The old story of the British king and his daughters, as dramatised by Shakespeare in King Lear, has at its centre the theme of filial ingratitude. In the legendary opening scene, the octogenarian king declares to divide his kingdom among his three daughters on the basis of their expressions of love for the father. The whole idea sounds very ridiculous because Lear brings down love of children for their parents to the grossness of sheer material gain, the opportunity to grab "the largest bounty." It looks like an elocution contest that tends to vulgarise the value of the parent-child bond. Goneril and Regan, the two married daughters, use all artifices of language to flatter their father, while the youngest unmarried daughter, Cordelia, refuses to profane her love for the father. Cordelia goes on repeating the word "nothing," and tells Lear that she loves her father "according to the bond: nor more, nor less." Lear is infuriated to banish Cordelia from his kingdom and love. Goneril and Regan are rewarded for their lip-services. Later in the play, Lear is humiliated and abused by both Goneril and Regan; he is forced to come out on the heath in storm and rain, battling against the unfriendliness of nature. It is Cordelia, the wronged daughter, who comes with her husband's army to rescue and protect the wronged father, suffering from the inhumanities of his two "pelican daughters." Lear and Cordelia are reunited but in prison. Circumstances lead to Cordelia's death.
The same story of the father betrayed by his "bad child/children" and saved by his "good/wronged child" re-appears in the parallel plot of Gloucester and his two sons. The illegitimate son, Edmund, conspires against the life of Gloucester, while the legitimate but wronged son, Edgar, wears the guise of a Bedlam beggar to accompany Lear in the storm as well as to save the blinded father from committing suicide.
Cordelia's hanging saddens us because her death is the conspiratorial outcome of the designs of the rascal, Edmund, a death that rather shows the injustices of the material world. Cordelia dies the death of a victim for having said the truth, a truth that old and impassioned Lear fails to understand. Cordelia has also been seen as a Christ figure, dying the death of a martyr for a cause.