The Role of the Fool in King Lear Essay

2177 Words 9 Pages
Alison Dew

Explore the role of the fool in King Lear.

In Elizabethan times, the role of a fool, or court jester, was to professionally entertain others, specifically the king. In essence, fools were hired to make mistakes. Fools may have been mentally retarded youths kept for the court’s amusement, or more often they were singing, dancing stand up comedians. In William Shakespeare’s King Lear the fool plays many important roles. When Cordelia, Lear’s only well-intentioned daughter, is banished from the kingdom Fool immediately assumes her role as Lear’s protector. The fool is the king’s advocate, honest and loyal and through his use of irony sarcasm and humour he is able to point out Lear’s faults. Functioning much as a chorus would
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The fool’s purpose is to make Lear laugh; yet in reality he makes serious remarks on the action and points out to Lear what is happening with his behaviour. Fool is paradoxically wise, typical of the Shakespearian ‘fool’.

The Fool often sounds cruel as he criticizes and speaks to Lear with such irony and sarcasm. Oftentimes, it appears that Fool is kicking a man when he’s down, but as the play progresses, one senses how much the fool loves his king, and just how protective he is of his master. The Fool makes his first appearance in act one scene four where his initial address to Kent clarifies that he sees Kent to be Lear’s ally. Lear, paying Kent says:

Lear: Now my friendly knave I thank thee; there’s earnest of thy service.

Fool: Let me hire him too, here’s my coxcomb.

In this the fool uses his coxcomb as a metonymic device to illustrate Lear’s foolish division of the kingdom and Kent’s idiocy in his will to follow Lear who is now without a kingdom or home. Fool can empathize with the loyalty felt towards Lear, yet Fool holds one power over Kent – his ability to point out the king’s faults. He serves as an unbiased advisor, providing Lear with many lessons that a more
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