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Discuss the role of the fool in ‘King Lear’.

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Introduction

Sarah Leighton 13FH Play: 'King Lear' by William Shakespeare Title: Discuss the role of the fool in 'King Lear'. Originally a fool was simply a madman that was brought into court for people to laugh at their unusual antics. People would also pay to take a tour of Bedlam to view the senile patients for their entertainment. Gradually people began to take upon the role of the fool as a job. Often living for many years in court they could become an intimate friend of the employer, yet the strict rules of society meant that he could never be called a friend, as an aristocrat could never be seen to have a servant for a close companion. Most of what a fool would jest about would have been based on what he could see of life, which would be portrayed in a satirical manner and could possibly be offensive to the employer or onlookers. For this reason there would always be limits to the fools behavior, keeping a clear sense of authority in the relationship. This would also allow the employers to keep themselves satisfactorily distanced from the fool, making it easier to punish or replace him. The fool could also be used to channel embarrassment away from the employer by making the fool seem foolish. The Fool in King Lear is such a character. ...read more.

Middle

Although he is cynical about human nature he is totally loyal and utterly giving with no expectation of gratitude in return. Due to these genuine qualities, although Lear is not seen to consciously recognise them, he has managed to form a unique bond with the King. This is shown by the way that they frequently use pet names for each other. The Fool often calling Lear 'nuncle' which is an affectionate and childish abbreviation of 'mine uncle' and Lear refers to the Fool as 'pretty knave' and 'my boy'. This bond developed between them helps the Fool to speak his mind to Lear. Fool: 'If thou wert my fool, nuncle, I'd have thee beaten for being old before thy time.' Lear: 'How's that?' Fool: 'Thou should'st not have been old till thou hadst been wise.'' Although his role towards Lear is meant to be as an entertainer and servant he becomes more of a loyal companion and teacher. This is his main significance in the play, to be a part of Lear's growing awareness and help in the development of Lear's character. He does this by not letting Lear forget what he has done to himself, reminding Lear constantly of his tragedy. Even though being a Fool he is supposed to distract Lear from 'His heart-struck injuries', the Fool understands that mistakes must be endured and learned from, and he stays and endures with Lear. ...read more.

Conclusion

'Not I'th'stocks, fool.' Lear's senile antics may provoke laughter in the audience, but the Fool's jokes can also be used to divert it. For example, when Lear is arguing with the storm and stripping away his clothing he could be laughed at. A simple comment by the Fool, 'tis a naughty night to swim in', channels the laughter towards the Fool and away from Lear, so that Lear still remains the centre of the tragedy. His role remains constant throughout the play before the Fool makes an untimely departure from the stage. It is thought, by some, that this may be because the actor Robert Armin, for whom the role of the Fool was created, also played the part of Cordelia. This would be a good practical explanation as Cordelia soon returns into the play. It is also thought that when Lear has learned all of the Fool's wisdom and good judgement, the Fool's job is done and he is no longer needed, so he disappears. Another view is that Lear has only managed to learn a little about how to truly appreciate the Fool's wisdom and companionship, and when the Fool realises that no amount of lyrical advice will help to bring Lear back to his senses, he leaves. Whatever the real reason for the Fool's unexpected exeunt it is clear that his departure marks the beginning of the end for Lear. The beacon of goodness and loyalty in the play has left Lear to discover what wisdom he can find in his own madness. ...read more.

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