The Role of the Fool in King Lear
King Lear is arguably one of the greatest of Shakespeare's tragedies. It is a tale of love and deceit, folly and loss, madness and sanity. Amid the action of Kings and knights, regents and dukes, turmoil and war stands the enigmatic character of the Fool. Unlike most of Shakespeare's Fools, The Fool in Lear is not even given a name even though he is one of the most important characters in the play.
Lear's Fool is always perceived by the other characters as little more just a professional fool. However he is insightful, perceptive and honest to a fault. "Prithee, nuncle, keep a schoolmaster that can teach thy fool to lie: I would fain learn to lie." (Act I, Sc 4, p.45) Far from being foolish the Fool is indeed the clear voice of reason in the play. he is the only voice of reason that Lear will permit himself to hear, though at first he does not recognise it as reason. Cordelia is banished because she spoke honestly of her love for her father, Kent is banished because he gave honest counsel to his King. The fool however, speaks honestly, yet Lear laughs mistaking it for tom foolery.
It is noted that there exists a link between Cordelia and the Fool. It may have been originally intended that the two characters were played by the same actor as neither character is onstage together. It has also been suggested, that Cordelia and the Fool are one and the same person. This supposition is based mostly on the line Lear speaks over the body of Cordelia "And my poor fool is hang'd" (Act V, Sc 3, p.136). This hypothesis does not have much credibility however, as it fails to take several facts into account. When the Fool is introduced in Act I, Scene 4, Lear states that He has not seen the fool in two days. The Fool has a real familiarity with the King that is only reached over time. He refers to Lear as "nuncle" just as Lear calls him "boy" and "lad". These are terms that indicate some affection and a longer relationship than one that could be formed in the time provided by this hypothesis. One also is mindful of Lear's tolerance of the Fool who pushes the boundaries of what should and should not be said to a King. Testimony is given to this by Goneril who calls him "your all-licens'd fool" (Act I, Sc 4, p.46).
A long and affectionate relationship between Lear and the Fool is evidenced by the devotion the Fool has for Lear, accompanying him through the worst of conditions and into madness. The Fool loves not so much the man Lear has become, as the great King he was. When Lear asks somewhat rhetorically during his argument with Goneril, "Who is it that can tell me who I am?" It is the Fool...