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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0388  Tuesday, 10 February 2004

[1]     From:   David Cohen <
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 >
        Date:   Monday, 9 Feb 2004 13:58:25 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

[2]     From:   Bob Marks <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Feb 2004 11:02:26 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 9 Feb 2004 13:58:25 -0600
Subject: 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

L. Swilley <
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 > writes,

 >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.").

I think L. Swilley has it right, that the division of love is foolish
and has negative consequences.  I have written as much:

We see in King Lear child rejection by an angry parent taken to the
extreme.  At the beginning of the play, Lear has decided to divide his
realm into three parts, each one to be assigned a daughter, Goneril,
Regan, and Cordelia.  He requires only a public avowal of love from each
before formal investiture.  "Bad daughters" Goneril and Regan readily
comply, for they are villains who know how to flatter; "good daughter"
Cordelia refuses to play the flattery game, and is disinherited.

After receiving the requisite testimony from Goneril and Regan, and
after his announcement to each a confirmation of her third of the
kingdom, Lear turns to Cordelia for similar signs of affection, but gets
none:

KING LEAR
      Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
CORDELIA
     Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
     My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
     According to my bond; nor more nor less.

[Why can she not show a little diplomacy, we wonder?]

KING LEAR
     How, how, Cordelia! mend your speech a little,
     Lest it may mar your fortunes.
CORDELIA
     Good my lord,
     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.
     Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
     They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
     That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
     Half my love with him, half my care and duty:
     Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
     To love my father all.

[How peculiar, to think of love as a zero-sum things, so that some
percentage-Cordelia speaks of half-going to one person means less left
over for other people.  That's like thinking of the mind as zero-sum
thing, having a limit to the information it can store, so that learning
X decreases the ability to learn Y and Z.  Cordelia is a smart cookie
who knows the wellspring of love cannot be divided into percentages-that
she can love her father, her husband, and her children 100 percent.
There must be more than she lets on to her stiff reply.  Perhaps she is
irritated with an old coot who is embarrassing her as well as himself by
making such foolish requests of his offspring.]

KING LEAR
     But go thy heart with this?
CORDELIA
     Ay, good my lord.
KING LEAR
     So young, and so untender?
CORDELIA
     So young, my lord, and true.

     King Lear, Act 1, scene 1

Foolish flattery-seeking Lear's demented condemnation and disinheritance
of Cordelia is all the worse for his equally foolish embracement of
Goneril and Regan.  In this (following Freud but only a little!), Lear
is like the two unsuccessful suitors of Portia in The Merchant of
Venice, who make a poor choice of casket from mere superficial appearance.

Poor choice is evident in, first, the Prince of Morocco who chooses the
gold casket within which is no picture of Portia but the words, "All
that glisters [glitters] is not gold," then the Prince of Arragon who
chooses the silver casket also within which there is no picture of
Portia but only the words, "Who chooseth me shall have as much as he
deserves."    Hopeful Bassanio chooses the lead casket and gets the
picture and the lady.  (Incidentally, he gets help from a song sung
while he reflects on which casket to choose, a helpful song that
includes five words that rhyme with lead: BRED, HEAD, nouriSHED,
engend'rED; FED [Act 3, scene2].)

Cordelia may be leaden in her enthusiasm for flattering talk, but she is
obviously the best choice, as Lear rediscovers by the end of the play.
At the beginning, though, Lear in rage-induced forgetting of what he
well knows, goes with the superficial gloss of "gilded" Goneril and
"silvered" Regan and gets what he deserves-well, in a sense.  The king
of France who is shocked by Lear's sudden change of heart regarding his
favorite daughter.  How can the old man be so stupid!

This is most strange,
That she, that even but now was your best object . . . .

     KING OF FRANCE
     King Lear, Act 1, scene 1

David Cohen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bob Marks <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 10 Feb 2004 11:02:26 +1100
Subject: 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

L. Swilley wrote:

I[t] would be very silly of her [Cordelia's] 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, hopefully, love is divisible. We are to love all men and women, but
the love that one has for one's husband or wife had better be a greater
love than the love one has for another's husband or wife.

Cordelia's predicament in "the love contest" is that her sisters have
flattered her father with professions of love that she can't top (as she
is requested to do) without even greater flattery.

In one of Shakespeare's sources, "Leir", 1605, the older sisters are
tipped off by Skalliger (Oswald's counterpart) that there is to be a
love contest, and the older sisters plan their speeches looking forward
to the plight that Cordella, their father's favourite, will be in when
she can't top their speeches.

Ra. Now have we fit occasion offred us,
To be reveng'd upon her [Cordella] unperceyv'd.

Gon. Nay, our revenge we will inflict on her,
Shall be accounted piety in us:
I will so flatter with my doting father,
As he was ne're so flattred in his life.
Nay, I will say, that if it be his pleasure,
To match me to a begger, I will yeeld:
For why, I know what ever I do say,
He means to match me with the Cornwall King.

Ra. Ile say the like: for I am well assured,
What e're I say to please the old mans mind,
Who dotes, as if he were a child agayne,
I shall injoy the noble Cambrian Prince:
Only, to feed his humour, will suffice,
To say, I am content with any one
Whom heele appoynte me; this will please him more,
Then e're Apolloes musike pleased Jove.

Gon. I smile to think, in what a wofull plight
Cordella will be, when we answere thus....

And Cordelia (as was Cordella) was in a plight! She would have had to
heave her heart into her mouth, which I take to mean exaggerate even
more grossly, to top the sisters' speeches.

Ironically, the way Cordelia is being derided by some these days, does
make Goneril's and Regan's responses worthy of being "accounted piety
in" them.

L. Swilley wrote:

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?

But  the "bond" Cordelia refers to here is no ordinary bond of trade, or
legal financial commitment like the bond for three thousand ducats
Shylock obtains from Antonio. It is the bond between father and child
and between husband and wife. Compare other uses of the word in "Lear":

Act 1, Scene 2
GLOUCESTER These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us
... the bond cracked 'twixt son and father.

Act 2, Scene 1
EDMUND  Persuade me to the murder of your lordship;
But that I told him, the revenging gods
'Gainst parricides did all their thunders bend;
Spoke, with how manifold and strong a bond
The child was bound to the father....

Act 2, Scene 4
LEAR No, Regan, thou shalt never have my curse:
... thou better know'st
The offices of nature, bond of childhood,
Effects of courtesy ....

Consider also:

AYLI
Act 1, Scene 2
LE BEAU .... whose loves
Are dearer than the natural bond of sisters.

Henry VIII
Act 2, Scene 4
QUEEN KATHARINE: if, in the course
And process of this time, you can report,
And prove it too, against mine honour aught,
My bond to wedlock, or my love and duty,
Against your sacred person, in God's name,
Turn me away;

The use of "bond" in all these instances is of the highest order of love
and commitment.

L. Swilley wrote:
And Cordelia plans to take "half her love and care" to her husband!
("There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.")


In "Lear" Cordelia says:

Happily when I shall wed,
That Lord, whose hand must take my plight, shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care, and duty,
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters.

How would an audience, familiar with the old play, "Leir", have
responded to these words from Cordelia? The words "must take my plight"
could have suggested a sense that this is what happens in the folk
legend and has to happen here, for there is nothing to suggest that
either France or Burgundy are under any compulsion from Lear to take her
plight. In fact the very opposite turn out to be the case! Lear doesn't
want France to marry her!

The words "shall carry half my love with him, half my care, and duty"
have an ambiguity about them too. The person who will take her plight,
the King of France in both plays, will carry half her love with him, the
other half being reserved for her father. The remaining words, "half my
care, and duty" could be a reference to her care and duty for the one
who would take her plight, the other half being reserved for her father,
but they might equally have suggested, to those familiar with the old
play, the care and duty which the King of France exercised jointly with
Cordella for her father's well-being. In this speech in Lear Cordelia
has just mentioned those "duties" which she will return back as are
right fit. France's carrying half her duty might be understood as
meaning that he will carry half Cordelia's duty towards her father just
like in "Leir".

This is nothing more than Cordelia saying, I will love my father and my
husband. I will care for both and I am sure my husband will assist me in
caring for my father as well.

There's no intended foolery here, but plain expression of love, care and
duty. The foolery will come a little later in the play and it is wonderful.

http://users.bigpond.net.au/chapters.html

Bob Marks
Sydney

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