe this??? How about a fond, foolish old man who
thinks he's more sinned against than sinning gets the just deserts of
what his own Fool tells him is folly, as well as the only other
soothsayer of the piece? This is reductionist trivialization at its
nadir, Mr. Shurgot, and demonstrates the very worst characteristics of
the wholesale application of theory: you cannot reinvent _Lear_ to suit
your own fairytale fantasy, and you cannot force-fit Shakespeare into
the pigeonhole of your choice.

The reason for his resilience is that, like other great writers of his
day, he scorns such pigeonholes.

My only response to the rest of this post is Emersonian: "a foolish
consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

If only you would mend your speech a little . . .

Best to all (including Mr. Shurgot),
Carol Barton

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Dec 2002 21:10:05 -0500
Subject: 13.2382 Cordelia (Was Edgar and Edmund)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2382 Cordelia (Was Edgar and Edmund)

Having already responded in part to L. Swilley's comments concerning
Lear's alleged "senility" and conflation of his (literal) biological and
(metaphoric) kingly fatherhood in his responses to Cordelia, I would
like to address the remainder of her insights, as I think she has made
some excellent points:

In medias res, Swilley writes:

>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?

I think, though, that Cordelia is eminently capable of heaving her heart
into her mouth---as her subsequent speeches show; she just *will not* do
so, in the wake of her sisters' blatant hypocrisy, or "on command." Love
expressed naturally speaks when it will---not when it is ordered to do
so.  To drag Milton in as a material witness one more time, even God (as
he portrays him) knows that there is no such thing as "forc't
hallelujahs." But you are right about the public nature of this
spectacle being a contributing factor, I think: this is very like Bianca
being summoned by her lord and master at the end of _Taming of a Shrew_,
and answering, in effect, "Yeah, you got it--when I'm good and *ready*
to come."  Cordelia's disobedience when asked *politely* by one who is
not used to having to *ask* (politely or otherwise) humiliates both the
father and the king (and the man in general), who can only regain
control of the situation by reasserting his authority---"the dragon and
his wrath" being more specifically a response to Cordelia's defiance and
Kent's "recreant" defense of the public affront at this point than it is
about "tell me how much you love Daddy, darling daughter?" Of course he
expected rhapsodies of adoration, from all three of his girls,
especially because of the public nature of the spectacle . . .  but
Cordelia must have been out, the day he passed out the scripts, and
she's spoiling the game, for him, for herself, and for his kingdom. "Let
it be so; thy truth, then, be thy dower," he tells her, and later, at
the height of his fury, he clarifies the statement: "Let pride, which
she calls plainness, marry her," he thunders, whereupon he passes his
crown to his sons in law. Another of the issues here, it seems to me, is
comitatus, the king's duty to his subjects, as much his subjects' duty
to him. In a (real world) kingdom in which two of the three crowns that
will in a hundred years become Great Britain have only just been united
(in the person of James), what does it mean, that Lear wants to divide
his crown in three?

>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?

Actually . . . no. Cordelia answers what you seem to want her to: that
she loves her father with the duty she owes a father, her king (and
political father) with the duty she owes her king, and that it is stupid
for Lear to believe that her sisters "love him all" when they have
husbands; he responds by invoking not only "the sacred radiance of the
sun" as witness to his oath disowning her, but "the mysteries of Hecate,
and the night," too---which should have been more troubling to
Shakespeare's audience than Cordelia's disavowal, since it conflates the
pagan with the (seemingly) Christian---though the "sacred . . . sun"
could also be an allusion to Apollo. At the very least, it conflates
good magic with bad, ordered deity with the wild power of unbridled
nature--precisely, in little, the forces that are at war throughout the
play.

>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."

YES. That's the point: he owes his people more than that. (See the
comment on comitatus, above.)

>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.

I like your image, though I think Cordelia is like Lear unaware of her
blinders: she is no more used to "negotiation," to compromise, to
playing chess from both sides of the board, than he is. Gloucester
operates in the same knee-jerk fashion: he has known Edgar a good son
since the child was born, yet (Othello-like) he allows one encounter
with circumstantial evidence to entirely overthrow his love for the boy.
The only constant loves are Cordelia's, Kent's, the Fool's, and
Edgar's---and those loves are powerless to benefit their objects in the
face of the other's egotistical blindness.

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

Lear's tragedy is Adam's . . . and Ham's . . . and Gloucester's: the
sins of the fathers . . .

Thank you for an evocative reply!

Best to all,
Carol Barton

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