Yesterday afternoon I was watching a documentary about Shakespeare's play "King Lear". It's part of a series called "My Shakespeare", in which well-known actors explore some of his plays. As I started to listen to actor Christopher Plummer relate the story of King Lear, it struck me that I knew nothing about that particular play. Considering my passion for literature, how on earth did I make it to my forties without not even knowing the basic plot? I don't know how it has escaped me for so long... but I digress...
In the first scene, Plummer relates, King Lear tells his daughters he is going to divide the kingdom in three parts: "the portion each daughter will get depends on how eloquently they say they love him."
Tell me, my daughters,—
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,—
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
Plummer continues: "King Lear is hoping to give the best portion to his youngest and favourite daughter, Cordelia. But he has miscalculated the family dynamics." The dialogue that followed blew me away, see if the dynamics look familiar to you too.
Our eldest-born, speak first.
Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;
As much as child e'er loved, or father found;
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.
What shall Cordelia do? Love, and be silent.
What says our second daughter,
Our dearest Regan, wife to Cornwall? Speak.
I am made of that same mettle as my sister,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short, that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys,
Which the most precious square of sense possesses,
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear Highness' love.
Now, our joy,
Although our last and least, to whose young love
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy
Strive to be interess'd; what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
Nothing, my lord.
Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.
Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth, I love your majesty
According to my duty, nor more nor less.
How, how, Cordelia? mend your speech a little,
Lest it may mar your fortunes.
Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty:
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.
But goes thy heart with this?
Ay, good my lord.
So young, and so untender?
So young, my lord, and true.
Let it be so; thy truth, then, be thy dower!
Cordelia's predicament is the predicament of every ACoN. She stands her ground and refuses to give flattery and adulation, even if it means losing everything, and that is the predicament that we find ourselves in too. When King Lear says: "Let it be so; thy truth, then, be thy dower", I heard it as if King Lear was speaking to me directly and not to Cordelia. I understood the meaning as if it had been said to me too. And then it dawned on me that it has been said to me: it's the "unspoken" dialogue that takes place between Narcissistic parents and their child who refuses to worship them. The words are never uttered, but the message is transmitted, nonetheless, and it hangs loud and clear over the child. It's a form of meta-communication which every ACoN understands perfectly.
Very well, then, if that's what it takes: "let my truth be my inheritance"