Deception in King Lear
In King Lear, the characters deceive one another constantly. Most of them deliberately misrepresent themselves, but others are naturally difficult to understand. Some are trying to gain power while others are protecting themselves. There is an extreme contrast between reality and what each character appears to be to the other characters. This quality about the characters fuels the plot, bringing it to its ultimate end.
The Fool is ironically different from his title. While the fool is commonly an idiot, Lear’s fool seems to understand the political situation better that the king himself. His jokes and songs seem to be aimed at teaching Lear about the errors he has made rather than at making him laugh. He states in song that perhaps Kent and the king could take over his job, since they are behaving as better fools than he. He admonishes Lear for being old before he became wise. The Fool displays a deep understanding of corruption. His speech on the night “to cool a courtesan” depicts priests that do not follow their own sermons and nobles who wait on their servants. Quite unlike a fool, the Fool understands the complexity of the politics going on in the play.
When Kent is in disguise, it is only his physical appearance that is false. Unlike the other characters who wear disguises, he does not change his actions to deceive Lear. Just as he was before Lear banished him, Kent is a loyal servant. Disguised as Caius, he is willing to follow the king through his ordeal. Kent remains a devoted servant, despite his apparel. It seems to Lear that Kent is gone and he has a new confidant. However, the reality is that Kent never really left him.
The main conflict of King …
…enly force. Gloucester believes that Edgar is a peasant instead of “Poor Tom” who led him to the cliff. Directly before the battle, Edgar gives Goneril’s letter to Albany to save him from her deceit. Edgar only reveals himself at the very end. He has spent the majority of the play pretending to be someone else.
Each of the characters appears to be something else. If all of the sisters had told the truth, then the play could not progress, so there is something that each main character must figure out. Lear must learn of the true nature of his daughters and that a good king will not let his people have terrible living conditions when he has superb ones. Gloucester must learn about loyalty, and Edgar must discover his brother’s deceptions. Once the characters have recognised something that they did not understand before, the tragedy of King Lear is complete.