The Wise Fool in King Lear
Whether or not the role of the Fool is an important one within King Lear is arguable. Although he seems to have great insight into much of the plays main events, he seems not to have any real influence on both the plot as well as the outcome of the play. He remains the sole character who does not have any direct link with the events of the plot, coupled with an unusually early exit; this raises the question of his significance. However at the very least he does certainly serve as entertainment not only for Lear but the audience as well, with his honesty, wittiness, and clever speeches that not only adds to the light humour but also to show us that the Fool could indeed be perceived as being one of the wisest characters in the play.
The main roles of the Fool seem to be as Lear’s conscience, as a comedian to provide light relief from the tragic play as well as a means of communicating his themes such as the idea of foolishness, self-knowledge. In addition, he is the only person with the ability to speak to Lear in the manner he does. He also serves as a reminder for Lear for his actions within the play, in particular his stupidity and mistakes.
The Fool appears in the middle of Act I Scene 4 of the play and immediately we can clearly see his integrity when talking to others. He tells Lear “thou must needs wear my coxcomb” which suggests the king to be the Fool rather then himself and that Lear was foolish to divide his kingdom as he has done. Kent before him had criticized Lear for his decision causing him to be banished from the kingdom, however the Fool receives no such punishment showing us that he can get away with actions that are far more courage…
…easons as to why he actually leaves remaining unseen again in the play. At this point in the play, Lear finally goes mad; therefore, this suggests that the Fool unneeded, as Lear no longer has the ability of reasoning. This also suggests that the Fool is indeed a metaphor for Lear’s conscience. Additionally, this is also the point where Lear begins to finally learn that he has made some terrible mistakes. This could be suggesting that the more foolish we become, the wiser we are because as Lear finally loses his mind, he finally gains insight into his mistakes.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. R.A. Foakes. Surrey: International Thomson Publishing Company, 1997.
Willeford, William. The Fool and His Scepter: A Study in Clowns and Jesters and Their Audience. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969.