Cordelia's estate: women and the law of property from Shakespeare to Nahum Tate

A. R. Buck*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Much has been written on the dramatic difference between Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and Nahum Tate’s “King Lear”. The different fate of Cordelia in the two plays, for instance, is striking. In Shakespeare’s play, Cordelia is stripped of her inheritance at the beginning, never to recover it, and, like Lear, ultimately dies. In Tate’s play, Lear lies to give away the bride (to Edgar) and the inheritance passes smoothly from one generation to the next. In this intergenerational padding of property, it is not Cordelia who inherits in her own right; she is, however, the conduit through which the property stays in the family. Greater emphasis is placed on issues of ‘legitimacy’ and ‘virtue’ in Tate. As we shall see, this is crucial to understanding not only important differences between the two versions of “King Lear” but also aspects of the relationship between women and property in late seventeenth-century England. Between the early seventeenth century, when Nahum Tate wrote, there were dramatic changes to the laws of property and to the legal status of aristocratic women and men – changes which has significant implications for the status and agency of women. Those changes would, moreover, have informed the values and attitudes of Tate’s audience. Consequently, if we examine the question of Cordelia’s inheritance in historical context, what might it reveal? This is the question with which this chapter is concerned.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen, property, and the letters of the law in early modern England
EditorsNancy E. Wright, Margaret W. Ferguson, A.R Buck
Place of PublicationToronto ; Buffalo
PublisherUniversity of Toronto Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781442683600
ISBN (Print)9780802087577
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004


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