The Wisdom of King Lear's Fool in Shakespeare's King Lear
King Lear's fool is undoubtedly one of the wisest characters in the play. He is not only able to accurately analyze a situation which many other characters are blind to, but he is also able to foreshadow the actions of many characters and many other incidents to come. The main instruction the fool gives to the king is to beware of doing things that are unnatural, such as giving his inheritance, (splitting his kingdom among his daughters) to his daughters before he his dead. By doing this unnaturally, Lear must face many adverse consequences, such as losing his identity, self-worth, and respect from his daughters.
Many connections between the fool and Cordelia, Kent and Poor Tom are evident, mainly because they all remain true to the King throughout the entire play. Also, all four of them are not rewarded for their loyalty in the beginning and Cordelia and Kent are both "banished" from the kingdom by Lear. These four are the true selfless characters in the play, all a source virtue that the other characters lack.
1. "Mark it, nuncle:
Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,
Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest,
Leave thy drink and thy whore,
And keep in-a-door,
And thou shalt have no more
Than two tens to a score."
(I, IV, 115.)
-One significant irony in the play is the wisdom the Fool has.
This advice the Fool is giving to Lear carries a great weight in foreshadowing mistakes, and solutions for them that Lear will make.
-The Fool's constant advice to Lear goes unheeded by Lear, but ironically is the best advice for him to take.
-The main message the Fool is trying to tell Lear is be careful what you give in accordance to what you have.
-More clearly, the Fool is warning Lear that giving up his Kingdom (a necessity for Lear) before his time was unwise.
2. "Then 'tis like the breath of an unfee'd lawyer; you
gave me nothing for't. Can you make no use of nothing,
(I, IV, 127.)
-The Fool's question to Lear "Can you make no use of nothing…" is not really a question concerning what Lear has given the Fool, but a direct question of Lear's life. He had given away all he had to his daughters, which meant he literally had nothing. What the fool meant is that having nothing, he (Lear) cannot expect to make anything of it.
-The Fool is pointing out to Lear the obvious foolishness in giving away all he had to his two undeserving daughters.
-Ironically, Lear truly is the fool in this story, and even more ironically the Fool is one of the wisest characters.
3. "That lord that counseled thee
To give away thy land,
Come place him here by me;
Do thou for him stand.
The sweet and bitter fool
Will presently appear:
The one in motley here,
The other found out there."
(I, IV, 138.)