What examples are there of symbolsm in Act 1 of King Lear?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We need to remember that symbolism is something that just does not apply to objects, but also to specific characters and actions, or the things that they do and say. We therefore have an excellent example of symbolism that occurs in the very opening scene of the play when Cordelia must take her turn to tell her father how much she loves him. Seeing how her two deceitful sisters deliberately exaggerate their love for their father because they know that the more they do so they more they will receive, Cordelia deilberately chooses to let her response be symbolic of both the truthfulness of her love and at the same time a rebuke to her sisters. Note how she replies to her father's entreaties:

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less.

Symbolically, therefore, Cordelia does not use the same kind of flowerly language that is peppered with artifice and fantastical images. She hopes her devotion and love will be shown through her lack of words and simple reference to her "bond" in stark contrast to her sisters' flowery and insincere rhetoric. Artifice meets reality.