The Role of Cordelia in King Lear Essay

980 Words Dec 12th, 2010 4 Pages
Although Cordelia appears in Act I, Scene I and disappears until Act IV, she has an enormous impact on the play as a whole. It is generally acknowledged that the role played by Cordelia in King Lear is a symbolic one. She is a symbol of good amidst the evil characters within the play. Since the play is about values which have been corrupted and must be restored, it is not surprising that the figure who directs the action must be embodiment of those values which are in jeopardy – love, truth, pity, honour, courage and forgiveness. Cordelia’s reply does not initiate the tragedy; Lear’s misguided question does that. Her “nothing” sets her father’s tragic journey in motion. There is nothing wrong with her remarks.
Cordelia is a catalyst
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He admires her personal qualities and it is for those that he wants to marry her. Cordelia’s role in the play here is to highlight how shallow Burgundy is and how he only wanted her for her land and status. She represents goodness, love and bravery in this scene. When she is unjustly treated by her father, Cordelia does not hurt or condemn either Lear or her sisters but gently forgives her father.
“The jewels of our father, with wash’d eyes
Cordelia leaves you: I know you what you are.
...Use well our father.”
She also represents forgiveness in the play. In Act IV, celestial language is used to capture the lyrical and spiritual nature of her forgiveness.
“There she shook...
The Holy water from her heavenly eyes...”
Absolute love includes absolute forgiveness. When she says she “has no cause” to hate Lear, she is right.
Cordelia is not proud or obstinate – she is, like the Fool, a hostage to truth. In everything she says she reinforces this. She points out that she is glad not to have a tongue like her sisters, implying that in her, speech is of a different kind.
If Cordelia’s purpose was to enlighten Lear and expose the corruption of the court, her task is accomplished by the end of the play. The only outlet then is through her death. Her death adds to the tragedy of the play. Though Cordelia dies, her cause and truth do not. In carrying her corpse, Lear emits an animal cry of anguish

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