Throughout the play, similarities are constantly drawn between Cordelia and Edgar, as the ‘good children.’ Goneril, Regan, and Edmund are compared to each other in regards to their corrupt nature. The ‘good’ children are both banished, in result somewhat of their siblings’ actions. Cordelia is outdone by Goneril and Regan’s false proclamation of their love for Lear, and Edmund tells his father that Edgar is setting a plot to kill Gloucester.
The corrupt nature is present in Goneril, Regan, and Edmund. It is all too coincidental that these three form a love triangle; “Yet Edmund was beloved. / The one the other poisoned for my sake, / and after slew herself” (5.3.238-240). The love between them resulted in their deaths, the typical “if I can’t have him, neither can you” mentality is clearly portrayed. The lack of remorse Edmund shows for either one of his lovers’ deaths proves once more his duality in character.
Contrary to the lack of love shown between the ‘bad children,’ Edgar expresses a genuine sorrow for the loss of life. He says, “The weight of this sad time we must obey … The oldest hath borne most; we that are young / shall never see so much” (5.3322-325). He acknowledges that they must remorse, and also notes the difference between the youngest and oldest in regards to the lengths of their lives. I think the allusion to the youngest living short lives is directed at Cordelia, in literal meaning. It also pities Edmund, his younger brother, who didn’t “see” the true meaning in life and was shortsighted in that regard. Yet Edgar and Cordelia are almost never in contact with each other. Would it not have been just a picture perfect play if Cordelia and Edgar at least shared a conversation, instead of their sibling’s rebellious plot? Not only are the ‘good’ children rarely in correspondence with each other, but they do not share similar fates. Cordelia suffers at the hand of Edmund. He says, “He hath commission from thy wife and me / to hang Cordelia in the prison,” (5.3.251-252). Cordelia’s body is brought out, just as her sisters’ bodies were, assimilating her death with that of her inherently bad sisters. Perhaps this is to show some type of ‘reunion’ between the three sisters. Probably not. I think it is to show that Cordelia should not be regarded as heroic; she died the same death as her sisters for failure to comply. In essence, she did not comply with Lear just as her sisters did not comply with his commands. She is portrayed as a disobedient child.
Goneril and Regan’s dead bodies were carried on stage by a servant, and Cordelia was carried in her father’s arms. The fool noted in the beginning of the play that Lear had made himself servant to his daughters (Goneril and Regan) when he abdicated the throne: “thou madest thy daughter thy mother” (1.4.149). In this scene, he is portrayed as the servant to Cordelia, perhaps illustrating his realization of the wrongs he has done. He should have been “serving” or abdicating the throne to Cordelia, his most loyal and loving child. Lear’s servitude towards Cordelia also shows that Cordelia had power, that she exerted some control over others, just as her sisters had done. Cordelia’s control over others (her presence controls the psychological stability of Lear) is present through love, not so much anger and violence like her sisters.
So Cordelia is shown to be of the same caliber as her sisters, and is separated from her fellow ‘good child’ in the last scene. Her redeeming qualities apparently don’t hold up for Shakespeare.