King Lear – Fool’s character

Many directors argue over the importance of the character of the Fool in the play. Discuss whether or not you feel the Fool is essential to the play or whether or not the character could be removed without damaging the overall impact. Make a reference to the text to support your ideas.

William Shakespeares genius came from how closely he intertwined the two seemingly mutually exclusive realms to appeal to all socio-economic groups in his audience. The character of the Fool provides the closest intercourse of the two realms between King Lears royalty and Poor Toms poverty, while still maintaining their separation. The Fool’s role in King Lear was to counteract the King’s follies in order to bring him to his senses. With his honesty, wit, and clever wordplay that interweave foreshadowing and practical advice, the Fool entertains not only the King, but the audience as well, and brings some light and humour into this tragedy. All the characters in King Lear, apart from the Fool, are interconnected and of great importance to the story of King Lear and his daughters and the story of Edmund, Edgar and Gloucester. The character of the Fool did not have influence over Lears decision to divide the kingdom, nor did the Fool have any connection with the subplot. Perhaps, for this reason many directors argue over the importance of his character. One should be able to realize that the presence of the Fool did not influence the overall impact of the play and that the two major plots would have occurred with him or without him. Personally, I believe that his character should not be excluded from the play as this would damage the balance of tragedy versus comedy that was deliberately set up by Shakespeare, which would result in a loss of audience.

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There is a saying that goes, “Only fools and children tell the truth”. Shakespeare does a great job of illustrating this saying through the Fool’s character. The Fool is being loyal and honest to his master Lear no matter how painful the truth may sound. In Act 1, Scene 4, in the introduction of his character, the Fool is playing with his hat and tells the king, thou must needs wear my coxcomb, stating that the king is a fool for dividing his kingdom in such a way after a ridiculous love test (line 101). In the same scene the Fool also mentions, thou madest thy daughters thy mother, meaning that Lear has made his daughters his parents (line 168-169). One should perceive that in this first Act the Fool appears and speaks of reality to the King who was blinded by flatteries of his evil daughters. He tacitly insinuates through his actions and statements that Lear is among the company of fools, which provides the hint of foreshadowing the audience needs to know that Lear is losing his wits. However, where was the Fool when the King made his decision to divide the kingdom? Obviously the King did not think it was important for the Fool to be employed in political or family matters. Important matters as such were none of his business. Thus, the Fool did not have any influence over Kings decision and therefore, over the major plot of the play.
In the following scene the Fool tries to convince Lear of his mistake again and informs him that Regan will, taste as like this as a crab does to a crab, meaning that Regan and Goneril are of the same nature and that there is no need for him to go to her after Goneril has rejected his knights (Act1, Scene 5, line 18). However, this does not stop the King from going to meet with his other daughter. The Fool again had no influence over Kings actions and he follows the King to Regans palace. In the meantime, the subplot of the play develops where Edmund proceeds with his evil plan. The character of the Fool has no connections with the subplot, therefore, he is unable to influence its overall impact.
At the very end of Act 2 when the King was insulted and hurt by both of his daughters, he rushes out of Gloucesters castle into the storming night. The Fool follows the King through his misery like a shadow until he realizes that Lear has erred in his judgment of his daughters and in giving away his kingdom. The Fools exit from the play and his last line, And Ill go to bed at noon, is appropriate as it is ridiculous as Kings previous behaviour in the storm (Act 3, Scene 6, line 84). The Fool does not reappear later in the play. He was needed to be Lears guide and conscious during his fall. There is no doubt at this point that Lear has been driven to insanity and is beyond the help of the Fool and his truth telling and eye opening remarks. After all, the Fool did not have any control over Kings behaviour or his actions. Perhaps, this final exit is due to Lears madness. The Fools character jumps into the play at the end of Act 1, and in the same manner disappears out of the play at the end of Act 3. Subsequently, the presence of the Fool did not change the rules of the game and his disappearance did not affect the consequences of the war and death that followed. Thus, the Fools character had no influence over the final impact of the play.

The character of the Fool was not needed anymore to amuse the audience or the King or to connect the in-between of royalty and poverty. The vanishing of the Fool foreshadowed cruelty, war and death. As a Fool, he would be unable to prevent the battles anyways. He was not needed anymore to come up with riddles and humour in Shakespeares tragedy.
Since the Fools character had no influence over Kings actions and no connections with the subplot of the play, his removal would therefore not influence the overall impact of the play. However, through his bewildering statements the Fool adds an intriguing essence to the play in foreshadowing coming events and in amusing the King and the audience. When directing his own plays, Shakespeare made sure to include the character of the Fool, as in this way, he managed to bring his tragedy to equilibrium and his play to appeal to all the socio-economic groups of the audience. Also, there arent many plays or movies that suggest the connection between the King and the jester in his court. I believe that this play reveals much of that friendly connection that the audience is asking for. Therefore, for all these reasons, I believe that the character of the Fool should not be taken out of the play even though it doesnt have a role in the two major plots of the play.


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