King Lear

Folly of the Fool

In Elizabethan times, the role of a fool, or court jester, was to professionally entertain others, specifically the king. In essence, fools were paid to make mistakes. Many of the fool's quips and riddles were made at the expense of the king. The "all-licensed" fool was able to get away with this due to his position (1.4.191). By using the character of the Fool in King Lear, Shakespeare intends to illustrate the imperfections in human nature by showing that all humans can be guilty of folly. He portrays this in a number of characters, but namely through his protagonist, Lear, in several important scenes of the play.

As the tragedy opens, Lear presents his three daughters with a feigned hearing that allows them to make a public pronouncement of their love for him. He is delighted when Goneril says hers is "Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty" (1.1.56). He is similarly pleased with Regan's praises. Lear foolishly believes that Goneril and Regan love and respect him the way they say they do; he is oblivious to the fact that his daughters, or anyone for that matter, may lie for their own benefit. Because he believes his eldest daughters' insincere adulation, Lear's trial proves him a fool.


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