King Lear

The Ambiguous Tragedy of Cordelia's Death in King Lear College

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the titular ruler undergoes multiple trials in his wish to pass the kingdom on to his three daughters and their betrotheds. After the disownment and banishment of his youngest daughter Cordelia, Lear’s elder daughters Goneril and Regan soon begin attempting to overthrow their father and usurp his power. In the midst of this unfolding plot, Lear’s debilitating mental illness brings his mind spiraling further and further into madness. In the latter half of the play, a brief scene of reconciliation between Lear and Cordelia seems to bring the king to a more clear-minded state. However, Cordelia is then sent to her death by hanging soon after, and Lear fails to save her. Thus, during the play’s dramatic conclusion, Lear dies not as a mad king but a heartbroken father, howling with Cordelia’s body in his arms.

Across the four selected historical copies of King Lear—the Quarto (1608), the First Folio (1623), the Fourth Folio (1685), and the Works Pope version (1725)—the passage following Lear’s entrance with Cordelia’s corpse in 5.3 undergoes several minor adjustments. While the content of Lear’s short proclamation has remained mostly the same, there are noticeable variations in spelling, arrangement, and...

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