Free King Lear Essays: What a Difference One Word Can Make

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What a Difference One Word Can Make in King Lear

King Lear's response to Cordellia's failure to express her love for her father in words is symbolic of King Lear's madness in the play. His madness is most clearly manifest in his need for his daughters to testify to him of their love. Cordellia's failure to say that she loves him winds up destroying him. What is fascinating though is that it is not the rejection of him that hurts so much as his dismay that his daughter would say such a thing. The last line of the selection (Conflated Version 1.1.94) highlights Lear's anger at not only the words that Cordellia speaks, but Cordellia herself.

In this line King Lear warns Cordellia that if she doesn't change her ways she will lose her inheritance, "Variant Mend your speech a little, Lest Variant may mar your Fortunes."(1.1.93-94). The second variant in these lines changes the meaning of King Lear's wrath. In the 1608 quarto version the variant text reads, "it". The, "it" in this case is referring to what Cordellia has said. In the 1623 Folio version the word, "it" has been replaced by the word, "you". This variant between the two editions might seem minor but in fact it changes the meaning of Lear's anger from anger at Cordellia's speech to anger at Cordellia herself. This change has two major effects on the play. First, it shows the madness of King Lear. In the quarto version his anger is directed at Cordellia's speech. This is rational way of dealing with the situation and shows that King Lear still has love for his daughter. He loves her but not what she has said. In contrast in the folio version King Lear's madness is evident in his inability to separate what Cordellia has said from his love for her. King Lear like a lunatic sees Cordellia's inability to pronounce her love in front of her conniving sisters to be a blanket statement that she does not love him. He is unable to reason that her statement might have logic because he himself has no logic. He doesn't see that his breaking of the chain of being by abdicating his throne and dividing up his kingdom has also destroyed the chain of being in his own family. His daughters usurp his power as he violates the order of the universe.
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