Give America Cordelia, We Need Her Just Now (King Lear)

Give America Cordelia, We Need Her Just Now (King Lear) June 17, 2016

Abbey_-_Cordelia's_Farewell_optIsrael was on the ropes, God sent Deborah, and Israel was saved. France was ruined, God sent Joan and France was saved. If tempted to despair, then do not.

God will send us His woman and God knows America needs her just now.

Shakespeare understood this pattern in history better than any writer. He demonized Joan to dispel the dangerous notion that God could have favored the French and he rewrote British mythology to give England a martyr savior in the Christ like Cordelia.

Cordelia was the child of King Lear who refused to flatter him:

So young, my lord, and true.

Cordelia was capable of rule and would later lead an army to save her father from his own folly, but it began when she gave up a Kingdom rather than flatter her father to gain one. She knew he was being stupid and refused to participate in his folly.

I yet beseech your Majesty,
If for I want that glib and oily art
To speak and purpose not, since what I well intend, 245
I’ll do’t before I speak- that you make known
It is no vicious blot, murther, or foulness,
No unchaste action or dishonoured step,
That hath depriv’d me of your grace and favour;
But even for want of that for which I am richer- 250
A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongue
As I am glad I have not, though not to have it
Hath lost me in your liking.

As this speech shows, Cordelia was eloquent, but not in her own cause. She was driven to long speeches only in the cause of truth. This is the mark of all great leaders in a crisis: they are capable of great words, but greater deeds.

There is a false humility that cannot recognize gifts God has given which undercuts true humility, which recognizes excellence in self, but also the place of any human in God’s great plan. Cordelia valued herself, rightly, as being more valuable than money and land. She would not be sold, but she would be loved and she could raise and lead great armies for the sake of love:

My mourning and important tears hath pitied. 2545
No blown ambition doth our arms incite,
But love, dear love, and our ag’d father’s right.
Soon may I hear and see him!

In a play given to long, insane speeches bemoaning fate or bemoaning those who bemoan fate, Cordelia alone acts for love. She does what she says she will do. God help us, but that is refreshing in this social media age where brand transcends action. Cordelia would have tweeted, if she tweeted at all, with characters to spare and only after she had done what duty demanded.

And of course, unlike Deborah, but like Joan, Shakespeare has his wonderful Cordelia fail . . .contrary to the legend of Lear. Why? Her failure kept England free from French rule, but the closeness of the outcome freed England from ignoble nobles. She also became like Christ greater in “defeat” than victory. She need fear no future diminution of her sacrifice in the turmoil of the politics of the age. She came, she saw, she failed, and so conquered forever.

Shakespeare gives her these last words:

We are not the first
Who with best meaning have incurr’d the worst.
For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down;
Myself could else outfrown false Fortune’s frown.
Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters?

She will not see her sisters, Lear’s other daughters, again because they will be dead through her courage. She has lost, but they are unmasked. She can stand the losing, but they cannot stand the revelation of their true character. All three will be dead by the end of day, but Cordelia will die a saint to be venerated and her sisters will die defeated and disgraced because Cordelia acted for good out of love for someone else. They acted for glory and gold.

God help us, but that is our present situation. We can stand a defeat, humility might do us good, but not our leaders.

Just when things seemed very bad, Israel found Deborah, France found Joan, and England found Mrs. Thatcher. God sends powerful women when history needs them. Just when things seem most confusing, there is a Hulda the prophetess (2 Kings 22) and Saint Elizabeth the New Martyr who was greater than Lenin. There is a redemption in the heroines of history and Shakespeare gives us the pattern in his character Cordelia in King Lear. 

Of course, the greatest turn in history came when one woman said “yes” and so became the Mother of God. Blessed was she among the blessed women. We could use her like just now. God, send us a strong soul like that of Cordelia to fight the demons of our age. We need her truth just now.


William Shakespeare went to God four hundred years ago. To recollect his death, I am writing a personal reflection on a few of his plays. The Winter’s Tale started things off, followed by As You Like It. Romeo and Juliet still matter, Lady Macbeth rebukes the lust for power, and Henry V is a hero. Richard II shows us not to presume on the grace of God or rebel against authority too easily. Coriolanus reminds us that our leaders need integrity and humility. Our life can be joyful if we realize that it is, at best, A Comedy of Errors.  Hamlet needs to know himself better and talks to himself less. He is stuck with himself so he had better make his peace with God quickly and should stay far away from Ophelia. Shakespeare gets something wrong in Merchant of Venice . . . though not as badly as some in the English Labour Party or in my Twitter feed. Love if blind, but intellectualism is blind and impotent in Love’s Labours LostBrutus kills Caesar, but is overshadowed by him in Julius Caesar.  We should learn not to make Much Ado about Nothing. We might all be Antony, but if we would avoid his fate then we must avoid flattery and the superficial love of Troilus and CressidaWe are fools, but our goal should be to accept it and not to degenerate into Biblical fools during our Midsummer Night’s DreamRichard III is a symptom of a bad leadership community, but be careful that use Measure for Measure to guide your reaction to the mess. The modern university is Iago in Othello playing on our sins to destroy the nation. You can’t accumulate your way to a great leader and personal piety in Henry VI (Part I) is not enough to make a great king. God will save the King, not our stupid partisan squabbles seen in Henry VI (Part 2)  and not kingmakers as existed in Henry VI (Part 3). Fortunately, in God’s world All’s Well That Ends Well. Two Gentlemen remind me that being in love is grand. King John keeps winning and so loses. Slander always gives way to truth in Cymbeline. We need patrons, but God help us if we flatter them and lose them as Athens did with Timon of Athens. We need good leaders and not have to hope against reason that one turns out well like young Prince Hal in Henry IV Part One.  Being powerful is all fun and games, until it isn’t as Henry learns in Henry IV Part Two. Virtue can be jolly and edgy, as The Merry Wives of Windsor show. We can all be shrews and need The Taming of the Shrew.  Pericles did not live in a Zootopia, his world was more realistic. No revenge lest we end like Titus Andronicus.  Shakespeare shows what the fusion of Christianity and classicism did for all of us in Venus and Adonis.  It is hard to be delivered from evil, if we pursue it as did the evil man in The Rape of Lucrece. God save us from the leader like King Lear who rules by tricks and fear, though God will make things the best they can be, usually be sending us a Cordelia. 

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!