Cordelia's SIlence

In this creative writing task, students consider why Cordelia chooses to say ‘nothing’ in the opening scene of the play. They are reminded that the scene is open to interpretation, and that they are able to play an active role in that interpretation.

What shall Cordelia speak? Love and be silent.

Act 1 Scene 1

Cordelia’s silence during Act 1, Scene 1, can be interpreted in multiple ways. It can be seen as evidence that she is a passive and obedient woman, who is silent because her love for her father is obvious and does not need to be stated. It can also be seen as an act of obedient submission to male authority that is misinterpreted by her father. Conversely, Cordelia’s silence can be read as an act of rebellion – a refusal to bend to the submission that is demanded of her.

The fantastic thing about Shakespeare is that his plays are open to multiple interpretations. In this scene, Shakespeare leaves room for the performers/audience to make up their own minds.

Individual Task:  

A. How do you interpret Cordelia’s silence? Is she sulking? Is she so furious she can’t speak? Is she humiliated into silence by the ‘love test’? Is she gobsmacked by her sisters’ obvious exaggerations? Is she playing psychological games with her father? Does she feel hurt that her father doesn’t already realise her great love for him? Is she a “spoilt princess”? Is she too proud to speak? Using evidence from the text, write a one-paragraph reflection on why you think Cordelia says ‘nothing’ at the start of the play. 

B. Imagine you are Cordelia. It is a week after you have been banished by your father. Compose a diary entry in which you explain why you did not speak during the love test. You should write at least a page. Compose your response in modern English.