Shady Business

When I read the first act of King Lear, I automatically sided with Cordelia. Her sisters just didn’t seem very genuine in their words; they seemed greedy, like they were using eloquent words to express a love that was only present due to a strong desire for wealth. Cordelia seems most genuine of the sisters, mostly because she is internally conflicted about what she will say to express how much she loves her father (which is demonstrated in her “aside” comments to herself).

Reading back again, now, I see that Cordelia saying simply “nothing” is kind of abrupt when not paired with the knowledge the reader has (which the King does not) of her personal thoughts and worries. However, when she continues to say: “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth” (1.1.93-4), I feel that this accurately portrays her deep and honest love for her father. The aggressive language of “heaving” a vital organ, something that keeps her entire body in motion, something that was created in part by her father, into her mouth just to exhibit how she feels, is so powerful. And it seems as if she is also saying that even that will not suffice; it is not possible, and therefore she cannot say anything to match it. Maybe “nothing” can mean “everything” because there is an absence of the possibility of description. Am I making sense here? It’s like how sometimes a photograph can hold a thousand words, although it doesn’t actually say a thing. So, although I feel as if Cordelia is saying a world of wonderful things in the word “nothing”, her father is seeing a world of betrayal, ignorance, and discourtesy.

It is ironic that Goneril says she loves her father “Beyond what can be valued”, because she is speaking in order to compete with her sisters to get a chunk of land (which is, you guessed it, VALUABLE). She fittingly inherits land that is rich in “shadowy forests”, which was a personal laugh-out-loud moment for me because I think she is a shady person.

Regan is very dramatic in her description, saying that she feels no other joy other than the love of King Lear (for which she is rightfully called out by Cordelia – because she has a husband). It was slightly ironic that she had said that she felt the same as Goneril, but that Goneril’s remarks fell short of her own feelings, because when the King gives her the inheritance, he specifies that she will receive “No less in space, validity, and pleasure / Than that conferred on Goneril” (1.1.83-4). It is ironic because he is giving her an inheritance, but it seems as though he senses her tom foolery (for lack of a better term) by strategically placing the word “validity”. Or maybe it’s simply fatherly, and he is mediating. Like, “I will give you this land, but it is no more or less valid than your sister’s, just as her love is no more or less valid. Play nice, girls”. So she also gets shadowy forests. Hmm. This makes me wonder if Cordelia would have gotten the nice, sunny and fertile third of the land if she hadn’t been disowned (or if she would have gotten the exact same and that I’m simply reading too far into the word ‘shadowy’ because I don’t like the other two sisters). I guess we’ll find out …


2 thoughts on “Shady Business

  1. cassieerossetti

    I definitely agree with you, I don’t see Cordelia’s response as bratty but rather like she was saying “there are no words”. I think it is rather brave of her to stand there and not try to compete with her, very very greedy, sisters.

  2. pamsutherland

    I think that Cordelia is being bratty. She is in shock that her father doesn’t know how each of his daughters feels and is willing to go by their word alone. By saying “nothing” she refuses to answer on principal because it is unbelievable to her that he doesn’t already know how they feel. She feels shocked and betrayed that her father could be so shallow and gullible and she deals with these emotions by giving her father an attitude.


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