The Power of Silence

King Lear is nearing the end of his life and would like to divide up his fortunes among his three daughters. Although uncommon to leave property to women in this time period, King Lear decides to have his daughters confess their love for him and in return, be rewarded with fortunes. The first two daughters respond graciously and tell their kingly father they love him dearly and happily receive their share of the fortune. When it is Cordelia responds she says “What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent” (I.i 62). She says this as an aside and her father does not hear this, only hears her silence. Because Cordelia remains silent, her father banishes and disowns her completely. As a reader of the play, It is easy to wonder whether Cordelia’s decision to remain true to herself and individualistic instead of just telling her father what he wanted to hear. On the contrast, Regan and Goneril profess their love for their father and end up kicking him out of their homes, stripping him of his men and shelter. By the end of the play, Cordelia ends up forgiving her father for disowning her. 

If Cordeila can be so forgiving, why can’t she just tell her father she loves him? One standpoint could argue that she is too principled in her individuality to give into something so fake. Cordeila could believe that words cannot match up with expressing human emotion and therefore will not play into Lear’s game. Cordeila could also possess traits of stubbornness and just because she is asked of something, she does not want to do it. King Lear has a stubborn personality and it could have been passed to Cordeila. Another analysis could be Shakespeare creating a revolutionary character. In other words, Cordeila is a character that produces controversy in the play and has atypical personality traits for a woman in this time period. Women are suppose to obey men, especially one’s father and their husband. It was already unusual for King Lear to give away his fortunes to his daughters and now Cordeila possess unusual traits for a lady. 

Cordeila uses the power of silence to stay true to her character, whether it is gender acceptable for her to be and whether it’s rude or polite. Even when her father banishes her, she still continued to be there for him, shelter him and forgive him in a time of need. What does Cordeila’s silence really mean? She disappears throughout the whole middle of the play and when she returns, Lear barely recognizes her. Cordeila did not want to use words to convey love to her father, she used actions to profess it. His other two daughters played the game correctly, confessing their love, but when it came down for action, they did not perform the way Cordeila did. Cordeila demonstrated love for her father when he was in need. Is it true that actions speak louder than words? 


2 thoughts on “The Power of Silence

  1. ShaynaGreenspan

    You bring up a very good question of why can’t Cordelia tell King Lear (her father) that she loves him if she is so forgiving of him disowning her. I do think that she is expressing her individuality, in the fact that she doesn’t feel the need to say what everyone else says just to fit in (such as her sisters.) However, I never thought of the other standpoint you brought up that she is stubborn just like her father. Cordelia does exude stubbornness, but I think that her reasoning for not telling her father how much she loves him goes deeper than just being stubborn. I think Cordelia sees into her father’s ways and does not want to stoop to his level of selfishness. By Cordelia flattering her father and saying how much she loves him, just to get something for herself (his estate, money, etc.) she would be acting just like her father and playing people in order to gain “things.” I think Cordelia seems to be one of the most intelligent characters because she stands for what she thinks is right, regardless to what she gets or doesn’t get in return.

  2. lauriegrl14

    That’s a good question you pose Amanda, “Why can’t Cordelia just tell her father she loves him?” She clearly upholds higher moral values compared to her two older sisters. I would argue that she is “too principled in her individuality” to give into the falseness that her sisters pose towards their father. One of my favorite lines in this play may hold evidence to the above argument found in Act I, Scene I, Line 281…Cordelia says, “Time shall unfold what pleated cunning hides: Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.” Cordelia proved she had nothing to hide. She was a proud woman who proved her love for her father through the actions and her kind act of forgiveness.


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