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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: June ::
New and Improved Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1130  Wednesday, 22 June 2005

From:           John-Paul Spiro <
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Date:           Tuesday, 21 Jun 2005 14:39:13 -0400
Subject: 16.1110 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1110 New and Improved Lear

 >Leave it to Shakespeare to create dramatic situations that feature
 >clashing values. To say that Cordelia, by not honoring her father,
 >contributes to her fate is not to say that she was totally
 >responsible
 >for her fate.

No one said anything about total responsibility.  David Basch wrote that
Cordelia started it by violating the Biblical injunction to honor the
father.  This injunction would be unfamiliar to Cordelia, who lives in a
Bible-less world.  There are many theological and moral ideas explored
in "King Lear," but Hebraic and Christian monotheism is not one of them.
  Most of the characters are polytheists and Gloucester, at the very
least, believes in astrology.  Judeo-Christianity does not have a
monopoly on the morality of obligation to one's father; however, the Ten
Commandments are in every way external to the play.  We can read them
into the play, but they are as foreign to Lear and Cordelia as they
would be to Priam or Thor.

 >Frank Whigham and John-Paul Spiro, in the spirit of
 >Cordelia,
 >insist that it is her father that must yield to her high principled
 >stand on the nature of her love duties to father and husband and
 >that it
 >is he that must lick his wounds when his favorite daughter shames
 >him, a
 >powerful king, in public.

Actually, I agree that Cordelia is pigheaded and impractical and shares
some of the blame for the events of the play.  I disagree with Mr. Basch
(and Lear himself) not in the spirit of Cordelia but in the spirit of
Kent.  He obviously loves Lear and wants nothing more than to serve him,
yet he speaks up immediately about Lear's folly.  Kent makes it quite
clear that disagreeing with one's betters when they are wrong is a way
of honoring them.  Later in the play, one of Cornwall's insists on
intervening when Cornwall is torturing Gloucester: here, again,
Shakespeare shows that some things are more important than simple loyalty.

 >When Lear is united with Cordelia after she rescues him, Lear is
 >astounded that his daughter loves him even after what he has done,
 >saying that she has "cause" to hate him and but yet doesn't. Lear
 >realizes his mistake. Frank would probably pop up at this time to
 >berate
 >Lear and tell him what a jerk he was for not knowing better, but not
 >Cordelia. Cordelia says, "no cause." Can it be she realizes her
 >mistake
 >in not honoring her father and admits her mistake in not handling
 >the
 >test better? I would note here that honoring of parents seems to
 >have
 >universal acclaim among diverse cultures aside from its affirmation
 >in
 >the Bible, an intuitive recognition of how life enhancing it is as a
 >principle.

Saying "I have no cause to hate you" is not the same as saying, "I was
wrong."  It is, in fact, a way of saying that disagreements need not
involve acrimony.  Her refusal to sing Lear's praises does not mean that
she does not love him: this was her entire point.  It is also important
to look at her asides in 1.1: she is not stubbornly refusing on
principle, but she "can't heave her heart into her mouth."  She is not
capable of lying, even exaggerating.  Lear knows she loves him, but he
wants more than that: the failure to love properly is his own.  I think
Stanley Cavell has written well on this subject.

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