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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0316  Wednesday, 4 February 2004

From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 3 Feb 2004 22:38:04 -0600
Subject:        More on Insolent Cordelia

Subject: 15.0287 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment: Re: SHK 15.0287 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

My thanks to D. Bloom, Tony Burton and Bob Marks for their remarks on
Cordelia; I was particularly taken with Tony Burton's very sensible
comments that argued the wonderful presence of *both* positive and
negative elements in the motivation for and delivery of Cordelia's
statements  to her father. I was reminded of a similar construction in
"Antigone" where one is torn between approval and disapproval of both
Creon and Antigone - certainly we can feel for both sides there, as here
for Lear and Cordelia.( In that Greek play, the terrible mystery of the
devastating, unresolvable conflict of familial  and public interest is,
for me, its principal attraction.)

And although I find much the same kind of mystery of conflict of moral
goods in "Lear" - I mean, in this case,  the conflict of  Cordelia's
need to be true to herself and her need to respond to the request of her
father - I am persuaded  that the play, having so clearly provided for
the possibility of an answer appropriate for Cordelia ("I love
everything because of my love for you") by presenting the first two
steps in the natural development of love in the remarks of the -
albethey lying -  sisters, plunks down hard on Cordelia, who, in a spasm
of  independence and personal indulgence  i, denies her father and the
nation the public statement of her love for him, forgetting, it seems,
that this is no more than might be a public statement of marriage vows
that commit one to "love, honor and obey, " a *public* statement which,
presumably, she will make without comparable protest  when she marries
the French king.

To my argument I add that Cordelia has said that she will give *part* of
her love to her husband.  Her unhappy division of love ( related in some
way, I think, to her inability to accommodate her father) is a
reflection of Lear's disastrously dividing a unified, peaceful country
into parts, to be handed off to daughters as though they were his
personal property. (We should pause here to consider princely duty: for
example, Hamlet is often charged with delay in destroying Claudius; but
Hamlet is a prince of the realm and may not indulge his personal revenge
at the expense of the peace of the kingdom, and the latter requires
public exposure of the criminal king.  Here in "King Lear" we have a
princess in a public ceremony requiring her to make a public statement
of devotion to her father, the King.  That she "cannot heave her heart
into her mouth" in the name of her "honesty" is like the present Prince
Charles deciding that he cannot express  his personal appreciation for
his mother, the Queen, when public ceremony requires vows of love and
fealty. So much for his investiture as the Prince of Wales!)

I add to this case that Cordelia continues her assertion of "integrity"
and personal "honesty" when she turns to her sisters, saying, "I know
you what you are." Does it escape our notice that she is, for all
intents and purposes, the Queen of France and these, her sisters, now
monarchs of a neighboring and evidently not too friendly country?  She
is hardly Miss Diplomacy, is she?

That is the very point of her character.  Admire her though we may for
her rebellious nature on this issue, we cannot but condemn her
immaturity and her unwillingness to bend to paternal request and the
public need.

One of the writers mentioned above has asked what would have happened if
Cordelia had given the answer I said the sequence of the two sisters'
responses dictated; he wrote that Lear would not have been appreciative
of such an answer, etc. To this I say that we cannot add to a story, but
we should allow that when an incomplete  pattern is displayed - as here
in the responses of the two older daughters - we are right to consider
the possibility and meaning of the missing part.  It is especially so in
this case, where so many other factors support it.

       L. Swilley

P. S. Will all please forgive me for writing , in my earlier statement,
"Cordelia has said that she loves Lear more than anything..." when I
should have written "*Goneril* has said that she loves Lear more than
anything..." ?

And may I refer everyone back to my longer (and clearer) response to
Carol Burton on the subject of Cordelia (6 December 2002)?  L. S.

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