King Lear: The Fool In Us
King Lear is without doubt Shakespeare’s most nihilistic play. It is a storm without clearing. In this version of reality, faith is absurd. The play is set in the pagan era, where King Lear loses all his faith in the gods. However, we see the need for Christian revelation in the hopelessness of the play. We also see in the character of the Fool a character who resembles the wisdom and words of the Apostle Paul “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise.”1 These words are very similar to the function and meaning of the word fool in the play. While fool in Shakespeare’s plays can represent a “dupe”, a “madman”, a “beloved one”, a “court jester”, or a “victim”, it means all of these in King Lear. For the Fool is the court jester, Cordelia is Lear’s beloved one, and Lear, himself, is at various times duped, a madman, and a victim. Yet, when we look at the words of Paul, we see the Fool tell Lear virtually the same thing in this play. For Lear believes himself to be wise, when, in reality, he is a duped fool:
Fool. If thou wert my Fool, Nuncle, I’d have thee beaten for being old before they time.
Lear. How’s that?
Fool. Thou should’st not have been old till thou hadst been wise.2
The Fool loves Lear as much as anyone in the play, save for his youngest daughter Cordelia. The Fool knows Lear’s only mistake is not accepting Cordelia’s expression of love. Once he has divided his kingdom between Goneril and Regan it is too late for any advice to Lear to resolve the matter. The Fool tries to get Lear to understand what a dupe and bungler he has been, but Lear cannot see himself as the portrait the Fool paints. Lear needs nothing more than himself; he has everything in himself. However, he goes from everything in himself to nothing because he has been unwise:
Lear. Does any here know me? This is not Lear:
Does Lear walk thus? Speak thus? Where are his eyes?
Either his notion weakens, his discernings
Are lethargied-Ha! waking? ’tis not so.
Who is it that can tell me who I am?