The Role of the Fool in Lear

Topics: King Lear, Shakespearian fool, Fool Pages: 4 (1451 words) Published: May 22, 2013
Superficially, the Fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear serves as comic relief, abating the dramatic tension with his witty insults and aphorisms. The Fool’s purpose, however, is not limited to tomfoolery. Ironically, he is the most insightful character in the play, making sound observations about King Lear and human nature. The full purpose of the Fool is to stress Lear’s poor judgment, to contribute to the themes of appearance versus reality and the tragedy of life, and to elicit pathos and humor out of Lear’s madness. The Fool serves as a symbol of truth, characterizing Lear as foolish. In order to criticize the king, the Fool appears after Lear has made his fatal error of giving his kingdom to his evil daugthers and disowning Cordelia. The Fool points out the king’s foolery through jokes. He jests, “thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown / when thou gavest thy golden one away” (Iiv 70), and he sings: Then they for sudden joy did weep,

   And I for sorrow sung,
 That such a king should play bo-peep
   And go the fools among (Iiv 70).
When Lear reproaches the Fool for telling the truth, the Fool only takes the opportunity to assault Lear’s poor judgment through an aphorism. “Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped out / when Lady the brach may stand by the fire and stink” (I iv 66). The metaphor defames Lear’s judgment, implying that Lear has chastised a metaphorical dog of truth, Cordelia, in favor of the hound bitches of flattery, Goneril and Regan. The Fool further serves to emphasize Lear’s foolishness when he warns against Goneril and Regan: Fool: Shalt see thy other daughter will use thee kindly; for though she's as like this as a crab's like an apple, yet I can tell what I can tell. Lear: What canst tell, boy?

Fool: She'll taste as like this as a crab does to a crab (Iv 84-85). Again, the Fool...
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