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King Lea: The Role Of The Fool Essay, Research Paper

In the play King Lear, by William Shakespeare, there are many intriguing characters. Perhaps the most intriguing of them all is the fool. The fool seems to exist outside the play appearing and disappearing without warning. The fool is, however, a necessary character to the evolution of Lear’s character, since he is the personification of truth and reason. The fool serves to show Lear how he is going insane, as well as to attempt to delay this inevitability. The fool also demonstrates to Lear the truths about people around him, and tries to point out what treachery and deceit they wish upon him. When Lear is too far-gone to heed the advice and knowledge of the fool, he vanishes without a trace no longer useful, or needed.

Right from the beginning of the play Lear shows sings of insanity. Dividing up his kingdom, for the reasons he stated, may seem to be a wise thing to do. Not trusting Cordelia, however, is a sing of insanity, as she is the only daughter who truly loved him. The fool, throughout the entire time he is in the play, is attempting to point out these insane actions and delay Lear’s insanity as much as he can. The fool, however, does not tell Lear directly that he is going insane, “Then I prithee be merry. Thy will shalt not go slipshod”(I. IV. 11-12). The fool uses riddles and jokes to convey his message to Lear. Even when Lear’s insanity was causing the fool discomfort,

Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow! Your cataracts and huricanoes, spout till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks! You sulph’rous and thought-executing fire, vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts, singe my white head (III. II. 1-3),

the fool stayed by his side and tried to convince Lear to go inside, “O nuncle, court holy water in a dry house is better than this rain water out o’door” (III. II. 10-11). He doesn’t care about his well being he just wants to help the King any way he can.

The fool also helps Lear by pointing out certain truths about people, as well as flaws in his very own actions. After Goneril gives Lear an ultimatum of get rid of the troops or get out, Lear decides to seek lodgings at the residence of his other daughter Regan. The fool simply responds by saying, “Shalt see thy other daughter will use the kindly; for though she’s as like this as a crab’s like an apple, yet I can tell what I can tell” (I. V. 14-16), meaning, she’s going to side with her sister and treat you the same. Later in the play the fool warns Lear about a misfortune which he predicts could be in the planing, “For you know, nuncle, the hedy sparrow fed the cuckoo so long that it had it head bit off by it young”(I. IV. 211-13). The fool also tries to open the king’s eyes so that he can see these truths on his own, “Thou shouldst have been old till thou hadst been wise”(I. V. 42), as well as have some insight as to why these events are occurring.

From the point the fool is introduced he never leaves the kings side. Even when the king is going to Regan’s house the fool pleads, “Nuncle Lear, Nuncle Lear, tarry take the fool with thee”(I. IV. 314-15). However, at the end of the third act the fool leaves and never comes back. This is because he is no longer needed. In act three scene four the fool remarks, “And I’ll go to bed at noon”(84), which is the last words that the fool says in the whole play. Lear has gained all the insight he needs and is now capable of seeing things for himself. This is why the fool left since for the rest of the play he would have just been a plain fool tagging along with nothing else to show Lear. Since the fool is only there to enhance Lear’s insight, it is only fitting that when Lear has this insight, the fool leaves.

Without the fool, Lear would never have come to the realization of who people really were. The fool sustained Lear’s sanity as long as he could in order to aid him to see the truth clearly. When he had finished his role in the play he vanished. Since he vanished only after Lear had gained his insight, he must have been there to show Lear these things. In addition, without the fool’s influence Lear would probably have gone insane much earlier, which would have had a bad effect on the outcome of the story. The fool was the key factor in Lear’s evolution as a character.


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