The quote alludes to one of the most important ideas at work in the play—nothing vs. something. Throughout, Lear battles with the two, consistently misinterpreting “nothing” as “something” and vice versa. His daughters Regan and Goneril deceive and mislead him in their declarations of love, while his youngest, Cordelia, attempts to speak to the truth and is banished for it.
Explore Nothing will come of nothing
“Nothing will come of nothing” Meaning
King Lear speaks this quote at the beginning of the play after he has interpreted what he believes to be a lack of love from his daughter Cordelia. Lear uses this short phrase to suggest that Cordelia’s “nothing” will lead to “nothing” for her from his vast kingdom. If she refuses to give him the love he thinks he deserves (and what he thinks he’s receiving from his other two daughters), then he is going to banish her from his kingdom and ensure that she does not receive the same rewards that her sisters do.
In reality, this quote contains a great deal of irony in that Lear is misinterpreting the truth of his daughters’ affection. Cordelia is the only one of the three who truly holds him in a place of importance in her heart.
Where Did Shakespeare Use “Nothing will come of nothing?”
Shakespeare used this quote in his tragedy, King Lear. The line is spoken by the title character to one of his three daughters—Cordelia. He has set before them a task, to come forward and fatter him by telling him how much they love him. Cordelia is the only one of the three who truly loves her father, but when asked to describe her love for him, she says, “Nothing.” He responds with the same word as a question, and once again, all she has to say is “Nothing” in confirmation.
Following this odd exchange, Lears says:
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 bond, no more nor less.
Lear asks her to reconsider or “mend” her speech, or her “fortunes” may suffer. She says:
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 honor 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
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
(To love my father all.)
Here, Cordelia is trying to explain her choice to say nothing. She tries to prove her love through allusions to her obedience and honor and contrasting herself against her sisters (who are married). She explains that they couldn’t possibly love their father, as they say, because they are married. If she marries, her husband will have half her love, Cordelia adds. She’ll never love her father totally, in the false way Regan and Goneril have professed.
It’s at this moment that Lear, unable to see through his other daughters’ false statements, banishes Cordelia from his kingdom and strips her of any inheritance she was to receive. He interprets her words as “nothing” when he should’ve seen how false and emotionless his other two daughters are.
Why Did Shakespeare Use “Nothing will come of nothing?”
William Shakespeare used this line in order to allude to the theme of “nothing” that can be found throughout the play, as well as emphasize Lear’s misinterpretation of his daughters’ intentions. He believes that Cordelia, who loves him truly and fully, is worthy of banishment because she won’t engage in an excessive declaration of her love like her two sisters. But, she is attempting to convey her affection in a thoughtful and accurate manner. Her sisters, Regan and Goneril, on the other hand, are willing to lie to their father to ensure their futures.
Cordelia’s short speech prior to her banishment (seen above) can be easily contrasted with what her sisters said about their father. Goneril declares that she loves her father more “than words can express.” He is dearer “than eye-sight, space and freedom.” But, her words are meaningless. They are, in fact, “nothing,” but Lear interprets them as true or “something.” Regan says that Goneril did not go far enough in her loving statements. She says that the only pleasure she takes in life is knowing that her father is happy. Here is the quote:
Only she comes too short, that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear Highness’ love.
All while her sisters are professing their false love to their father, Cordelia is concerned about what she is going to say. She knows that words cannot express what she has in her heart, so she says “nothing.”
This quote was used in William Shakespeare’s King Lear. It can be found in Act I, Scene I, during the exchange in which Lear demands his daughters profess their undying love for him. Cordelia, who is the only honest and true one of his three daughters, refuses to lie as her sisters did. Lear responds to her, saying that if she speaks “nothing,” then “nothing” will come to her.
It means that if you give nothing, then you will get nothing. In this case, King Lear thinks that Cordelia is refusing to “give” him the love he believes he deserves and that he thinks he’s receiving from his other two daughters. In return, she is banished.
After Cordelia refuses to expand outlandishly on her love as her sisters did, Lear banishes her. He says that she is a “stranger to my heart and me” in line 114, or no longer in his good graces. Lear no longer considers her his daughter. Instead, he divides his kingdom between Regan and Goneril, who he believes love him the most.
Other Quotes from King Lear
- “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child” – can be found in Act I, Scene 4 of King Lear.