Shakespeare's King Lear - Suffering of Cordelia in King Lear

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The tragedy of Shakespeare’s King Lear is made far more tragic and painful by the presence and suffering of the king's youngest daughter, Cordelia. While our sympathy for the king is somewhat restrained by his brutal cruelty towards others, there is nothing to dampen our emotional response to Cordelia's suffering. Nothing, that is, at first glance. Harley Granville-Barker justifies her irreconcilable fate thus: "the tragic truth about life to the Shakespeare that wrote King Lear... includes its capricious cruelty. And what meeter sacrifice to this than Cordelia?"5 Yet in another passage Granville-Barker has come much closer to touching on the real explanation. I quote the passage at length.


It will be a fatal error to
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Desdemona inherited from her father a certain narrowness and rigidity of mental outlook and an inability to see how others are affected by her actions. Likewise Cordelia has inherited from her father, who is a far more powerful figure than Brabantio, a very limited mental outlook which expresses itself because of her goodness as doctrinaire idealism and an inflexible will functioning in accordance with those ideals.


As Granville-Barker has pointed out, Cordelia possesses the same pride and obstinacy we find in Lear, only her emotions are purer, more cultured and refined than his. We have already quoted Lear's response rejecting and cursing his best loved daughter. In eloping with Othello, Desdemona infuriated her father to the point where he refused to have her re-enter his home and died of grief shortly thereafter. Though her intention was never to hurt him it comes as a mortal blow. Desdemona is only following the promptings of her heart and mind. When Cordelia refuses to make public protestations of love to her father, she too is only following the promptings of her heart and mind. She would fain use her genuine affection for her father to win any worldly gain. The deeper emotions rebel at the very thought of public demonstration. To her the truest thing is not to speak, rather than flatter even by saying what is true. Lear is proud and vain. Cordelia refuses to
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