Finishing Up King Lear

On our last day discussing King Lear, we focus on Cordelia.

First, we think about her resonance as a Christ-figure.

Theme/King Lear and Christianity: From the following lines, what is Cordelia’s purpose in the play?


‘Tis known before; our preparation stands

In expectation of them. O dear father,

It is thy business that I go about… (4.4.23-25)


A sight most pitiful in the meanest wretch,

Past speaking of in a king! Thou hast one daughter,

Who redeems nature from the general curse

Which twain have brought her to. (4.6.201-204)

King Lear
Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like moulten lead. (4.7.46-48)


We are not the first

Who, with best meaning, have incurr’d the worst.

For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down…(5.3.3-5)


I then have students respond to a quotation from Samuel Johnson about the play’s tragic ending.

Writing Prompt: Do you agree/disagree with 18th century literary critic Samuel Johnson’s assessment of King Lear’s ending?

Shakespeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice [and] to the hope of the reader. . . . A play in which the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good, because it is a just representation of the common events of human life: but since all reasonable beings naturally love justice, I cannot easily be persuaded, that the observation of justice makes a play worse; or, that if other excellencies are equal, the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue…

And if my sensations could add anything to the general suffrage, I might relate that I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia’s death that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.

Finishing Up King Lear

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