Explore How Shakespeare’s Presentation of the Fool and Lear’s Relationship Can Be Interpreted in King Lear

Topics: Elizabethan era, King Lear Pages: 6 (2386 words) Published: November 7, 2008
An Elizabethan fool was an inept orator of the obscene given consent to mock and entertain those residing in the King’s court; a definition of the former being a member of a royal court who entertains with jokes and antics, “the Elizabethan fool represents free speech and an un-jaundiced view of a new social fabric” . Relationships between a Fool and his monarch were determined by the boldness of the Fool alongside the King’s tolerance. Fools had a certain amount of comedic licence, often uttering axioms that could be deemed as impertinent. Although Fools have to adhere to certain boundaries (not overstepping the line as far as personal jokes, insulting the monarchy and being over indulgingly crass are concerned), Lear’s Fool seems to overstep these invisible restrictions. This inextricably constructs a multifaceted relationship between the two divergent characters that can be construed in various contexts. It often transpired in the Elizabethan era that many mentally handicapped men found employment exploring their own deficiencies as jesters and at times unable to distinguish between jokes and offence. Lear's fool could have possibly been written as handicapped, therefore providing a reasonable excuse for his outspoken speeches. Lear and the Fool’s relationship is an interesting and intriguing feature of the play and it is difficult to establish a distinction between Fool and Wiseman within the pair. This prompts many questions to arise about Lear and his Fool and as Enid Welsford suggests “Which is the wise man, which is the fool?” we can start to see just one of the many sides of a very convoluted bond.

In a typical Elizabethan household, a servant and master would remain mutually exclusive. King Lear explores a new type of bond where Lear and his Fool are concerned. It is suggested that the King rides alongside the Fool, in Act 1 Scene 5, exclaiming, “Come, boy”, showing affection for the child-like comic and a desire to be close to him and ride alongside each other, almost as equals. This would have been quite unusual in Elizabethan times as a King and his servants were markedly segregated. This physical proximity is an indicator of how the professional relationship between a servant and his master has broken down to reveal more informal relations. There is a definite ease at which the two converse whereas the conversations between Regan and her servant, Oswald, seem very confined to social graces and professionalism. Oswald has a more polite disposition as opposed to affectionate, often producing near mechanical responses, “Ay, madam”, and remaining silent until spoken to. This differs greatly with the Fool’s complete disregard for courteous behaviour in the presence of his superiors, creating a strong contrast for the audience, to see within the social boundaries of King Lear in accordance with the King’s court. The Fool and Lear address each other with more affectionate terms compared to a typical relationship in Elizabethan service. Lear refers to his Fool as “boy”; this could be a reference to the Fool being like a son to him or to the Fool’s childish nature. The fool habitually refers to Lear as ‘nuncle’, “If thou wert my fool, nuncle, I’d have thee beaten for being old before thy time”, an “affectionate, childish abbreviation that emphasizes the fool’s simple dependence on Lear” . This abbreviation shows how simpleminded the fool can be at times and his young disposition, although he may in fact be older than his language and mannerisms perceive as many Elizabethan fools stayed in service of the monarchy long after reaching middle age. The Fool’s use of questions and generally curious nature are reminiscent of a small child, as they tend to be very inquisitive at young ages. A noticeable effect of the relationship is Lear’s complete lack of iambic pentameter when addressing his “boy”. Lear, in a temporarily quizzical state of mind in Act 1 Scene 5, allows the Fool to interrupt him while he speaks, “I did...
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