It’s really happened! This is the part that I've wanted to play, ever since we were at school. Do you remember when Mrs Maynard had us over for tea in Sixth Form, and we somehow got onto the subject of who our Shakespeare heroines? Mrs Maynard said it was Viola, because she "actually got things done" - you liked Hermia, because she didn't take anything sitting down - Jack plumped for the Lady from the Scottish play, despite all of us telling her there was nothing heroic about her at all! But it was Cordelia for me, no matter how much you scoffed.
Perhaps I should have told you why, darling, but I wasn't sure you'd want to talk about it, and Jack wouldn't have 'got' it, anyway. I think Mrs Maynard did; she carefully changed the subject to a story about a shrieking matron, and I was so relieved! But I'm writing to tell you now – partly because you deserve to know; and also because I'm rather hopeful that you'll bring your mother to see it. You see, she's my inspiration!
It was that summer I stayed with your family, when mine was on tour again. Father still didn't really understand that acting was going to be my life the same way that it is his, and I'd decided to spend the holidays studying the play (when we weren't capsizing ourselves out on the lake!) in case that might help me convince him. But I got all stuck on the women. Cordelia's speeches seemed so flat - I couldn’t picture her actually losing her temper! And I couldn't see how Goneril and Regan could be so different from their youngest sister! If Lear really had been such a great man, once, wouldn't they at least admire him, even if they couldn't love him?
Darling, I was so frustrated with it all! One morning when you were out running errands, your mother asked me what was wrong and I told her. She ought to have been dreadfully amused at a 15 year old being so bothered by the actions of imaginary people, but she just said that English lit. had never really been her favourite subject but she thought she could try and explain.
I think I'd heard before of her being kidnapped and rescued by Mrs Maynard - one of those School Legends, you know! - but she told me again about her cousin Cosimo, who would have done anything to be king. And she said that really, even though he was mad, that didn't mean he had to be bad. But Cosimo had grown up knowing that he wouldn't be king, and only ever seeing what he was missing because of that - the status, the power, the money! - instead of seeing that the king has the heaviest burden, because he has to carry an entire country. It didn't matter that your grandfather and was always kind to Cosimo, because he was determined to look at the world his way, and no one else's. And you see, that explained Cordelia's sisters - and even Lear himself, who is so determined to keep all the trappings of being king but none of the slog. And he’s so sure that his view of the world is the right one that when he realises it isn’t, it breaks him!
But that still left Cordelia! Your mother agreed with me that Cordelia wouldn’t have lost her temper. Princesses aren’t supposed to have tempers in public. They’re not even supposed to have tempers in private! But she said she’d been schooled to be absolutely in control of herself when she was in public, to always be measured in her responses, and that even though it was a struggle, and that sometimes she just wanted to scream, it also meant that when the revolution came and she was exiled, she could face everything she had to face. And I sat there, watching her, as she told me all this, thinking about how calm and gentle she was, but how I could still feel that she was strong and dignified underneath – really tough, you know, with an absolute resolve. And I knew then that that is Cordelia – intelligent; sweet natured with an iron core.
So you see, Cordelia is the part! I want everyone else to feel like I do about her. It’s months away, of course, but I’m going to send you three tickets to Opening Night – you will come, won’t you? And bring your mother, too?
A mad rush of hugs and kisses, darling, and don’t forget to send me all your news, soon!