The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0363 Monday, 9 February 2004
From: L. Swilley <
Date: Friday, 6 Feb 2004 10:23:24 -0600
Subject: 15.0333 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment: Re: SHK 15.0333 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
David Crosby wrote,
>It might be instructive to compare Cordelia's situation in the first
>scene of Lear with that of several others who face similar examinations
>by authority figures (often fathers or stand-ins for fathers):etc..
It certainly should be instructive to do so. On the other hand, the
issues and outcomes of the several plays are quite different, and these
must be the overriding considerations. In "King Lear," the essential
error of the characters is the idea that love is divisible (which might
have been corrected had Cordelia's response been, "I love all other
persons and things because of you.").
>King Lear opens with a ritual which demands the expression of filial
>piety in exchange for rewards, but turns suddenly into an examination of
>Cordelia when she cannot answer in the expected mode. Like Desdemona she
>is confronted with a trick question: in the sight and hearing of her
>suitors, France and Burgundy, she is asked to outbid her sisters in
>expressing that all her love and duty belong to her father, and finds
>that she "cannot heave/ [Her] heart into [her] mouth." (91-92).
I would be very silly of her suitors to suppose that a child's love of a
parent is anything other than assurance of her love for the suitor -
unless we are to infer incestuous circumstances. But it is that very
notion ,shared by Lear and all his daughters, that love is divisible,
that makes Cordelia construe her possible declaration of love so grossly
as a heaving of her heart into her mouth.
>But unlike Desdemona, she does not craft a clever and diplomatic answer;
>instead she blurts out, "Nothing, my Lord" (1.1.87), and when warned
>that this answer may cost her, she blunders on, "I love your Majesty/
>According to my bond; no more nor less" (1.1.92-93).
At these words, any sensible being should be thrilling with horror, for
if we love merely according to a bond, how can we say we love at all?
>By the time she recovers the usually witty and resourceful voice of the
>Shakespearean accused, asking "Why have my sisters husbands, if they
>say/ They love you all?" (1.1.99-100),
And Cordelia plans to take "half her love and care" to her husband!
("There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.")
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