Fool In William Shakespeare's King Lear

1739 words - 7 pages

Fool in William Shakespeare's King Lear

The Fool’s function in King Lear is to create emphasis on the tragedy
in the play and give insight into the characters’ true nature. He
shows other characters’ nature though blunt comments and earns himself
the name of ‘all-licensed Fool’, as he clearly states peoples’ inner

He develops the tragedy though a theme of madness and instability,
from his use of poems and rhymes intermingled with standard prose,
which even then is full of cryptic phrases and drivel. This, also,
creates a dramatic atmosphere, as the lines of his riddle are short
with a quick tempo.

However, the Fool was not just used in King Lear. There were many
other Fools used in different plays and the beginning of the use of
the Fool was in medieval England in the 13th Century. The Fool was
used as the link between the exotic imagination of the play and the
immediate world of the audience. His duties include improvising with
the audience and sweeping aside the confines of the script in order to
establish verisimilitude and an easy transformation between English
oral and written traditions. There were two kinds of Fool during
Shakespearean times. These were: the natural Fool - a physically and
mentally disabled person; and an artificial Fool – a witty and clever

The Fools first appearance is in Act I scene IV, where he shows his
views of Cordelia, Goneril, Regan and Lear. To begin with he believes
that Goneril and Regan are fools, expressing this to Lear through the
phrase ‘How now, Nuncle! Would I have two coxcombs and two daughters’.
Goneril and Regan being fools is portrayed through this statement as
coxcombs are the hats jesters or fools wear, and the Fool is comparing
these to them. He also states his point of view towards Lear’s
decision to banish Cordelia, and believes Lear to be a ‘sweet and
bitter fool’ for this action. This shows one of his functions is to
comment on relationships and characters.

The Fool’s views on the situation here emphasise the atmosphere of
madness and tragedy that Shakespeare is trying to portray to the
audience. The Fool’s function is therefore to make us feel pathos
towards Lear’s folly and Cordelia, and clarify Goneril and Regan’s
hatred towards their father. In addition to this, he adds contrast to
the tragedy through his use of poems and riddles in this scene, which
creates a comical element. The Fool creates most of his desired
functions through these changes in his style of language. Throughout
the play, the Fool talks in riddles and poems amid normal prose. He
uses this to confuse Lear and for comic relief, which I have already
mentioned as one of his functions. This also keeps the audience and
Lear interested in his conversation. The Fool’s language makes Lear
want the Fool to ‘teach [him]’. The...

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