I only put up with the bard at all because Emilie Autumn likes him. Sure, I’ve read about how he invented modern English (in any case, influenced more than all the Jutes ever could), that every story is just one of his stageplays rearranged, and that his works are absolutely the only way to remain human in a Huxleyan Dystopia.
Maybe I don’t like him because I was lucky enough to be tasked to comprehend his greatness in 10th grade English literature class. Mostly, though, I don’t like his stuff because I just don’t like his stuff. It’s rarely given me all of the feels to snuggle into. Relating to Sonnet 121 provided a bit of an ego boost? Appreciated it. Otherwise…
Okay, otherwise, it took some footnote rant in an academic-seeming paper about how there is no connection between Shakespeare’s King Lear and Manannan mac Lir to get me to read a Shakespeare play voluntarily. My immediate reaction was that I had better start reading King Lear to search for any connections between the Lear and the Lir. You know…to keep them properly apart.
I didn’t find Lir. I did find Cordelia. In a striking similarity to many surviving versions of the Beauty & the Beast (most not-Disney ones of that) and Cinderella fairy tales, Cordelia had two wicked sisters. Cordelia herself was supposed to be The Good One, but I felt the text itself welcomed the interpretation that Cordelia is initially kind of a jerk. “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.” Integrity isn’t only about your personal feelings, Cordy! Communication maybe matters in a relationship? Heave your heart into your mouth, girl, and tell your dad you love him he is clearly the most insecure thing to breathe air and your country will collapse into an anarchist democracy or something if you don’t…oh, fine, be that way.
Really, though, I read this at the time that I sought refuge with my extended family, and my uncle was putting the pressure on for me to convert to Catholicism and forgive a self-righteously unrepentant Miasma for abusing me. On my life with a roof over my head, I couldn’t heave my heart into my mouth either.
What’s re-occurred to me lately has been this couplet:
Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides
Who covers faults, at last shame them derides
The strict cadence is known as iambic pentameter, an iamb being any two syllables that pair unstressed to stressed. Compare the English words “desert” and “dessert”. The latter is an iamb. Pentameter refers to five (penta) such two-syllable iambic meters.
I could chant Cordelia’s couplet over and over like a curse, although it would only be a curse or a blessing in the contexts that it should be. If this spell works for the truth to out, then it should by nature rebound on the caster. Whether that risk is worthwhile is not the question: My god of Truth is a hungry warrioress.
I could take a representation of all the illusions and distractions that can be met in life…
…and draw a unicursal pentagram on it with my finger, two syllables per stroke like a metronome.
I feel that a similar spell could possibly be found in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart. To counter these, however, there’s Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s…most stuff I guess. There’s also the real-life story of then nine-year-old Maria de Sautuola who discovered the cave paintings of Altamira in the 1870s. Her father was ostracized for fraud, the authenticity of Maria’s discovery only vindicated after his death. It’s that last story gets me staring at the wall with the corners of my mouth turned down.
What if there is no magic spell to summon truth? Whether it’s science or crime investigation there could be only work, luck, more hard work, all too easy to override if enough people can lie loudly enough or even silently pass it on.
But back to Cordelia. She was apparently a historical figure originally mentioned in The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, without any corroboration outside of it. Shakespeare retold Cordelia’s invasion as an utter failure, probably for expedient tragedy’s sake, and Tate later gave everybody a happy ending and made Edgar a mustachio-twirling creeper. If it happened at all, it might be something in between. Monmouth’s King Leir sought asylum with Cordelia after Cordelia’s sisters usurped him. (Cordelia’s sisters usurped Leir after he disowned Cordelia and married her off without a dowry.) In response, Cordelia raised an army and battled to reclaim the throne. Of course, after Leir died of old age, he left the throne to the one daughter out of three that didn’t usurp him, even though Cordelia was the youngest. The throne that Cordelia essentially won in battle was lost mostly to politics: that her elder sisters made legitimate baby heirs with the dukes of neighboring countries, and that they probably begrudged her more than they did each other, sealed Cordelia’s fate.
That version would well serve as a lesson to talk less, smile more, and not let them know what you’re against or what you’re for. I’m more inclined to work with Cordelia in hopes of gaining some reinforcement so that I never make that mistake again.