King Lear

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King Lear: topic #2, revision.

Matt Diggs III

"Lear: Be your tears wet? Yes faith, I pray weep not.
If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me; for your sisters
Have (as I do remember) done me wrong.
You have some cause, they have not.

Cordelia: No cause, no cause."

In Shakespeare's King Lear the character Cordelia is disowned and denied dowry because she is unable to bring herself to flatter her father. This honesty is taken as insult by Lear in the opening act of the play, and he renounces the princess in a fit of rage. Yet when his other, more "glib and oily (I.i. 224)" daughters have ruined him, it is faithful Cordelia who comforts him. While she has the greatest reason to act against Lear, she claims she has "No cause,(IV,iv,74)" to do so. What is it within Cordelia's soul that manifests good in the face of evil? What qualities make her the play's most virtuous character? Because she is not actually present during the majority of the play, it is difficult to obtain an accurate psychological picture of Cordelia. BUT HER WORDS AND ACTIONS, HOWEVER SPARSE, DEFINE CORDELIA AS HONEST, SELFLESS AND COURAGEOUS. It is these qualities that display Cordelia's clear comprehension of the duties implicit in the father-daughter and king-subject bond.

Part of Cordelia's moral integrity lies in her bluntness, and while Lear's daughter does seem tactless in her first appearance, saying,
"Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty
According to my bond, no more nor less, (I.i.91-93)" it is this honesty that contrast her to her sisters. In Lear, the long diatribes of compliment often belong to the most vile of characters, but not so with Cordelia. Her love is boundless, but not expressible through flattery. Though she makes little effort to elucidate her simple words, her bond is substantial, having been "Begot, bred and loved,(I,i,96)" by her father. Cordelia speaks in her explanation of performing her duties as she sees "right fit.(I,i,97)" Acting with such perfect purpose defines the princess as possibly the only absolutely righteous character in the play. But apart from merely confronting the possibility of losing her fortunes, she accepts her king's decision with silence. She knows the consequences of her actions, yet does not stray from her ethical duties.
Cordelia's reverence for Lear does not blur her comprehension of his folly.
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