Gonerill and Regans bodies brought out.
Enter Lear with Cordelia in his armes
Folio Stage Direction
A dead body is an instructive object.
Michael Bristol, Carnival and Theatre, 1985
Death may usurp on nature many hours,
And yet the fire of life kindle again
The o’erpressed spirits. I have heard
Of an Egyptian nine hours dead,
Who was by good appliances recovered.
Pericles, Scene 12, 80-85
When Cordelia makes her final entrance in Lear’s arms, Kent will not believe what he is seeing. ‘Is this the promised end?’ he asks. Cordelia plays her last scene dead. Or maybe she’s playing dead. For she isn’t meant to die. It wasn’t what audiences were expecting. The old King Leir, the True Chronicle which they had seen at Henslowe’s Rose playhouse in 1594 and (perhaps) again, revived, in 1605 before it went into print, had a happy ending. That ‘true’ story (which, clearly, had saturated Shakespeare’s mind, for memory traces of Leir turn up in Lear) ended in return, recognition, reconciliation. 1 So maybe Cordelia in Lear’s arms is only pretending, like Hero, Helena, Juliet, Thisbe in Peter Quince’s Pyramus and Thisbe, the Player Queen in Hamlet’s Mousetrap. Or, like Desdemona (momentarily) or Cleopatra (chronically)—and with Hermione, Thaisa, Imogen to come in plays not yet written—perhaps