• Created by: Pip Dan
  • Created on: 20-09-17 16:31

Cordelia is the youngest of Lear's daughters and despite her little time on stage she is a very important character in trying to undo what her sisters have done and, it is argued, setting of the either action of the play itself. Her 'nothing' is the lynchpin on which the rest of the play depends and as such she is a complex character.


Like Edgar, traditionally the character of Cordelia was idealised. She was seen as redemptive and often religious figure who counter balances that of her sister's evil qualities. Whilst the character is not so often generalised today, there are still many productions which focus on her as a heroine:

  • Cordelia is the first character to use an aside. Her 'what shall Cordelia speak' makes a direct link with the audience in order to gain their sympathy. She suggests defiance as she considers whether she will go against her father, who could be seen as very demanding.
  • When contrasted with the hyperbolic speeches of her sisters Cordelia's integrity is easily recommendable. She chooses honesty and exhibits virtuous behaviour, Cordelia could be seen as an embodiment or symbolic of honesty in a play where so many of the characters lie and use disguises. Furthermore, during the first scene Cordelia several directors have chosen for here to be wearing a white dress which symbolises her purity and innocence. Shakespeare deliberately contrasts her speech with that of her sisters to show the differences in their behaviour. Although she is often blamed for not agreeing to praising her father, Cordelia is arguably not responsible for Lear's actions and she does explicitly tell him that she does love him but that she just can't explain it.
    • A Jacobean audience might sympathise with her position. Unlike her sisters, she understands that she must also love and respect her husband which was a requirement at the time, when marriage was the a respected norm and the importance of obedience as a wife as well as as a daughter was stressed. However, equally so the audience could criticise her lack of filial duty as she does obey her father (and King). These contrasting social views that a Jacobean audience could put on Cordelia suggests that Shakespeare always wanted her character to be one be open to debate.
    • Her action might also be seen as a political. Within the domestic sphere she is refusing her father but Cordelia is also making a political point in front of court. In the Sam Mendes production she is portrayed as a character who is challenge a totalitarian regime, showing the very public nature of Cordelia character. However, it could be argued that she is just very naïve. The audience know that she did not approach the love-test with a preformed plan and thus it could just be argued that Cordelia's 'nothing' was a mistake. This could impact negatively on her character as a foolish girl but equally so, given the young age at which people married, Cordelia could be seen


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