Fools In _King Lear_

Satisfactory Essays
Fools and Kings

Shakespeare's dynamic use of irony in King Lear aids the microcosmic illustration of not only 16th century Britain, but of all times and places. The theme that best develops this illustration is the discussion of fools and their foolishness. This discussion allows

Shakespeare not only to portray human nature, but also to elicit a sort of Socratic

introspection into the nature of society's own ignorance as well.

One type of fool that Shakespeare involves in King Lear is the immoral fool.

Edmund, for instance, may be seen as a fool in the sense that he is morally weak. His

foolishness lies in the fact that he has no sense of right or justice, which rewards him with

an untimely, ironic death. He discusses this as his father, Gloucester, leaves to ponder the

"plotting" of his son Edgar. Edmund soliloquizes,

"This is the excellent foppery of the world, that

when we are sick in fortune...

...we make guilty of our disasters

the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains

on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion." (I. ii. 32)

for the sole purpose of illustrating his wickedness. Edmund realizes that his evil is self-

taught. This soliloquy shows the audience Edgar's foolishness in his belief that

malevolence is the force that drives one to greatness or prosperity. It also illustrates the

bastard's mistaken belief that by fooling his father, he might be able to eliminate Edgar,

the competition for Gloucester's title, and possibly rid himself of his father in the same

act. This is a prime example of immoral foolishness in King Lear.

Another type of fool in King Lear is the ignorant fool. Whereas characters such as

Goneril, Regan, and Edmund are fools because of their tendency to harm others for self-

gain, the ignorant foolish are not necessarily driven to evil. However, the evil are almost

always driven to foolish actions. Gloucester, arguably Lear's foil, puts forth an interesting

perspective in the play. His character is presented as one who is blind to the truth, and

ironically, one who becomes physically blind in the end. In actuality, it is his blindness to

the truth of Edgar's love and Edmund's greed and apathy that ultimately brings about

Gloucester's demise. When he says, "I have no way and therefore want no eyes, / I

stumbled when I saw" (IV.i.173), he seems to be illustrating the realization of his own
Get Access