King Lear Contents
- Shakespeare, William
- 1564 - 1582: William Shakespeare's Stratford Beginnings
- 1582 - 1592: William Shakespeare's Marriage, Parenthood and Early Occupation
- 1592 - 1594: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 1
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 2
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 3
- 1611 - 1616: William Shakespeare - Back to Stratford
- Social / political background
- Religious / philosophical background
- The Theatre
- Act I
- Act II
- Act III
- Act IV
- Act V
Cordelia appears in only three episodes of the play, speaking a total of only 118 lines (fewer than either Goneril or Regan) and yet she makes an impact far greater than such a relatively small role may suggest.
In Act 1 Scene 1 the first words Cordelia speaks in the play are asides to the audience in which she says that she will never be able to pass her father's ‘test’ of affection: her love cannot be put into words so she decides to opt for silence. Thus the first word she speaks to another character (her father) is an uncompromising, 'Nothing'. She is disgusted by her sisters' lack of integrity. Their words sound as falsely extravagant to her as they should to her father, if his sound judgement were not clouded by wilfulness and the self-concern of an aged king, who is used to other people obeying his every whim. Cordelia’s 'Nothing' is the word which kick-starts the complexities of the plot.
In this first episode she epitomises truth-telling and integrity, directness and sincerity. Honesty is more important for her than pleasing her father and she knows that her uncompromising answer will alienate him. She will not pretend that she loves him exclusively. How could she, as she is about to get married?
Cordelia’s decision to be loyal to the truth leads her not only to state the unvarnished facts but to do so in language which is forthright to the point of bluntness:
'I love your Majesty / According to my bond; no more nor less'.
She adds, with cool logic,
'Why have my sisters husbands, if they say / They love you all?'
She knows what the result of her honesty will be and she shows no surprise when Lear disowns her, his love turning on an instant to hatred, her dowry denigrated to a father's curse. If it were not for the sympathy of the King of France, she would have nowhere to turn and no prospect of a royal marriage.
Yet Cordelia never loses her composure. She sarcastically calls Goneril and Regan the 'jewels' of their father and leaves the stage condemning their hypocrisy, their 'plighted cunning'. She fears what will happen to her father left to the mercies of two such unscrupulous sisters. The cool, quiet terseness of Cordelia's language distinguishes her from the rest of her family in this opening scene.
A softer Cordelia
The reappearance of Cordelia is prepared for by the Gentleman’s account of the French Queen to Kent in Act 4 Scene 3. Although she is still ‘a queen / Over her passion’, her enduring love for her father is made clear, as well as her practical compassion.
She is described in the kind of language that Shakespeare’s contemporary audience would have associated with the Virgin Mary, expressing ‘patience’, ‘pity’ and ‘sorrow’ as she shakes ‘The holy water from her heavenly eyes’. This connection is emphasised again in Act 4 Scene 7 when Cordelia intercedes for her father to the ‘Gods’; Mary was believed by those who were Catholic believers to intercede to God for them.
When she finally appears in Act 4 Scene 4, Cordelia is associated with the healing powers of nature, which she calls on to aid her father’s recovery. Far from the thoughts of vengeance which dominate her sisters, she makes it clear that her fundamental loyalty is to her father. Although she is allied with the invading French forces, this war is not about military 'ambition' but rather about 'love' and her 'aged father's right'.
Cordelia is understandably hesitant as she waits for her previously tyrannical father to wake in Act 4 Scene 7, yet takes the initiative in tenderly kissing him. Her innate goodness has already been emphasised by presenting her on stage alongside Kent, both figures of truth and loyalty.
By the time she is reconciled to Lear, the old king has come to acknowledge his grievous errors and his mistreatment of Cordelia. Indeed his shame had previously prevented him from approaching her. When he does, he says:
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.(Act 4 Scene 4)
Cordelia’s reply, 'No cause, no cause', shows that she has changed too – it would be a more honest (though less compassionate) answer to agree with her father. However, it is empathy for her father’s suffering, as well as Lear’s recognition of his wrong-doing, which motivates her denial.
The strength and vulnerability of goodness
When Cordelia and her father are ultimately captured and taken to prison in Act 5 Scene 3, she accepts her fate with serenity. She is no slave to Fortune and is still desirous of facing up to her sisters, perhaps wanting to shame them into better behaviour. Her subsequent tears are less a sign of weakness than of sorrow for the loving humility of her once powerful father. So, although Cordelia is shown to be vulnerable to the machinations of evil, she retains a moral strength, upholding love and justice to the end.
Cordelia and Christ
Cordelia’s reference, before being led away, to others who have unjustly suffered would remind Shakespeare’s original audience of the fate of Jesus, an innocent man punished for no wrong-doing of his own according to the New Testament (see Luke 23:13-25). Such an association would be strengthened by Cordelia’s final appearance is as a corpse in Lear's arms. This is an inversion of the traditional Pietà scene where a woman/mother (Mary) cradles a dead man/son (Jesus), familiar to Shakespeare’s contemporaries through many religious paintings and sculptures. Unlike Christ however, and against all Lear’s hope, there is no resurrection for Cordelia on stage.
Instead, her death is a reminder of the fragility of life and the strength of evil and chance circumstances in a pagan world. Although Edmund's orders for her execution were countermanded as he died, the message arrived too late and she had been hanged.
Love stronger than might
Lear's final words about her show that Cordelia's huge impact on the story has not depended on physical dominance or aggressive shows of strength but on loving constancy, inner purity and integrity. Even her speech has not been forceful. Unlike the increasingly shrill utterances of her sisters, according to Lear, 'Her voice was ever soft, / Gentle and low.'
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king. 3And Pilate asked him, Are you the King of the Jews? And he answered him, You have said so. 4Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, I find no guilt in this man. 5But they were urgent, saying, He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place. 6When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. 13Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16I will therefore punish and release him. 17 18But they all cried out together, Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas - 19a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21but they kept shouting, Crucify, crucify him! 22A third time he said to them, Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him. 23But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will. 26And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28But turning to them Jesus said, Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed! 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us. 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry? 32Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34And Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One! 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself! 38There was also an inscription over him, This is the King of the Jews. 39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! 40But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. 42And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. 43And he said to him, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. 44It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! And having said this he breathed his last. 47Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, Certainly this man was innocent! 48And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. 50Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
1And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate. 2And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King. 3And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it. 4Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man. 5And they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place. 6When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean. 7And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time. 8And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him. 9Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing. 10And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him. 11And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate. 12And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves. 13And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: 15No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. 16I will therefore chastise him, and release him. 17(For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.) 18And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas: 19(Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.) 20Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. 21But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. 22And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go. 23And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. 24And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. 25And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will. 26And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. 27And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. 28But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. 29For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. 30Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. 31For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? 32And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. 33And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. 34Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. 35And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. 36And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, 37And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. 38And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. 44And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. 45And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. 46And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. 47Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man. 48And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned. 49And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things. 50And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: 51(The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. 52This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. 53And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. 54And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. 55And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. 56And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.
Mary, the mother of Jesus and wife of Joseph. It is traditionally understood that Mary was, and remained, a virgin during both the conception and birth of Jesus.
1. Sometimes used to denote all Christians 2. Used specifically of the Roman Catholic church.
a power believed to randomly distribute good and bad fortunes
The name given to the man believed by Christians to be the Son of God. Also given the title Christ, meaning 'anointed one' or Messiah. His life is recorded most fully in the Four Gospels.
A 'testament' is a covenant (binding agreement), a term used in the Bible of God's relationship with his people. The New Testament is the second part of the Christian Bible. Its name comes from the new covenant or relationship with God.
In Christian art, a sculpture or painting of the Virgin Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus.
The mother of Jesus. The Gospels state that Mary's pregnancy was brought about by the Holy Spirit and not through a human relationship; she is therefore known as the 'Virgin'.
Title (eventually used as name) given to Jesus, refering to an anointed person set apart for a special task such as a king.
Term applied to those who are not Christian, particularly followers of the classical religion of Greece and Rome and of the pre-Christian religions of Europe.
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