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April 15, 2007

Hail Cordelia, full of kindness

Zunder, "Shakespeare and the End of Feudalism..." -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

There is, in fact, a close intertextuality between this passage and the New Testament, which saw natural and civil disorder as a prelude to the end of the world…Cordelia complements the representation of feudal ideology embodied in Kent…She is what Shakespeare in a later play was to call ‘milk of human kindness.’

While reading this play, I really never gave thought to religious or biblical aspects in the play. After reading this article, I feel kind of stupid not noticing them. I started to think, and you can disagree with me or tell me if this is a stretch, about Cordelia as an image of the Virgin Mary. The other article we read mentioned her as a Christ-figure, but I started putting some things together and see her as a “Mary-figure.”

On top of her devotion to her father (Mary was clearly devoted to God) I looked at the King of France and saw a resemblance to Joseph. Joseph, technically, could have had Mary killed for getting pregnant from “another man” or at least chosen to not marry her and let her fend for herself. He didn’t, instead he chose to marry her and raise Jesus as his own. The King of France could have said, “You have no dowry, I don’t want to marry you,” and let her fend for herself. He didn’t, he chose to marry her.

What do you guys think? Do you see that at all? If you do, what do you think her death symbolizes?

MacKenzi offers a suggestion to this question in her blog.

Posted by CheraPupi at April 15, 2007 9:53 AM


Hallie, considering that Jewish law would have permitted Joseph to have Mary stoned, his action would likely have been seen by his contemporaries as very generous.

There is a long, long tradition in devotional artistic works that develops Mary's character -- in stories that were circulating in the first few centuries of the church but that, for one reason or another, didn't make it into the official Bible, and in painting and sculpture, poetry and song. But the issue of how influenced Shakespeare may have been by Catholic art is a long and complex one -- he was writing in England during a time when it was controlled by Protestants, but I have had Catholic friends who argued passionately that since both of Shakespeare's parents were known to be Catholic even during a time when Catholics in England were being persecuted for their faith, some of that Catholic identity must have rubbed off on him, regardless of what belief system Shakespeare himself practiced.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 15, 2007 8:54 PM

Hm. It seems like a bit of a stretch to me (no offense). The one flaw in this idea is that Joseph WAS going to abandon Marry (I think the bible puts a good spin on it by saying that he was going to send her away to save everyone embarrassment, but it's pretty much the same thing). For this two work, Lear (who we're saying is like God to her) would have had to show some kind of hint that he was doing this for her own good. I mean, I suppose you could take Lear as a God figure... but I wouldn't want to worship him.

I have to wonder if this Mary idea seems a little more prominent because the ideal girl in that age was supposed to be like the image of Mary (I can't see the girls were supposed to be a like Mary because we don't really know much about her personality). Anyway, like Mary they were supposed to be devout, giving, loving, and chaste (we don't see any physical or implied romance between Cordelia and France, so it works even though they're getting married.)

So... I don't know. I think I'd need a little more convincing on this one before I could really see it as plausible.

Posted by: HallieGeary at April 15, 2007 8:16 PM

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