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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0287  Monday, 2 February 2004

[1]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Friday, 30 Jan 2004 10:27:45 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0260 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

[2]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Friday, 30 Jan 2004 12:45:39 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0260 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

[3]     From:   Bob Marks <
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        Date:   Saturday, 31 Jan 2004 04:27:27 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0260 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Friday, 30 Jan 2004 10:27:45 -0600
Subject: 15.0260 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0260 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

L. Swilley offers this suggestion as a wiser course for Cordelia:

 >>>>>>Regan has offered that she loves nothing else but Lear;

Cordelia might justly have said that she loves everything else because
of Lear. Were not these steps  recognized as, in the spiritual order,
the normal development of the love of God ?  Wouldn't Shakespeare's
church-going, sermon-filled crowd have heard this formulation before and
gasped at Cordelia's mistake?  But even if they were not, isn't that the
very point of her error?>>>

I'll admit to a certain self-regarding quality in Cordelia's refusal to
play her father's stupid and degrading game of flattery, but I cannot
condemn it so easily. It is easy for us in our armchairs to assume that
she should have done X or Y (far more sensible and practical responses),
and that Shakespeare, having her pick the disastrous one she did, wants
to criticize her on those grounds. But taken out of our armchairs and
put in a position of publicly violating our integrity with such flagrant
hypocrisy and ass-kissing, we might not do any better.

Nor am I confident that the compromise suggested would be better -- not
only because the old fool would probably not be content with some
wishy-washy flattery, but because at a certain point you have to assert
yourself, especially if you're young and earnest, and you take seriously
things like love and duty. Cordelia's choice might have been unwise, but
I doubt if (were the case from real life) we would admire the person who
followed the course suggested.

She reminds me strangely of some of the people from the anti-war
movement of long ago. She says, "This is crap, and I won't have anything
to do with it." And she's right, though she might get beaten up by the
cops or even shot down by the national guard.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 30 Jan 2004 12:45:39 -0500
Subject: 15.0260 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0260 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

Leonard Swilley raises the question: "Has it been noted anywhere that
Cordelia might have saved herself and her father had she listened to and
then honestly topped the remarks of her sisters in that first scene?"

In a play permeated with images of blindness and faulty perception of
various sorts, it seems thematic, necessary, and entirely satisfying
that Lear is compelled by Cordelia in the first scene to confront and
recognize "true" love, and distinguish it from mere form and seeming,
all of which he fails at most thoroughly.  The tragedy unfolds from this
failure, not from Cordelia's failure to present her case more persuasively.

But this by now means reduces Cordelia to an allegorical figure in in a
play entirely about Lear.  It is good sense to point out that she must
have known how to play the game and certainly could have "topped" her
sisters insincere claims of affection and won the rich dower reserved
for her.  BUT, her behavior at the same time can easily be interpreted
as culpably stiff-necked with juvenile pride and egoism.  The choice is
not an either/or issue.  One consequence of seeing both at work
simultaneously is that two admirable qualities which are in the
beginning placed in conflict through Lear and Cordelia -- royal and
paternal sovereignty and authority on the one hand, and filial love and
honesty on the other -- are respectively contaminated with the mirror
image defects of geriatric and juvenile pride, and driven apart.  And
the balance of the play brings the two back together through what
appears to me a slow, painful, and fatal lesson in rediscovering
humility.  All quite Christian and suitable for teaching in faith-based
curriculums as well as the ivy-covered halls of godless humanism.

I don't insist this is an "only" or "best" interpretation; but so long
as one decides to investigate the subject of  Cordelia's insolence, it
strikes me as unsound to consider it in isolation from the fault that
stimulated it, or to disregard how each launches the other on the long
and bloody path of correction.

Tony Burton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bob Marks <
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Date:           Saturday, 31 Jan 2004 04:27:27 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 15.0260 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0260 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence?

L. Swilley wrote:

<<<<... I think it quite likely and most appropriate that, in the course
of the play, Cordelia, like Lear, should find the character she should
have been; she probably has her own "Take physic, pomp" speech.

Has it been noted anywhere that Cordelia might have saved herself and
her father had she listened to and then honestly topped the remarks of
her sisters in that first scene? Cordelia has said that she loves Lear
more than anything; Regan has offered that she loves nothing else but
Lear; Cordelia might justly have said that she loves everything else
because of Lear. Were not these steps recognized as, in the spiritual
order, the normal development of the love of God ? Wouldn't
Shakespeare's church-going, sermon-filled crowd have heard this
formulation before and gasped at Cordelia's mistake? But even if they
were not, isn't that the very point of her error?

     L. Swilley.>>>>

The reason Cordelia says what she says is that this is basically what
she does in Shakespeare's sources that were already 400 years old in
Shakespeare's day. If she didn't say that, it would have been like
Cinderella without a golden slipper!

And Shakespeare actually draws attention to what she says  by having her
ask in advance (in the Folio)  "What shall Cordelia speak? Love and be
silent."

She will not flatter like her sisters. She will not speak and purpose not.

She will love and be silent and let Lear make known what she has done.
In keeping with Matthew 6:1 - 4 she will not let her left hand know what
her right hand is doing. She will do what she does for Lear in secret,
without speaking about it, in order that she will not receive praise of
men, but praise of her Father in heaven.

Certainly "Shakespeare's church-going, sermon-filled crowd" had heard
that formulation. King James I, before whom Lear was originally
performed, even wrote about it himself.

I believe there would have been no need, as far as Shakespeare's
audiences were concerned, for a better answer.

Bob Marks
Sydney

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