foolear The Fools in William Shakespeare’s King Lear

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The Fools in King Lear

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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.

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