The first scene of the play “King Lear” by the great Shakespeare presents the principal conflict that further moves the action. In particular, the old king seeks the proofs of love from his three daughters and promises to bestow kingdom on them according to their claims of affection. While two elder daughters satisfy the folly of the king’s arrogance and dark desires, their motives being gaining profit, the youngest daughter honestly and justly tells the truth. From these first conversations, the reader gets an opportunity to behold Cordelia’s dignity and grace as well as honesty and courage.
Although many critics may say that the character of Cordelia is simply an uninteresting, typical “good” girl, close examination of the play reveals that there is much more than that in her harmonious personality. In terms of Freudian psychoanalysis, her ego demonstrates a high-level functioning and suppresses the vicious cravings of the id, which could conflict with the superego. Cordelia is the embodiment of justice, morality, and sincerity, for which alone the person must be brave as much courage is needed to remain true to one’s inner being and demonstrate integrity even in the face of punishment.
While other daughters flatter for the sake of riches and throne, Cordelia remains true to her ideals of justice and honesty. She acknowledges her affection to the father as far as the bond implies but directly states that her husband will receive considerable part of her love. The girl is not afraid to claim straightforwardly what she believes to be true although her father accepts her sincerity and plainness as pride and ungratefulness. In contrast, Kent sees the insincerity of others and the honesty of Cordelia. Like the loyal daughter, Kent prefers honest speaking since he believes sincere words can save and help Lear while pleasant flatteries will do him nothing but the harm. He preferred to tell the truth and “remain the true blank of thine eye”.
Interestingly, Cordelia speaks to the father about the relationship between words and deeds that is an important topic raised in the play. In particular, she draws his attention to the fact that she deserved such banishment not by “vicious blot, murder, or foulness . . . or dishonored step,” but merely by the refusal to use the “glib and oily art” of the pleasant tongue. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the play, the king is so blinded by his ardent passion and desire to get immediate proof of the daughter’s boundless love that he does not hear the rational arguments of Cordelia, Kent, and France.
Unlike her father, the girl sees and properly interprets the words and thoughts of others, their genuine intentions. For instance, when Burgundy refused to marry her after disgrace, she realized at once the true nature of his love and claimed without hesitation that “respects of fortune are his love”. In contrast, France even more valued the girl after she was banished and cast away; he got more respect to her virtues and considered Cordelia “precious maid” and “queen of us, of ours, and our fair France”.
In her addressing the sisters, one can also spot the supreme capacity to see deep into the thoughts and intentions of the people, even hidden under deceptive cover. Thus, Cordelia pleads them “to use well our father,” by which expression, obviously, she implies that they hide what they really are in order to gain profit. Further, Cordelia is sure that “time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides”. In addition, though Cordelia calls them “jewels of our father,” she then acknowledges, “I would prefer him to a better place”. All in all, Shakespeare constantly emphasizes the contrast between speaking and doing, between open intentions and insincere claims of love. Furthermore, the great poet is sure that it is only the question of time for evil desires and passions to come to light.
Consistent with her image of the forgiving, grateful daughter who does not remember evil, but only cherishes respect and sympathy to the old, suffering father, Cordelia perceived the news about his grief with deep compassion. She was in France, living peacefully with a tender, powerful husband, when the sisters banished Lear and left him to the mercy of the destiny. When Kent asked a gentleman about her reaction to the letters informing of Lear’s misfortunes, the latter described such a scene:
Ay, sir; she took them, read them in my presence;
And now and then an ample tear trill'd down
Her delicate cheek: it seem'd she was a queen
Over her passion; who, most rebel-like,
Sought to be king o'er her.
In such a way, Kent realized that he did not mistake her loving and sincere nature as well as her devoted attitude to the father. Shakespeare once more points to her godlike character, void of destructive passions, in the characterization given by the gentleman. That man saw her for the first time in life and noticed that she was godliest even in sorrow, like “sunshine and rain at once,” and he compared her tears to “pearls from diamonds”. In other words, Cordelia was perfection even in grief as she demonstrated not rage, but patience, a sign of perfect control of passions. Shakespeare calls her tears “guests,” and “holy water from her heavenly eyes”. Besides, in this passage, the reader learns that Lear has regretted his cruel treatment of the youngest daughter; he has realized at last the shame of his unkindness to the single loyal child.
In 4.7., when Cordelia takes care of her mad, distorted father and thanks the doctor and Kent for helping him, it is easy to note how tender and caring she is. It is clear why Kent calls her with delight “kind and dear princess”. Shakespeare sensitively describes her feelings of pity and compassion towards “poor, dear father,” whom she wishes with all her heart to cure with her tender kiss and “repair those violent harms” inflicted by the sisters. In this passage, there is one more proof of the great influence of Cordelia’s kind and noble character. Specifically, when Lear heard her voice and saw his daughter, he was insane and did not recognize anyone. However, Lear managed to return to his mind and regained the memory once he saw his beloved, innocent daughter. She begged his forgiveness because the king realized his blame and acknowledged that Cordelia had “some cause” not to love him. However, the perfectly humane personality of the girl once again expressed itself in the words, “no cause, no cause,” which imply that she did not nurse any grievance; she understood the king and pitied him. This supreme capacity to forgive is almost equal to that of Jesus Christ himself, the embodiment of virtue.
Finally, in the concluding passage of the play, Shakespeare poetically describes the end of the most honorable character, the light of her father’s eyes, the youngest and most beloved daughter. Even on the prospect of imprisonment, the king rejoiced because he was ready to sing like birds in the cage together with the tender daughter. He wanted nothing else but Cordelia’s forgiveness, and “pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh…” – everything with her.
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Roy Schafer, from the medical and psychological viewpoint, admits the higher-level ego-functioning displayed in the character of Cordelia. In spite of her father’s abuse, she demonstrated the utmost capacity for genuine forgiveness, the ideal rarely reached in human relationships. By close analyzing the lines of the play, Schafer demonstrates Cordelia’s extraordinary capacities for understanding human vices and weaknesses without judgment or rage. The author claims that Shakespeare chose the words “nothing” and “no cause, no cause” said to her father as the symbol of her deep empathy and highly developed personality. In such a way, she understood the complexity of Lear’s motives for wrath and abuse; therefore, she did not seek revenge. According to Schafer, Shakespeare created the picture of Cordelia’s strong and reserved character. She was such a strong and highly accomplished personality that was able “to transcend issues of guilt, punishment, and forgiveness in relation to a father who had been dangerously hurtful”. Overall, the theorist emphasizes that the opinions of some critics who state that Cordelia’s character is simple and uninteresting fall flat in the face of a profound textual analysis of the text.
Throughout the whole text of the play, Shakespeare builds the character of Lear youngest daughter as the model of a complex, highly developed personality. In this regard, the author poses himself as a good psychologist, whose characters can be productive examples for psychoanalytic examination. Along with many individuals whose personalities are torn by vices of the id, Cordelia exemplifies a well-functioning ego, which corresponds to the moral ideals of the superego. She rules her behavior by the values of honesty, integrity, and deep affection for the father who grew her since childhood. Based on the analysis of her words, deeds, and characteristics given by other characters, the paper attempted to present evidence to the afore-mentioned claims concerning the figure of Cordelia.