King Lear

1) Cordelia's angelic role

2)Gloucester's wrong judgements and repentance.

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1)The Character of Cordelia in King Lear�

Cordelia is the epitome of goodness in Shakespeare�s King Lear.� "What shall Cordelia speak?/ Love, and be silent" (I.i.63-64). These words echo a reminiscent time when loyalty to the king and one's father was paramount. King Lear, Cordelia's father, planned on dividing his land among his three daughters, but for a price, the price of their love. While her sisters exaggerated their love for their father to win the "prize," Cordelia stayed true to herself and her loyalty to Lear by not making a mockery out of her feelings for him and playing it cool. She was also not characterized by her openness of her feelings. She was a quiet girl who kept emotions locked inside. Even so, Lear got angry at her response and disowned her. Why such a brutal attack on his daughter? Cordelia is known to be Lear's favorite and he had hoped that he could give her the largest piece of land so he could reside on it with her, but the plan failed. Overall, the King's decision lead him and his daughter to their tragic downfall.

With all the swarms of evil residing in this play, Cordelia is the epitome of goodness. She is loving, virtuous, and forgiving. She also demonstrates law and order in that she was a devoted daughter and had great respect for her father and his position. Her goodness is highlighted in Act IV, Scene VII, when she is at Lear's side and he slowly awakes and thinks of her as an angel. He asks the "angel" for Cordelia to forgive him, but according to Cordelia, there is no need to do so.

Cordelia, though, is a tragic character, for her kindness and her staying in the boundaries of the social norms of the Elizabethan age, ironically turned out to be her tragic downfall. Many people have been quite moved and bemused by her death, many of which deemed it as injustice. Samuel Johnson had said:

"Shakespeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice, to the hope of the reader, and , what is yet more strange, to the faith of the chronicles . . . A play in which the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry . . . the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue."

What exactly was Cordelia's role in the play? Was she there as an angel - like character who made the distinction between good and evil more visible? Was she just thrown in as a little goody- goody who did no wrong, and maybe, to some degree, we were supposed to despise? Or was she there to make us more aware of a crumbling society where many things were opposite to what one might think it should be, with evil generally prevailing over the good (which to some degree is prophetic to today's society)? There are many theories surrounding this character in particular, and no one has reached a definitive conclusion as of late. The best one I can come up with, however, is simply the answer "Yes," to all of the above.


2)Besides moving the physical action of the play along, these scenes forward the play’s psychological action. The strange, marvelous scene of Gloucester’s supposed fall over the nonexistent cliffs of Dover, Lear’s mad speeches to Gloucester and Edgar in the wilderness, and the redemptive reconciliation between Cordelia and her not-quite-sane father all set the stage for the resolution of the play’s emotional movement in Act 5.

The psychological motivations behind Gloucester’s attempted suicide and Edgar’s manipulation of it are complicated and ambiguous. Gloucester’s death wish, which reflects his own despair at the cruel, uncaring universe—and perhaps the play’s despair as well—would surely have been troubling to the self-consciously Christian society of Renaissance England. Shakespeare gets around much of the problem by setting King Lear in a pagan past; despite the fact that the play is full of Christian symbols and allusions, its characters pray only to the gods and never to the Christian God.

Clearly, Edgar wants his father to live. He refuses to share in Gloucester’s despair and still seeks a just and happy resolution to the events of the play. In letting Gloucester think that he has attempted suicide, Edgar manipulates Gloucester’s understanding of divine will: he says to Gloucester after the latter’s supposed fall and rebirth, “Thy life’s a miracle. . . . / . . . / The clearest gods . . . / . . . have preserved thee” (4.6.55, 73–74). Edgar not only stops Gloucester’s suicidal thoughts but also shocks him into a rebirth. He tells his father that he should “bear free and patient thoughts”: his life has been given back to him and he should take better care of it from now on (4.6.80).

In these scenes, King Lear’s madness brings forth some of his strangest and most interesting speeches. As Edgar notes, Lear’s apparent ramblings are “matter and impertinency mixed! / Reason in madness!” (4.6.168–169). This description is similar to Polonius’s muttering behind Hamlet’s back in Hamlet: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (Hamlet, 2.2.203–204). Some of Lear’s rambling does indeed seem to be meaningless babble, as when he talks about mice, cheese, and giants. But Lear swiftly moves on to talk of more relevant things. He finally understands that his older daughters, in Act 1, scene 1, and before, were sweet-talking him: “They flattered me like a dog. . . . To say ‘aye’ and ‘no’ to everything that I said!” (4.6.95–98).

Lear has realized, despite what flatterers have told him and he has believed, that he is as vulnerable to the forces of nature as any human being. He cannot command the rain and thunder and is not immune to colds and fever (the “ague” of 4.6.103). Just as, during the storm, he recognizes that beneath each man’s clothing is “a poor, bare, forked animal” (3.4.99–100), Lear now understands that no amount of flattery and praise can make a king different from anyone else: “Through tattered clothes small vices do appear; / Robes and furred gowns hide all” (4.6.158–159).

Armed with this knowledge, Lear can finally reunite with Cordelia and express his newfound humility and beg repentance. “I am a very foolish fond old man” (4.7.61), he tells her sadly, and he admits that she has “some cause” to hate him (4.7.76). Cordelia’s moving response (“No cause, no, cause”) seals their reconciliation (4.7.77). Love and forgiveness, embodied in Lear’s best daughter, join with humility and repentance, and, for a brief time, happiness prevails. But the forces that Lear’s initial error unleashed—Goneril, Regan, and Edmund, with all their ambition and appetite for destruction—remain at large. We thus turn from happy reconciliation to conflict, as Cordelia leads her troops against the evil that her father’s folly has set loose in Britain