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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0416  Thursday, 12 February 2004

[1]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Feb 2004 15:02:20 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0400 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Feb 2004 12:45:23 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0400 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

[3]     From:   David Crosby <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Feb 2004 11:53:01 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

[4]     From:   Bob Marks <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 13:23:28 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0400 - Cordelia: Loss of Insolence


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Feb 2004 15:02:20 -0000
Subject: 15.0400 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0400 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

"It is my case that the sisters are flatterers, since, as is immediately
established, they do not love their father..."

They treat him with remarkable gentleness, as far as I can see - as long
as that is in keeping with their more important responsibility to run a
well-financed tight ship of state. It's hardly their fault that Lear
makes a fuss when he realises he's given up his power! Whether that was
wise or not - and his madness in ensuing scenes suggests it was wise
indeed - the Fool makes it clear that this is how we are supposed to see
the situation.

m

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Feb 2004 12:45:23 -0500
Subject: 15.0400 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0400 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

I share Graham Bradshaw's view of Cordelia - which makes her too
contented in her filial and spousal subordination to satisfy committed
feminists, but seems to me to account better, as Graham's analysis tries
to show, for all the data of the texts.  I don't agree with his
proposal, however, that

 >the Bad Sisters . . . only grow monstrous later, offstage, and by
report: one
 >of this play's weaknesses.

Goneril's unwillingness to put up with her father's hundred knights may
seem reasonable enough - I like to suggest to students that it would be
like having the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (53-man
National Football League teams, for those of you not familiar with U.S.
pastimes) staying in your house.  But her willingness to see the old man
exposed to the elements, her contempt for her husband, and her
adulterous communications with Edmund are all staged; so are Regan's
concurrence in shutting Lear out, her savage treatment of Gloucester,
and her swift transfer of her own affections from Cornwall to Edmund.

 >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.

I'm also less inclined than Graham to see Kent's treatment of Oswald as
thuggish, at least not in early modern terms; we know from 2H6 and RJ,
among other sources, about the physical violence by which servants acted
out the hostility of their masters.  There seems a fair presumption that
Oswald is younger than Kent; I suppose him to be a gentleman (most
likely a younger son) and therefore  likely to have had training in arms
(a surmise supported by his subsequent attempt to capture Gloucester at
sword's point), sol the struggle between them need not be egregiously
uneven.

David Evett

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Crosby <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Feb 2004 11:53:01 -0600
Subject: 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0363 Cordelia: Loss of Insolence (Studies in the
Humanities)

I'm not sure whether L. Swilley is agreeing or disagreeing with me about
the benefits of comparing the opening scene of Lear with similar
examination scenes in other of Shakespeare's plays. Clearly the "issues
and outcomes of the several plays are quite different," as he says.

What I sought to point out, is that whenever Shakespeare assembles a
group of characters on stage to examine one of them about their
infringement of a stringent law or refusal of an outrageous demand, he
follows certain conventions and uses certain tropes that are
predictable. And always, the figure who demands obedience will find
himself facing a comic comeuppance or a tragic ending.

The fact that many of these figures are fathers who demand the right to
dispose of their daughters absolutely according to their will is beyond
dispute. Egeus tells Theseus it is his right to marry her where he will
or demand her death. Old Capulet, though he professes to respect
Juliet's inclinations early in R&J, becomes an absolute tyrant later
when she expresses objections to marrying Paris. Brabantio believes
Othello must have used witchcraft (a crime) to steal Desdemona from him.
Portia's dead father has imposed his will on her even from beyond the
grave, though she, for one, submits to the test of the caskets. The
sinister subtext of this parental test is make explicit In Pericles,
where Antiochus imposes a test with much more severe penalties for
suitors of his daughter in order to continue to enjoy her incestuously.
When Angelo condemns Claudio for normally winked at sin of fornication,
he soon finds himself plotting the ravishment of Claudio's virginal
sister Isabella.

These and other precedents would seem to give the lie to Swilley's
contention that it "would be very silly of [Cordelia's] suitors to
suppose that a child's love of a parent is anything other than assurance
of her love for the suitor." We have, at this point, no assurance
whatever that Lear's love for Cordelia is not incestuous: it certainly
is demanding and possessive, and quickly reveals itself to be
irrational, obsessive, and vengeful. At least one modern novelist
thought the notion worth exploring.

As witnesses to so many similar scenes in other of Shakespeare's plays,
we have no doubt (not to mention Kent's testimony) that Lear will live
to regret his folly, or (if it could somehow be made into a comedy or
tragicomedy as many have tried to refashion it) at least come to
recognize his error and be reconciled to a better order.

Swilley seems to suggest that Shakespeare is somehow providing us with
moral instruction about the nature of love, that it is "indivisible,"
and perhaps that is part of his belief. But to do it he is constructing
a play, and in the first place, a scene. His skills are poetry and
stagecraft. I would like to see this piece of scenemaking placed in a
context of similar constructions in other plays before it is offered as
evidence of how Shakespeare feels about love.

David Crosby

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bob Marks <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 13:23:28 +1100
Subject: 15.0400 - Cordelia: Loss of Insolence
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0400 - Cordelia: Loss of Insolence

L. Swilley wrote:

"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?)"

I guess that there is some difficulty in our differing understandings of
love being "divisible." It seems to me that there are lots of other ways
in which love is divisible. A mother should have love for all little
children, but if her child is in danger along with a whole lot of other
children, which child is she going to rescue first? Her love is divided
between children. Love in "Lear" is almost equated with action, with
doing. Cordelia knew this, because she argues that her sisters can't
love their father "all" when they have husbands!  They would have to
divide the attention they give to Lear and their husbands because they
love both.

Jesus' command to love God with all our hearts, minds, etc., is
different, because one of the ways we are to love God is by loving the
things God love, and this includes our neighbours and even our enemies.
Earlier L. Swilley wrote: "Cordelia might justly have said that she
loves everything else because of Lear." But that would perhaps have been
seen as putting Lear in the place of God, which I don't think the
original audience would have countenanced. Would there not have been an
element of flattery in that too?  And I can't see Lear accepting this as
a declaration of love for him that would top Goneril's and Regan's, and
this is what he is looking for.

To my earlier statement, "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 has responded: "That cannot
be, since the selfish lying of the sisters is immediately exposed in
their first appearance in the play." Of course, I was taking the present
debate to an extreme. But there is no doubt that some have put Cordelia
in "the sin bin" as we say in Australian sport along with the sisters
and Lear as being responsible for the tragedy. "If only she had
said....." Well, I believe that what she said would have been considered
totally adequate and proper by the original audience despite the
outcome. It is "The Tragedie of King Lear" not of Cordelia! "The Mirror
For Magistrates" gave us "The Tragoedy of Cordila" which is markedly
different.

L. Swiley wrote: "... 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."
It seems to me that Cordelia refuses to measure out her love in exchange
for a parcel of Lear's kingdom.

L. Swiley wrote: "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." While there may be many
versions of a story that have no connection with each other, the title
page of Q seems to show a definite comparison and contrast with the LEIR
version, let alone a detailed comparison of the two plays:

THE True Chronicle History of King LEIR, and his three daughters,
Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella.

M. William Shake-speare, HIS True Chronicle History of the life and
death of King Lear, and his three Daughters. With the vnfortunate life
of EDGAR, sonne and heire to the Earle of Glocester, and his sullen and
assumed humour of TOM of Bedlam.

L. Swiley wrote: "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." There she is, in the sin bin! Sure, she
might have just gone along with the flattery and played the game. But
this wouldn't have changed the sisters' attitudes unless Shakespeare had
intended to completely rewrite the folk story.

For more on what I have written on what Cordelia said visit:
http://users.bigpond.net.au/catchus/chapter%20ii.html

Bob Marks
Sydney

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