Fool In King Lear Essay

The Fool

Character Analysis

The Fool is Lear's own stand-up comedian, sure, but more interestingly, he's the only guy that Lear allows to criticize him. (Remember, when Kent lips off, Lear boots him out of the kingdom and when Lear doesn't like what Cordelia has to say, Lear disowns her altogether.)

As in many of Shakespeare's plays, the Fool is actually really smart—and the only person who tells it like it is. Compare Lear's Fool, for example, to Feste in Twelfth Night – neither one of them are afraid to call their misguided masters "foolish" and they both function as characters that provide a lot of social commentary. 

At the same time, the Fool is more than just a funny and brutally honest guy; he's also super-loyal. Along with Kent/Caius, the Fool braves the elements (which at times consist of rain, thunder, and lightning) with his master.

But the Fool is also a big mystery: what happens to him? He disappears after Act 3, Scene 6, and nobody ever explains where he's gone. The only possible reference to the Fool after that is in the final scene, when King Lear says "And my poor fool is hanged" (5.3.369). 

This could mean a couple of things: 1) Lear might be referring to Cordelia with a pet name, "fool," since Cordelia has just been hanged by Edmund's goons. 2) Lear could be literally talking about his Fool—perhaps the Fool was also hanged by Edmund's henchmen or, perhaps he hung himself out of despair. It's hard to say what really happens to the Fool. Some literary critics even speculate that the Fool and Cordelia were played by the same actor. They never appear onstage together, so some scholars hypothesized that the part was double cast, and that the Fool had to disappear when Cordelia came back into the play.

The Fool's Timeline

In ‘King Lear’, the Fool is a character of dramatic importance in the play. The Fool helps the reader, and in Shakespeare’s time would help the audience, to understand what lies beneath the surface of certain actions or verses. He equally strives to make Lear ‘see’. The Fool may be a very intriguing character and very often a complicated one but his role is necessary in ‘King Lear’.

The Fool plays three major roles; one of these roles is that of an ‘inner-conscience’ of Lear. The Fool provides basic wisdom and reasoning for the King at much needed times. The Fool also works as amusement for Lear in times of sadness; often making Lear laugh at himself! He is one of the only people besides the Duke of Kent and Cordelia who are willing to stand up to the King.

Right from the very first appearance we realize that he is a very ironic character and that he makes fun of Kent as well as of the situation. With his sarcastic remarks and phrases he is simply telling Kent, “..thou must needs wear my coxcomb,” telling him that he is a Fool for; “…taking one’s part that’s out of favour,” because Lear has given everything away and is not worth following.

The role of he Fool is to help Lear “…see better…”, making him aware of what his daughters really are and trying to make him understand how wrong his deed of giving them everything was. He acts like Lear’s ‘inner-conscience’ and does this in the best of ways by being a “…bitter fool…” because the truth hurts; “Thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown when thou gav’st thy golden one away”. (Act 1 Scene 4) He is straight forward and direct, “…I had rather be any kind o’thing than a fool, and yet I would not be thee, nuncle.” (Act 1 Scene 4)

The Fool is surely the wisest of the two, “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise,” but in his own way he is a fool too, for standing by Lear through this because Lear is, “…an O without a figure…” he is, “…nothing…”. The directness of his words also foretells what is to happen to Lear. He is always trying to make him see things the way they are in an extremely wise way, “…but for all this thou shalt have as many dolours for thy daughters…” (Act 2 Scene 4) The Fool heightens the image of “nothing” in ‘King Lear’, taunting the King himself with his hurtful words; this is the wise-ness of the Fool

The Fool and Lear share a close relationship in the play, contrary to the many relationships that turn sour. The Fool stays loyal to Lear even through his madness. In Act 3 Scene 2 the Fools role becomes one of a commentator in his soliloquy; he taunts Lear and prophesies on events that will unfold. From this point on the prominence of his role starts to lessen as Lear meets Poor Tom and now gives him most of his attention. He still sticks to his wise sarcasm and joins in Lear’s mock-trial along with Poor Tom in Act 3 Scene 6. This is the last time we see the Fool, were his exit very appropriately portrays the state of affairs of the play at this point “And I’ll go to bed at noon.” – insinuating that everything is upside down and in chaos.

After having read ‘King Lear’, one may notice that the Fool and Cordelia never participate in the same scene; therefore there have been suggestions that Cordelia may have been the Fool in disguise, but there has never been any concrete proof to prove this theory.

The name Fool means nothing. He is the most intelligent and insightful character in the play and provides simple and clear reasoning for a King with limited vision. The Fool is loyal to the bitter end and provides the little bits of humour, much needed in this play; he has honesty and integrity that is found in only a few other characters in this play.

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