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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: November ::
Re: Edgar and Edmund
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2344  Wednesday, 27 November 2002

From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Nov 2002 18:23:28 -0500
Subject: 13.2332 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2332 Re: Edgar and Edmund

Happily acknowledging Ed Taft's kind welcome (but definitely otherwise
to both Ed and the list)---

I had written that

>"Cordelia's stubborn refusal to mend her speech, even a little, is as
>foolish and self-defeating as is Lear's stubborn refusal to recognize
>the fidelity in her disobedience. He knows she loves him, but cannot
>brook her defiance---and she knows, or should know, the extent to which
>she provokes him by maintaining it."

To which Ed responds:

>I used to think this way too, Carol, but I now believe that Cordelia
>"does what she has to do." After all, the "coronet" is for her when and
>if Lear succeeds in trapping her into taking care of him in his dotage!
>To achieve this, Lear must make her give up the idea of marriage to
>either guy, both of whom live ELSEWHERE.
>
>Cordelia can't back down even a whit -- and that's because her wish to
>marry and start a new, married life is on the line.
>
>Make sense?

This elicits an emphatic "hmmmm!", Ed. Presumably, Cordelia was willing
to take care of him in his dotage, married herself or not: her piteous
response to her "child-changed father" in 4.7 is too sincere ("O look
upon me sir, / And hold your hands in benediction o'er me: No, sir, you
must not kneel") for her to be guilty of her sisters' hypocrisy; she
genuinely loves the old man---and not because he would give her the
"largest bounty" ("What shall Cordelia do? Love, and be silent")---she
will get at least a third, if not the best third, of his kingdom,
anyway, and she is already half-betrothed to France and Burgundy; Lear
does not apparently oppose her marriage until she provokes him into
fury. It is she, speaking "at" Regan and Goneril, who says, "Sure, I
shall never marry like my sisters, to love my father all"
(1.1.105-106)---emphasizing the un-natural-ness, the artificiality, of
the ardor they profess vs. her natural love for Lear: "You have begot
me, bred me, loved me: I / Return those duties back as are right fit, /
Obey you, love you, and most honour you"---as she would were he Lear or
a fish-monger, and does when he is a Bedlamite naked in the storm,
stripped of all his kingly glory and his senses . . . because she is his
daughter . . . NOT because he demands or commands it (not because he is
king, but because he is Father (no "Forc't hallelujahs" here). Again, I
think the point here is that love is not legit-imate (that is, capable
of being legislated or commanded, along the same lines that Edmund
argues when he compares his father's obvious (but "illegal" love for him
to Gloucester's "legal" love for Edgar---and notes his father's parallel
passion for their respective mothers). Lear "loves" the verbal art and
artifice of the daughters who unnaturally heave their black hearts (in
sheep's clothing, to brutally mix a metaphor) into their mouths, and not
the natural (unvarnished) speech of the only child who truly does love
him, but refuses to play his power game (there is nothing "loving" about
Lear's demand that Cordelia and her sisters "obey" him, as king or as
father, by lying to him in response to his unnatural command that they
quantify their love for him in words, so that he can measure their merit
by their speeches). I think Cordelia is as disgusted with the whole
hypocritical proposition as she can be---and that what starts out
(perhaps) as a silent shaking of the head ("Oh, Daddy, how can you be so
stupid?") becomes a contest of a different sort: "My will is just as
strong as yours, and you won't bend me."

Obviously, I haven't worked this out entirely, but I do think that it's
Cordelia's stubbornness---enflamed by her indignation---that prevents
her from coming up with a more temperate response than the one she gives
him---which (as Kent seems to understand) makes Cordelia seem to be the
"unnatural" child, the only one who does not love and respect her doting
father enough to obey either his paternal admonishment, or his kingly
command, especially after the ringing encomia of her sisters.

There is a via media, but as it is not Lear's, so that is not Cordelia's
way.

(Speak to me, Edward.)   :o)

Best to all,
Carol

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