The Weight of “Nothing” in King Lear by William Shakespeare

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The Weight of “Nothing” in King Lear Though the word “nothing” connotes insignificance and emptiness when taken out of context, it feels like one of the most significant and loaded words in King Lear. This one word becomes a critical tool to help us reflect on the development of characters and their relationships to one another throughout the play. The word “nothing” appears to play a crucial role in defining the relationship between Lear and Cordelia, and consequently has an immense impact on the fate and transformation of Lear. “Nothing” also helps draw a parallel between Lear and Edgar, and is used by the Fool as more than just a means to inject cryptic wit. Because the word “nothing” seems central to the play’s conflicts and, as a result, permeates the plot and development of characters, this response will draw out the word’s significance by examining some instances in which it appears in each act. Our first significant encounter with “nothing” happens when Lear says to Cordelia, “Strive to be interest. What can you say, to draw / A third more opulent than your sisters’? Speak” (I.i.85) and Cordelia responds, “Nothing my lord” (I.i.87). Lear repeats, “Nothing?” and Cordelia confirms, “Nothing,” to which Lear responds, “Nothing will come of nothing; speak again” (I.i.88-90). When Lear says “Nothing will come of nothing,” he is essentially determining that Cordelia will not receive anything from him if her response does not change; but it seems that what Cordelia means

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