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 courageous. Goneril's reference to the `all licensed' fool emphasizes the fact that he may be very liberal in what he says. However, we can see that when the Fool becomes too close to the raw truth Lear will warn him that he will be whipped if he goes too far. When Lear first warns him with it, he replies:
"Truth's a dog, that must to kennel: he must be whipped out, when the Lady Brach may stand by the fire and stink."
Here the Fool warns Lear that his two daughters will have control over him due to his actions. Although Lear doesn't want to hear the truth and therefore tries to avoid it, the Fool essentially forces it out into the open through his speeches. He often uses comedic verses of saying to highlight the point he is trying to put across. In addition to this, he also provides various rhymes and riddles, taking on the role of a Chorus as a means of discussing the plays actions in a light-hearted yet clearly stating the essence of what is happening. For example, the following quotation sees the Fool referring to Lear's actions concerning Cordelia:
...That man makes his toe
What he his heart should make,
Shall of a corn cry woe
And turn his sleep to wake"