The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0480 Thursday, 19 February 2004
Date: Wednesday, 18 Feb 2004 11:58:42 -0500
Subject: Cordelia (Loss of Insolence)
David Crosby writes in response to L. Swilley,
"The point I made is that incest was alive and well in Shakespeare's
Pericles, and that his audience would know that when, in the first scene
of a play, a father seeks to monopolize and dominate his daughter, we
cannot, at that moment, rule out incest as a motive. I quite agree that
the subsequent development of the two characters leads us in other
David's first sentence is worth emphasizing, especially since a close
reading of the opening scene more than suggests that it is really a
battle of wits between Lear (who wants to monopolize Cordelia's love),
and Cordelia, who wants to marry. In effect, Lear sets a trap and his
youngest daughter escapes it by outwitting him, with the help of France.
He is the fairytale prince who "rescues" her from Lear, and who allows
her to love another man besides her father.
Whether "subsequent development" leads in other directions is
problematic. I think the incest theme is ever-present. Why does France,
the fairytale prince, abandon Cordelia in her time of greatest need?
When she comes back to save Lear (thus choosing father over husband),
Lear knows he has won! The bit about two birds in a cage is chilling.
And, just one of many other possible points: Why do Goneril and Regan
fall into fierce competition over Edmund? Interestingly, he is a younger
double of Lear - full of sass, bravado, style, and overwhelming
masculinity. What does this competition point to that took place many
years ago when Goneril and Regan were younger? The whole play reenacts
an incest-ridden past, and the consequences of it in the present. Lear
even invades Goneril's castle with his "hundred knights" in a way that
makes her think her private space has become a brothel.
Why would she think that, unless. . . .
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