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An Examination of the Significance of the Fool in King Lear

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Introduction

An Examination of the Significance of the Fool in King Lear A Fool is used in plays as a professional jester or clown whose function it was to amuse the king and his followers by his jokes and witty remarks. The Fool enjoyed the freedom to speak on any subject and to comment on persons and events without any restraint. The Fool's function was purely to provide entertainment and to amuse people. Shakespeare's objective in introducing the fool in King Lear is to provide comic relief in the play where the events are very tragic and oppressing. The jokes of the Fool serve to lighten the gloom and to relieve the tension and the stress which are generated by the cruel treatment delivered to Lear by his own daughters and by the storm, fury and violence which he faces of which are too great to bear by the aged king. The Fool only speaks to Lear himself, and his words are generally of a nature to 'rub in' the mistakes of Lear. The sarcastic remarks of the Fool intensify the sufferings of Lear and actually become a contributory cause of his madness. The Fool is essential to Lear's character development. The Fool represents the conscience of Lear, maybe a reason why there is no more of the Fool when Lear loses his mind. The significance and the role of the Fool is not confined to just one objective. Shakespeare uses the Fool for a number of reasons. I will examine the Fool's various significances in the play, King Lear. The Fool has a strong attachment to Cordelia, one of the daughters of the king. ...read more.

Middle

'Making his daughters his mothers' means giving to his daughters the authority which only a mother is entitled to exercise over her children. Lear, by giving to his daughters all his authority, armed them with the power to control him like a mother does to her children. Lear now once again threatens to whip the Fool, whereupon the Fool says: 'I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are. They'll have me whipp'd for speaking true, thou'lt have me whipped for lying, and sometimes I am whipped for holding my peace....Thou hast pared thy wit o'both sides and left nothing i'the middle.' (I.iv.173-179) This is an extremely sharp speech in which the Fool describes the different points of view of Lear and of Lear's daughters and in which the Fool once again reminds Lear of the folly Lear had committed in giving away all his possessions. Lear's misery is aggravated by the Fool's sarcastic remarks. Shortly later, we find the Fool warning Lear in a mocking vein that Lear's other daughter, Regan, would prove to be no better than the one whom he is leaving. This is the comment that he makes on Regan: 'She will taste as like this as a crab does to a crab.' The Fool then tells Lear why a snail has a house. The reason is that the snail needs some place where it can put its head; the snail knows that it must not give its house to its daughters. Thus here again the Fool is reminding Lear of his folly in not having kept a house for his independent stay. Even the dirty-looking snail is wiser than Lear, says the Fool. ...read more.

Conclusion

The Fool was the only character possible of depicting the truth successfully to Lear, as Cordelia was banished for this from the beginning, and as we have observed, is one of the main factors to Lear's character development. Part of the Fool's significance in the play is as mentioned before to provide comedy. The Fool makes a large number of sarcastic remarks on the folly which Lear has committed by giving away all his power and authority to two of his daughters, and keeping nothing for himself. Each of the Fool's remarks is a sharp reminder to Lear of the blunder and the folly of which he has been guilty. An example is: 'I have used it, nuncle, e'er since thou mad'st thy daughters thy mothers; for when thou gav'st them the rod and putt'st down thine own breeches' (I.iv. 163-165) The Fool goes on making more remarks of the same kind. It is the light-hearted nature of his speech that adds a comic effect in the play and the audience of the play. As Lear suffers tremendously during Act three, his 'injuries' are beyond the Fool's power to alleviate, and ceases to be necessary to the scheme of the play. No words of his are needed to emphasise its self-evident tragedy, the king's madness is emphasis enough, and nothing can relieve its sheer affliction. So, the Fool is no longer needed in the play and drops out of the action. The Fool in King Lear does not make use laugh audibly, but his witty comments do indeed relieve the tension, which might otherwise become unbearable. Beyond this, he serves to highlight vividly the king's folly. The Fool is like a mirror, striving to show Lear his true image. When Lear is able to realise his mistakes the Fool becomes his master's helper. With Lear's madness, the Fool's role ends. ...read more.

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