The Role of Cordelia in King Lear

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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 and sparks action in the play. Her actions at the start of the play provide us with an explosive opening and create much suspense. Her behaviour prompts Lear’s stupidity and subsequent action. Her refusal to “heave her heart into her mouth” causes Lear to banish her and he ends up at the mercy of his two evil daughters. If Cordelia had not spoken as she did, Lear would never have embarked on his journey of rediscovery. Her scenes with Lear in Act IV provide much poignancy and show the reader how much Lear has changed.

She acts as a perfect foil for her evil sisters, Goneril and Regan. Her reaction to them at the start of the play leaves the audience interested but suspicious.
Her words “nothing, my lord” and Lear’s actions arising from them trigger the theme of “nothingness” in the play. She also brings the theme of “appearance versus reality” to the forefront.
She personifies true love in the play. Words can eloquently describe love but they do not express it. Only behaviour expresses it. She forgives her father and strives to look after him despite his betrayal of her. She honours her filial duty within the play.

Both she and Edgar are needed in the play to represent good. If they were not present in...
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