Shakespeare’s King Lear is a Jacobean play that explores numerous themes of destruction, loyalty and natural law that were so prominent in his context. In the play Gloucester has a bastard son whose character reflects his immoral conception and who actively resents the limitations of his birth. While Jacobean England was undergoing numerous social changes because of factors such as increased trade, greater education and a forming middle class, Edmund represents the limitations in social mobility still apparent at the time and his resentment of this. “I grow; I prosper. Now, gods, stand up for bastards!” (1.2) The Renaissance brought about new notions of human potential during it’s exploration of the past and in the play the Fool is the best example of this. 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 humour out of Lear’s madness.
The chain of being is an important theme in the play as a principal believed in by most Jacobean citizens as a religious model of their life. In King Lear the Chain of being is disrupted by Lear who decides to divide up his land among his daughters before his death, handing over power to those who should have been beneath him. The fool alludes to an old story where a foolish man carried a donkey on his back instead of allowing it to carry him (1.4). In this he is talking about the natural order of the world and how Lear has upset it by giving his two bad daughters power over him. Moreover, the fool criticises his error in giving the bad daughters his kingdom while disowning Cordelia. When Lear reproaches the Fool for telling the truth, the Fool only takes the opportunity to assault Lear’s poor judgment. “Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped out / when Lady the brach may stand...
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