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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0400  Wednesday, 11 February 2004

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Feb 2004 22:39:27 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0388 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

[2]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Feb 2004 19:18:31 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Feb 2004 22:39:27 -0600
Subject: 15.0388 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0388 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

Bob Marks wrote,

 >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.

I believe this confuses sexual love with a larger concept thereof, one
that so wishes well to the beloved that the lover is willing and eager
to sacrifice oneself for him/her and for ideals because of that love?
Christ urged all to love God with our whole hearts and minds and our
neighbors as ourselves.  But if the above principle of quantitative love
is allowed, God would be the only recipient of our love; there would
nothing left for our neighbors - or  indeed for ourselves. (And doesn't
our experience of lovers, lost in one another and delighted in the world
because of that love, bear out my point here?)

 >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.

Ah, but she *can* top them - and it will *not* be flattery, but the
truth of her love. It is my case that the sisters are flatterers, since,
as is immediately established, they do not love their father; and that
they do not know that they have not prevented Cordelia but empowered her
- had she the presence of mind to honestly close this cycle of love, the
first two steps of which the sisters have  provided her.

 >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.

That cannot be, since the selfish lying of the sisters is immediately
exposed in their first appearance in the play.

 >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.

Interesting. But the "bond" of Cordelia's remark is given the cast of
Shylock's bond, when she measures out her love as Lear has parcelled out
his kingdom. That is exactly what this play is about.]

 >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".

Isn't it unwise to suppose that because an earlier play of the same name
and like characters is known to an audience, the point of it is to be
carried over to the next play of the same name?  If this were applied to
the two "Medeas" - Euripides' and Seneca's - we would miss the point of
the second entirely.

 >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.

I'm sure that is how she intends to act, and I am sure of her love for
her father, but - perhaps overreacting to the lies of her sisters - she
fails to notice and confess  the true scope of her love that might have
saved them all.

            [L. Swilley]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Feb 2004 19:18:31 +0900
Subject: 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

I confess, I haven't been consulting SHAKSPER very often, and haven't
followed the thread on Cordelia. But I have just read the most recent
messages, and wonder whether anybody has been paying attention to
Cordelia's two asides in the first scene of King Lear.

The first follows Goneril's speech (which might seem quite impressive if
it were spoken by a different speaker). In her first aside Cordelia
sounds shocked and hopeless, or more stunned than critical:

What shall Cordelia speak [1608 Quarto: do]? Love and be silent.

But her second aside, following Regan's unimpressive speech, is different:

                             Then poor Cordelia,
     And yet not so, since I am sure my love's
     More ponderous [Quarto: richer] than my tongue.

"And yet not so...I'm sure" could open up very different possibilities
in performance. It certainly does in my own mental staging.

The idea that Cordelia is directly critical of her father and King, or
moralistic, in the first scene probably derives from or owes most to
Coleridge. Of course the first scene is still often, or usually,
performed that way. It is then difficult, not least for the actor or
actress, to reconcile this caustic or, as your thread seems to be
saying, insolent Cordelia with the Cordelia who reappears much later in
the play. "No cause, no cause" is her entirely unmoralistic, loving
reply to Lear's "You have some cause". Later still, when Lear speaks in
5.3 of how "We two alone will sing like birds i'th'cage", Cordelia again
fails to respond like Coleridge's tartly critical heroine, who would
have said something like "I did not marry, to love my father all". (Only
Iagos are nothing, if not critical? Being human, and loving, really is
more important? Coleridge's Cordelia is thoroughly Coleridgean, and only
attractive to moralists?)

Of course in the first scene Cordelia is caustic about and to her
sisters. But that doesn't necessarily pan out to the idea that Cordelia
is setting out to defy or criticise or humiliate her father, and King.
in public. Here, I suggest, the discussion of "insolence" should focus
on "insolent, to whom?"

So, suppose we press the suddenly more confident ("And yet... I'm
sure...") and dramatically significant shift in Cordelia's second aside,
to see where it might lead in a non- or anti-Coleridgean/moralistic
production of the play's first scene. What then?

As I suggested in my all too mortal, or out of print, book on
Shakespeare's Scepticism  [U.S. Quarto: Skepticism], the first
consequence would be that

Cordelia's confidence that her passionate plainness will be understood
shows a loving trustfulness which effectively tests and exposes Lear:
his own     capacity to love is is, like Gloster's, warped by the
clamorous demands of the hungry ego, and their inability to distinguish
between the accents of true

and simulated feeling shows how reading the language of the 'heart'
requires more than those anachronistic 'spectacles" (p.33).

The first scene could be staged with Cordelia deciding to put her trust
in "passionate plainness"--a topos of the time, that I think interested
Shakespeare no less than Ben Jonson. Kent understands Cordelia's
meaning. More surprisingly, perhaps, so do Goneril and and Regan. Their
prose exchange at the end of the scene doesn't anywhere suppose that
Cordelia was publicly criticising or provoking her and their father. The
Bad Sisters--who only grow monstrous later, offstage, and by report: one
of this play's weaknesses--take Lear's response to the passionately
plain Cordelia as yet another sign of his "infirmity".

Any staging that wanted to test the import of Cordelia's second aside
might also rethink line 160 in the Folio text of the first scene. Kent
goes in for his own kind of passionate plainness, which is almost always
hurtful and often (with Oswald) thuggish. In line 159 Lear explodes; in
line 160, or so modern editors tell us, Albany and Cornwall spring
forwards to proclaim in unison: "Dear sir, forbear."  If that is what
happened in the earliest stagings, Shakespeare was deliberately, or at
any rate very uncharacteristically, misleading his audience. Cornwall
wouldn't do that. But, and I am not the first to recall this fact, the
Folio uses the abbreviation "Cor." for both Cordelia and Cornwall.
Visualise and block the alternative moment, in an alternative staging.
Kent intervenes on Cordelia's behalf, publicly criticising Lear ("What
would'st thou do, old man?").  Lear of course explodes. But then Albany
and Cordelia--not Cornwall--intervene on Kent's behalf.

To no avail, of course. Perhaps like this message. Nineteenth century
Europe had Schlegel, whereas England had Coleridge, who had his own
problems, and retarded English critical thinking about several
Shakespeare plays, most notably Othello and Measure for Measure, and, at
least in its first scene, King Lear.

I apologise, once again, if these comments on the possible significance
of Cordelia's asides (and Anglican Tories) have already been anticipated.

Graham Bradshaw


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