Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond; no more nor less.
Cordelia speaks these words when she address her father, King Lear, who has demanded that his daughters tell him how much they love him before he divides his kingdom among them (1.1.90–92). In contrast to the empty flattery of Goneril and Regan, Cordelia offers her father a truthful evaluation of her love for him: she loves him “according to my bond”; that is, she understands and accepts without question her duty to love him as a father and king. Although Cordelia loves Lear better than her sisters do, she is unable to “heave” her heart into her mouth, as her integrity prevents her from making a false declaration in order to gain his wealth. Lear’s rage at what he perceives to be her lack of affection sets the tragedy in motion. Cordelia’s refusal to flatter Lear, then, establishes her virtue and the authenticity of her love, while bringing about Lear’s dreadful error of judgment.
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