Essay, Research Paper: King Lear And Cordelia Death

Shakespeare: King Lear

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King Lear is a tragedy unlike any other written by William Shakespeare. It
focuses on the psychological downfall of a powerful King. It proves that as long
as a nation has a king on the throne all is well, but as soon as a king steps
off the throne nothing but chaos transpires. The downfall of the king results in
the downfall of the kingdom. More importantly, it focuses on the relationship
between parent and child. This is proven in two plots with the most important
being the relationship between Cordelia and King Lear. Lear goes through a
period of great mental instability in which he gives up his throne, gives up his
daughter Cordelia, and also gives up his sanity. When this happens all hell
breaks loose among the characters, and the evil persona Edmund takes control of
the plot. In most cases love is thought to shine through all evil, however it is
not the case in King Lear. Cordelia must die to illustrate that good does not
always conquer evil, and this is shown no matter how painful it may be for the
audience. This is stated in an essay by Northrop Frye called King Lear who says
that this reflects "the principle that the evil men do lives after
them" (148) no matter what good may try to do to defeat it. Cordelia is the
epitome of a true person. Unlike her sisters, she is sweet, honest, loving, and
good. From the start Cordelia speaks the truth even though it hurts her father's
feelings, and sends him spinning into an eventual rejection of her. Her sisters
Goneril and Regan are hypocritic wenches who profess their undying love for Lear
without an ounce of truth to back it up. Cordelia tries to show this to her
father, but he is completely blind to it, and cannot see that Cordelia loves him
the best of all three of his daughters. When Lear asks Cordelia how much she
loves him she simply replies "I love your Majesty/According to my bond, no
more nor less"; (Act 1, Scene1, 94-5) plainly she loves him as much as a
daughter should love her father without over or understepping her bounds. The
reader instantly takes a liking to Cordelia for her truthfulness, and feels
nothing but sorrow for her when Lear disowns her because of what seems to be a
redeeming quality. Cordelia never loses her love for her father even after he
has disowned her, and this is yet another reason it is so hard to see her die.
Lear's downfall begins when he gives up his kingdom to his daughters. He is no
longer the ruler of the kingdom, and has no real authority left. When he breaks
his crown, the powers of evil burst through and take over everything virtuous
they come across. Evil is directly connected to the downfall of the kingdom.
This can be compared to a wheel rolling down a hill; when the wheel of evil
starts rolling it gains momentum crushing everything in its path until it
reaches the bottom. Nothing is spared, and nothing can stop it. Cordelia is not
spared, and love can not stop it. Lear does not begin to regain his sanity until
he overcomes his blindness towards his daughters. Even after he finds out that
Regan and Goneril only used him for his land and title, Lear does not blame
himself for falling into their trap. He still puts the blame on everybody else
saying "I am a man/ More sinned against than sinning" (Act 3, Scene 2,
58-9). He does not realize that he cannot start healing until he takes
responsibility for his own actions. One reason that for Cordelia's death is to
punish Lear for thinking that Cordelia did not love him. It takes Lear a very
long time to realize that his two seemingly precious daughters have swindled
him, and it is this long time period that allows evil to penetrate into all the
characters including the faultless Cordelia. By the time Lear regains his sight
and sees Regan and Goneril as "a disease that's in [his] flesh" (Act
2, Scene 4, 221) the worst has already been done, and there is no way that
anything can change what has come to pass. His blindness in the end costs him
all three of his daughters, Cordelia being the most moving of all for the
audience. Lear and Cordelia are finally reconciled late in the play, and as
Simon O. Lesser states in a work titled Act One, Scene One, of Lear "their
love-reappears in its original intensity, if not in heightened intensity"
(171) which leads the reader to believe that the world will end up as it should
be. As the play continues the notion of love being a healing redemptive force is
quickly shattered. One reason that Cordelia's death so painful is this reuniting
of father and daughter where Lear seems to be perfectly sane and at peace. When
he and Cordelia are being taken to jail he tells her to go with him, and to have
no fear. He tells her that they will "live,/And pray, and sing, and tell
old tales, and laugh" (Act5, Scene 3, 11-2) because no matter where they
are, as long as they are together they shall be happy. Now that Lear has
regained sanity, and once again found love for Cordelia it seems the pain and
destruction will end. This cannot happen though, because Lear is no longer the
king of the country, and as there is not yet a king the world has not yet been
restored to its rightful place. The final blow from evil's wretched hand comes
with the sentencing of Lear and Cordelia. The head of all the disaster Edmund,
sentenced Lear and Cordelia to be hung while he was acting as King. When he is
finally defeated all the attention is focused on his collapse, and Lear and
Cordelia's impending dooms are all but forgotten. When finally they are
remembered Edmund renounces the sentencing, and it seems as though their lives
will be spared. But it is too late; Cordelia has already vanished from existence
at the end of a noose. It is dreadful to imagine Lear's reaction to this as he
cries "Howl, howl, howl, howl,! O, you are men/of stones:" (Act 5,
Scene 3, 258-9) as he has again lost his dear daughter. It proves what no one
wants to believe, that "this destruction of the good through the evil of
others is one of the tragic facts of life" (212) as stated in an essay
titled King Lear by A.C. Bradley. Love as a redemptive quality in King Lear is
nonexistent. On the surface it seems utterly needless for Cordelia to die. She
does nothing wrong or evil to deserve such a horrible fate. Once Lear overcomes
his blindness and can see again it is too late to stop Cordelia's death. The
evil has been given too much time to take over and conquer, and even finds its
way to the most innocent of all characters. The wrath of evil can be shown in no
better way than in the destruction of Cordelia "an innocent victim swept
away in the convulsion caused by the error or guilt of others" (Bradley,
212) which is a heart wrenching end to a tragic play. As painful as it is for
the audience to read of Cordelia's death it completes the cycle of the wheel
barreling down the hill. It does not stop unil it reaches the bottom, and
unfortunately at the bottom is the helpless Cordelia who cannot get out of the
way to be saved from the hand of evil.
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