The Fools in King Lear
William Shakespeare’s play King Lear tells the tale of the main
character who divides his kingdom between his older daughters, Goeneril and
Regan, and disinherits his youngest daughter, Cordelia. The action leads to
civil strife, his insanity, and his ultimate death. King Lear can be viewed
as a great illustration about the struggle between good and evil. Perhaps
better than any of Shakespeare’s other tragedies, King Lear displays the
concept of evil most strongly.
It is believed that King Lear is an expansion of a British legend.
The legend is as follows: Lear, King of Britain decided in his old age to
divide his kingdom among his three daughters based on their expressions of
love for him. His two eldest daughters overwhelmed their father with
expressions of love, but the youngest told her father that she loved her
father as a daughter should. Enraged at his youngest daughter’s reply, Lear
drove her into exile and divided the kingdom between his two eldest
daughters. However, his two eldest daughters infuriated him with their
cruel treatment thereafter. Hence, the king went in search of his youngest
daughter. His youngest daughter had married the king of France while she
was gone. His youngest daughter returned with him two Britain and helped
him to regain hi throne.
Shakespeare utilized this British legend to create what is arguably
one of the greatest tragedies of all time. Shakespeare took this British
legend and conceptualized it to fit his audience. Shakespeare added the
character of the Fool as a tool in better understanding Lear. The Fool
exists as a metaphorical device in the King’s path to better understanding
himself. The Fool’s bitter jests ultimately show King Lear the folly of his
action. King Lear’s madness and the Fool’s wit and insight illustrate the
theme of the play. The theme being man’s inhumanity to man in the form of
Shakespeare gives the most unlikely character, The Fool, the
greatest amount of wisdom and insight. This device works well because The
Fool is a peripheral character, as such, he acts as a sought of narrator
pointing out the foolishness and folly going on around him. Shakespeare
uses The Fool to be a commentator on the action of the play as well as a
character in the play.
Shakespeare uses The Fool to provide comic relief through the play
as well. The Fool’s role as entertainment for the king allows him to
influence the king. It is believed that in the tradition of Elizabethan
tragedy that the fool acts as the instructor to the king.