Relationship Between King Lear and His Fool

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Refer to Act one, scene five

Describe the relationship between King Lear and his Fool in this passage. How is the relationship developed in King Lear as a whole?

In Shakespeare's "King Lear", the relationship between Lear and the fool is crucial to the development of the character of Lear and also to many themes in the play. Interweaving insightful commentaries with clever wit and language, the fool, a loyal associate to Lear, offers an insight into Lear's mind. Using juxtaposition with metaphor, symbolism, puns and irony, the fool effectively addresses and understands Lear's motives and offers practical, unpretentious advice. The fool effectively gives to Lear a conscience, and highlights his goodness and self-realization as Lear is persuaded to lower himself to the level of another. The play starts with Lear effectively being the fool but gains wisdom and human experiences with the guidance of the fool and learns humility, remorse and compassion. With the fool, Lear becomes a sympathetic character, identifiable as a human, and less as an ignorant king.

This passage takes place in act one, scene five after Lear's dividing of his land. Conflict between Lear and Goneril has forced Lear to seek the company of Regan, where he hopes he will be treated with better respect. The fool and Lear are alone on stage, and the fool remarks upon Lear's misjudgments. The fool focuses on the strange motion of "a man's brains… in's heels" stating that Lear has misplaced his wits and common sense and has now been infected with "kibes". This metaphor is symbolic of Lear’s plans being infested by unwanted intentions. "thy wit shall not go slipshod." Lear should not visit his second daughter just as this is an unnecessary action, and for how can your wits be sheltered by "slipshod"? This imagery is significant to mock Lear's poor logic and ignorance, emphasized by the rhetorical question, as it seems like common knowledge that Lear is walking into inevitable disaster. Goneril and Regan are metaphorically "Crabapples" and cannot be trusted by their approachable appearances. Similarly in Act III scene VI, the fool once again comments on the false appearance of objects. " He's mad, that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath" and urges Lear to reflect on his own actions. Next the Fool comments on Lear's judgment by metaphorically likening it to his sensory mechanisms. He states that the nose's job is to "keep one's eyes on either side" of it, which again highlights Lear's folly. Lear's vision is straight, unyielding, which makes him susceptible to deceptions because he cannot see a wide range of vision that he "cannot smell out," Intuitively, Lear perceives that he has treated Cordelia wrongly, triggered by the words of the Fool. It is evident that the fool serves as Lear's reflection. As later mentioned in the play, Lear asks "who am I?" and the fool replies "Lear's shadow." Lear is unsure of his own identity because he cannot see himself, for a shadow cannot see itself just as eyes cannot see without being separated by the nose. In both cases, the fool acts as the mediator or helper for Lear's deeper understanding of himself.

The fool comments on the idea that "a snail has a house… to put's head in; not to give to daughters." Again the fool uses effective imagery to highlight the folly of Lear, and the fool foreshadows Lear's downfall just as a snail without its "house" is more susceptible to discomforts and disasters. Now that Lear has abandoned his crown and left "his horns without a case", he cannot hold on to the power that once sheltered him from others' cruelties and disobedience. Lear, finally realizing the insincerity of his daughters when he divided the land, says "I will forget my nature". Here the imagery of the snail not only signifies helplessness and danger after having the crown taken from him, but it also suggests rebirth and new apprehension; Lear has departed from his...
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