high weir

July 3, 2006

“Why does Cordelia die?”

Filed under: Readings — jstreed1476 @ 1:06 am

This question is from A.C. Bradley’s essay on Lear, which I have in a collection of his criticism that I promised to send to Sean and found tucked away on a shelf just today. I dipped into it a bit before packing it up for a little trip :-)

Here’s a little more of that piece:

I suppose no reader ever failed to ask that question, and to ask it with something more than pain–to ask it, if only for a moment, in bewilderment or dismay, and even perhaps in tones of protest. These feelings are probably evoked more strongly here than at the death of any other notable character in Shakespeare; and it may sound a willful paradox to assert that the slightest element of reconciliation is mingled with them or succeeds them. . . .

Now this destruction of the good through the evil of others is one of the tragic facts of life, and no one can object to the use of it, within certain limits, in tragic art. And, further, those who because of it declaim against the nature of things, declaim without thinking. It is obviously the other side of the fact that the effects of good spread far and wide beyond the doer of the good; and we should ask ourselves whether we really could wish (supposing it conceivable) to see this double-sided fact abolished.

Enter Lear with Cordelia in his arms is one of the really shattering stage directions. “This feather stirs, she lives!” is a terrible moment. More such follow:

Cordelia, Cordelia, stay a little. Ha!

What is’t thou say’st? Her voice was ever soft,

Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman.

I kill’d the slave that was a-hanging thee.

And, in the end, that strange, amazing turn where, as Bradley says, “bodily oppression ask[s] for bodily relief”:

. . . Thou’lt come no more,

Never, never, never, never, never.

Pray you undo this button. Thank you, sir.

Lear, the man.

1 Comment »

  1. a truly sad scene in a sad play.

    i don’t have the heart for tragedy much anymore, though i really must get around to reading Macbeth.

    Comment by Sean — July 8, 2006 @ 2:01 pm

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