King Lear
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In the chaotic world of King Lear, resolution of character seems remote and veiled from an aged king bent on denying the unspoken truth. Dramatically speaking, his enemies fare conventionally better. Philip McGuire concludes that when the mortally wounded Edmund declares that “The wheel is come full circle”, his words serve as an explicit statement of dramatic fulfilment.1 Accordingly, Edmund, Goneril, and Regan move towards a dramatic consummation in which their deaths bond them in malevolence. However, Lear, Cordelia and the Fool seem divided, separated, and never allowed a mode of completion like their three counterparts. Lears hopes of union with Cordelia are never realized, and are portrayed as unnatural: “We two alone”, as the king puts it, “will sing like birds ithcage” (5.3.9). Cordelias final line, “Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters?” (5.3.7), echoes Lears wish for dramatic union, but she is silenced before it can be fulfilled. In the Folio addition to the play, the Fool reiterates this attitude on union when he utters, in despair of common sense, a contradictory disunity: “And Ill go to bed at noon” (3.6.41); John Kerrigan aptly stresses that this line “expresses the Fools determination to leave King Lear with its course half run”.2 The Fools intentional silence marks the end of his usefulness to the king in madness, and Cordelias silence would appear to function in a similar way. Their removal from speech deprives Lear of their supporting influence and drives him farther into self-examination. However, fulfilment remains elusive for Lear. McGuires argument that the plays final scene presents silences which deny our certainty of a single “promised end” seems to point directly to the dramatic elusiveness Shakespeare tried to cultivate.

Shakespeare portrays this theme of irresolution through Cordelia, the Fool, and finally of Lear. When Shakespeare imposes a silence on Cordelia and the Fool, effectively halting their fulfilment, he denies Lear the chance to gain the dramatic completion which Regan, Goneril, and Edmund enjoy. The Fools disappearance leads to a shift towards Lears madness, and Cordelias speechlessness allows Lear to deny the reality of their imprisonment. Lear imagines a captivity of companionship:So well live,

And pray, and sing, and tell old tales and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news, and well talk with them too.
Lear is dependent on Cordelia and the Fool for support. Questions of stability and independence are raised by the need of these characters. For this reason, it is necessary to examine exactly how the Fool and Cordelia influence Lear, and what they take with them when they are removed from speech and action.

The question of Cordelias character has been an issue of criticism for some time. Samuel Johnson could not bear the treatment of Cordelia and the painful ending of King Lear. John Danby explains Johnsons reaction as a product of the prevalent attitude towards Cordelia at the time: “It was intolerable to the moral optimism of the eighteenth century that such transcendent goodness should not be taken care of in the human universe.”3 Harley Granville-Barker stated the contrary in his conception of Cordelia: “It will be a fatal error to present Cordelia as a meek saint.”4 William Elton conceptualizes Cordelia as the model of self-sacrificing and healing virtue: “Cordelia is devoted to curing division. Strife between North and South [ . . . ] has its antithesis in Cordelias healing and restoring forgiveness.”5 What all three critics acknowledge concerning Cordelia is her strength of character and silent resolve. Her courage in standing up to Lear and his demands while wrapped in the mantle of his power emanates from what Elton describes as her “argumentum ex silentio” (Elton, 25), and what Granville-Barker sees as her enduring “without effort, explanation or excuse” (303). This strength of character, the ability to stand with full certainty, is one of Cordelias main personality traits and functions. She is fully aware of her abilities and her own qualities, as she firmly states: “I am sure my loves / More ponderous than my tongue” (1.1.72-73). Cordelias silent determination and faith in what she believes to be true give her the strength to remain constant to her principles of love and order.

The inception of a character such as Cordelia, whose nature is more prevalent than her words, and, as Elton notes, whose constancy to order is unwavering, creates a force which is directly opposed to the half-meanings and wild uncertainty of Lear (Elton, 75). Lears words illustrate his selfish and confused personality as he remarks to Kent early in the play: “I loved her most, and thought to set my rest / On her kind nursery” (1.1.117-18). The real problem which Cordelia faces seems captured by Harry Bergers hypothesis that Cordelia embodies the young woman of virtue attempting to break away from the paternal bondage and filial duty that are exploited by Lear.6 Her values suddenly come into conflict with Lears “darker purpose” (1.1.31), which is illustrated by an image of confusion expressed by Gloucester: “but now in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most” (1.1.3-4). The aim for which Lear seems to be exploiting Cordelia is stated unequivocally when Lear expounds: “and tis our fast intent / To shake all cares and business from our age” (1.1.33-34). This introduces a grievous wound both to society and to order:

Beneath the surface, then, his darker purpose seems to be to play on everyones curiosity, stir up as much envy and contention as he can among the “younger strengths” with the aim of dominating and dividing them, humbling and punishing them

(Berger, 355).
Lears fear of weakness and need to dominate may lead to self-deception and reliance on the quantity of words rather than their quality. Regan and Goneril act as the dispensers of this excessive and formless language which offers much but provides little substance. It is in this vein of empty praise that Goneril states: “Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter” (1.1.50). Regan reasserts these words, notably with her own version of Gonerils shadowy sentiment:I am made of that self-mettle as my sister

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Chaotic World Of King Lear And Lears Hopes. (April 17, 2021). Retrieved from