Can you explain Cordelia's speech following of Shakespeare's King Lear? If yet beseech your majesty,--If for I want that glib and oily art,...
To speak and purpose not; since what I well intend, I'll do't before I speak,--that you make known It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness, No unchaste action, or dishonour'd step, That hath deprived me of your grace and favour; But even for want of that for which I am richer, A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongue As I am glad I have not, though not to have it Hath lost me in your liking. (Line 225-234)
In the story of Shakespeare's tragedy of King Lear, Lear has three daughters. Cordelia is his youngest and favorite. He wants to divide his kingdom, giving the "lion's share" to the daughter who "publicly" professes to love him best. The two older daughters, Goneril and Regan present effusive speeches on how much they love their father, simply so they can obtain the greater portion of his kingdom. Cordelia, however, speaks honestly from her heart, saying little, and brings her father's wrath down upon her. She is to be disinherited and exiled. When the Earl of Kent tries to defend Cordelia, he is also banished.
Two men are asking to marry Cordelia, the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France. Lear makes it perfectly clear that Cordelia has no dowery except his curse and that out of respect for each man, he would suggest they look elsewhere for a wife while telling Cordelia it would have been better that she had never been born rather than to displease him. Burgundy will not marry her without a dowry, and Cordelia rejects him for his greed. However, the King of France is impressed with Cordelia's strength and chooses to marry her, which will make her the Queen of France.
In Cordelia's speech, which occurs at the same time her father tells their guests how little value she has, she is out of favor simply because she did not tell her father what he wanted to hear. Cordelia states that she doesn't have the skill ("oily art") to say things that she does not feel; she will not lie:
If for I want that glib and oily art,
To speak and purpose not, since what I well intend,
I'll do't before I speak,
She goes on to say that she is out of favor, but not because she has plotted, murdered someone, been unchaste or dishonorable; none of these things have been the cause of losing her father's love and admiration:
It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness,
No unchaste action, or dishonored step,
That hath deprived me of your grace and favor;
Cordelia further explains that she is not ashamed of her actions; she is proud ("richer") in that she spoke her heart and did not lie, though it still caused her father to reject her. Even while she pleads with her eyes and words that he find some love for her, she realizes that she has lost favor in his eyes.
But even for want of that for which I am richer,
A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongue
As I am glad I have not, though not to have it
Hath lost me in your liking.
The question arises as to why Cordelia does not do as her father asks, something easily accomplished which would guarantee her a place at her father's side and wealth. We can admire her for speaking her heart so honestly. However, it is noted that her father puts her in an awkward position to state her singular love for him when two suitors are present to vie for her hand in marriage.
In this moment, giving in to her father's demands might send a negative message to the suitors, showing that she might be too supportive of her father, something that might interfere later with the demands of her future husband in some way.
Ironically, Cordelia will be the only one who supports her father later when his fortunes change so dramatically. First he is rejected by both of his other two daughters who care nothing for him. He will ultimately lose all, including his mind. His overblown ego which needed to hear the words rather to judge his daughters by their actions, brings tragedy to the entire family.