Archive for February, 2007

Cordelia

Writing an assignment on King Lear and Oedipus at Colonus, I find I have many bones to pick with Cordelia. She is supposed to be intelligent, kind, and modern enough to speak her mind in full court without worrying about such minor things as offending the king. Plus she gives every indication of knowing (or guessing) exactly what her sisters are up to (unless she just has a fine sense of the dramatic and was just doing the verbal equivalent of turning on her heel and stalking out in style and the rest was just ironic foreshadowing.) Under the circumstances, to walk blithely off to France and not even leave a flunky (she was a princess, remember? And she was going to marry a king. She probably had a surfeit of flunkies.) to keep an eye on her clearly semi-senile father was foolish. And to say that she was deeply hurt and offended by her father’s behaviour doesn’t explain her utter neglect. Goneril and Regan ill-treated their father, but Cordelia just plain neglected him.

Righteous indignation is all very well, but this was important. It concerned her own father. And an entire country, dammit.

And then having left in a huff to enjoy her high moral ground, to stomp back into the country at the head of an invading army (It was a French army she was leading into English territory. From a meta-point-of-view there is no way in hell Shakespeare could let her win the battle. He would’ve been lynched.) to rescue him is pure folly. I am beginning to have grave suspicions of Cordelia’s good intentions. At every point she could’ve acted to halt the damage her actions only made things worse. If your father tries to make an ass of you in court, you might at least learn the lesson from it not to make him look a complete ass in the same court. But no. She can’t just humour a senile old man; she won’t tell a little white lie and then talk it over with him later, in private – where the whole discussion really ought to have taken place. She has to blunder into England at the head of the army of its traditional enemies (What was she doing? Trying to hasten the Norman Conquest?). She practically forced a war onto a country that was already reeling from civil strife. Make no mistake, to a lot of the people she was a traitor – their erstwhile princess attacking them at the head of the French armies? This was the worst behaviour this side of Coriolanus. Of course she was going to be lynched.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

For a girl who had grown up with Goneril and Regan (who probably played Machiavelli instead of hide and seek) she had no conception of subtlety, none of cautiousness.

Ok, you live in a horrible world and want to sail far far away. But having taken a ship to France, why didn’t she have the sense to stay there? She was a queen. I refuse to believe she couldn’t put together a neat, agile group of horsemen. She had already chosen to abandon her father to the tender mercies of Goneril and Regan – and as far as she knew, he didn’t even have Kent. Of course she feels guilty, but surely a missing old man is an event for quick, stealthy action, not an invasion. (In the Kurosawa film the Cordelia figure does just that. It is tragic that his well-meaning father-in-law follows him with a giant army, precipitating the war) Twenty people who know the land and have swift horses are called for, not a mob of hungry noisy people. An armed mob of hungry noisy people.

I am so disgusted.

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February 25, 2007 at 5:57 pm 1 comment


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