Fools in King Lear

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Erik Irre
April 26, 1999

"Fools and Kings"

Shakespeare's dynamic use of irony in King Lear aids the microcosmic illustration of not only 16th century Britain, but of all times and places. The theme that best develops this illustration is the discussion of fools and their foolishness. This discussion allows Shakespeare not only to portray human nature, but also to elicit a sort of Socratic introspection into the nature of society's own ignorance as well.

One type of fool that Shakespeare involves in King Lear is the immoral fool. Edmund, for instance, may be seen as a fool in the sense that he is morally weak. His foolishness lies in the fact that he has no sense of right or justice, which rewards him with an untimely, ironic death. He discusses this as his father, Gloucester, leaves to ponder the "plotting" of his son Edgar. Edmund soliloquizes,

"This is the excellent foppery of the world, that
when we are sick in fortune...
...we make guilty of our disasters
the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains
on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion." (I. ii. 32)
for the sole purpose of illustrating his wickedness. Edmund realizes that his evil is self- taught. This soliloquy shows the audience Edgar's foolishness in his belief that malevolence is the force that drives one to greatness or prosperity. It also illustrates the bastard's mistaken belief that by fooling his father, he might be able to eliminate Edgar, the competition for Gloucester's title, and possibly rid himself of his father in the same act. This is a prime example of immoral foolishness in King Lear.

Another type of fool in King Lear is the ignorant fool. Whereas characters such as Goneril, Regan, and Edmund are fools because of their tendency to harm others for self- gain, the ignorant foolish are not necessarily driven to evil. However, the evil are almost always driven to foolish actions. Gloucester, arguably Lear's foil, puts...
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