The Character of Cordelia in King Lear
Cordelia is the epitome of goodness in Shakespeare’s King Lear. "What shall Cordelia speak?/ Love, and be silent" (I.i.63-64). These words echo a reminiscent time when loyalty to the king and one's father was paramount. King Lear, Cordelia's father, planned on dividing his land among his three daughters, but for a price, the price of their love. While her sisters exaggerated their love for their father to win the "prize," Cordelia stayed true to herself and her loyalty to Lear by not making a mockery out of her feelings for him and playing it cool. She was also not characterized by her openness of her feelings. She was a quiet girl who kept emotions locked inside. Even so, Lear got angry at her response and disowned her. Why such a brutal attack on his daughter? Cordelia is known to be Lear's favorite and he had hoped that he could give her the largest piece of land so he could reside on it with her, but the plan failed. Overall, the King's decision lead him and his daughter to their tragic downfall.
With all the swarms of evil residing in this play, Cordelia is the epitome of goodness. She is loving, virtuous, and forgiving. She also demonstrates law and order in that she was a devoted daughter and had great respect for her father and his position. Her goodness is highlighted in Act IV, Scene VII, when she is at Lear's side and he slowly awakes and thinks of her as an angel. He asks the "angel" for Cordelia to forgive him, but according to Cordelia, there is no need to do so.
Cordelia, though, is a tragic character, for her kindness and her staying in the boundaries of the social norms of the Elizabethan age, ironically turned out to be her tragic downfall. Many people have been quite moved and bemused by her death, many of which deemed it as injustice. Samuel Johnson had said:
"Shakespeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice, to the hope of the reader, and , what is yet more strange, to the faith of the chronicles . . . A play in which the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry . . . the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue."
What exactly was Cordelia's role in the play? Was she there as an angel - like character who made the distinction between good and evil more visible? Was she just thrown in as a little goody- goody who did no wrong, and maybe, to some degree, we were supposed to despise? Or was she there to make us more aware of a crumbling society where many things were opposite to what one might think it should be, with evil generally prevailing over the good (which to some degree is prophetic to today's society)? There are many theories surrounding this character in particular, and no one has reached a definitive conclusion as of late. The best one I can come up with, however, is simply the answer "Yes," to all of the above.
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