Self-Discovery in King Lear
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:
The fisherman that walk along the beach
Appear like mice.
Although this quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear is made by Poor Tom to
his unknowing father Gloucester about the terrain far below them, it accurately
summarizes the plight of the mad king. Lear is out of touch with his
surroundings, riding high upon the wave of power associated with the monarchy:
even those closest to him are out of reach, viewed with a distorted lens. It
is through this lens of madness that Lear views his friends and family, and thus
he is stripped of everything before he can realize the folly of his judgment.
Reduced to a simple man, Lear is forced to learn the lessons that God’s anointed
is already supposed to know. This is the purpose of the secondary characters of
King Lear; they serve to show the many complex facets of Lear’s complex
personality, as they force him to finally get in touch with his self-conscious.
For example, the Fool, oddly enough, acts as the voice of reason for the
out-of -touch King. He views events critically and thus seems to foreshadow
situations that an ignorant Lear is completely oblivious to. This is evident in
act 1, scene 1, when a prodding Fool asks the king if he knows the difference
between a bitter fool and a sweet fool. When Lear admits that he does not, the
Fool attempts to lay it all out in front of him:
That lord which councelled thee
To give away thy land,
Come place him here by me;
Do thou for him stand.
The sweet and bitter fool
Will presently appear;
The one in motley here,
The other found out there.
The Fool attempts to show the king the folly of his ways. He is essentially
calling Lear a bitter fool, insinuating that his foolishness will be the cause
of such bitterness. This comment is taken lightly, but only because the Fool is
a satire of the king himself, and thus is the only one allowed to criticize him.
Lear has a preconceived notion that he will be able to give up all of his land
and his throne, and yet still somehow hold on to the power that he is so
Alas, the king does not listen. He continues to believe he still has the
power that he has long since conceded. He does not believe that by deviding the