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A great conundrum from one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, King Lear.
Lear summons his three daughters with the intention of portioning out his kingdom for their dowries. He commands each to convince him of her love so he can settle the apportionment by merit.
The older daughters flatter their father with well phrased speeches, and he grants them their portions. Lear turns to his youngest, Cordelia:
LEAR: Now, our joy,
Although the last, not 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.
CORDELIA: Nothing, my lord.
LEAR: Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
CORDELIA: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less.
Lear gives her another chance, but Cordelia will not budge, so he grants her nothing: “thy truth, then, be thy dower“. The older sisters take everything. Tragedy ensues.
The irony is that without Cordelia’s Nothing there is no drama – nothing; but with Cordelia’s Nothing a great drama is played out – something.
Where did Shakespeare fetch the phrase from? And what might his audience have made of it? Continue reading