“According to my bond, no more nor less”

This activity introduces students to the story arc of two key characters in King Lear: Lear and Cordelia. It can be used as a springboard for a class discussion/activity on some of the themes or questions in the play, e.g. What do the characters learn over the course of the play? How do they progress/regress? How do their relationships change? Does Cordelia make the right choice at the start of the play? What ideas might the play be offering about family, filial duty, and paternity?

How does Cordelia feel about her father?

In the opening scene of the play, Cordelia describes her feelings for her father, King Lear, in terms so precise and careful that they enrage him. She says that she loves Lear “According to my bond, no more nor less” (Act 1, Scene 1). When Cordelia and Lear are reunited towards the end of the play, Cordelia again expresses her love for him. However, this time, the circumstances are radically different, and so is the way that she expresses herself.

  1. In small groups, read Act 1, Scene 1 of King Lear, focusing on Cordelia’s lines. Compare her language in this scene with Act 4, Scene 7. In your analysis, pay attention to:
  • The use of imagery;
  • Any switches in the text from ‘you’ to ‘thou’ (in Shakespeare’s England, ‘you’ was a formal way of addressing someone, whereas ‘thou’ expressed informality and intimacy); and
  • The action of the scene (Are there hints in the dialogue that Cordelia and/or King Lear are doing anything? How might their behaviour or body language influence the meaning of their words?)
2. In your groups, come up with two frozen images or tableaux of Cordelia and King Lear: one for Act 1, Scene 1, and the other for Act 4, Scene 7.
  • For each tableau, select a line of text from the play that you think captures Cordelia’s emotions; and
  • Show your tableaux and selected lines to the class.

3. Discuss the following questions:

  • How does Cordelia feel about her father in each of these scenes?
  • Do Cordelia’s feelings towards Lear change? How/in what way?
  • How does King Lear respond to his youngest daughter in both of these scenes? Does his behaviour change? How/in what way?