Lear’s Fool and Cymbeline’s Cloten and Their Social Significance
Clowns and Jesters abound throughout the Shakespearean canon, and the Bard’s later plays are no exception. In this paper I plan to examine the later Shakespearean fool, particularly King Lear’s Fool and Cymbeline’s Cloten and how they represent various political and social ideas. First, I will examine the historical significance of both Fool and Cloten’s station, their historic relevance, and similarities to other socio-political archetypes. Next, I will look at how Lear’s Fool and Cloten reflect the idea of progress by revolutionary derailment of main characters inspiring monarchical overturn and progress. Third, I will examine the symbolism in their deaths and how it reflects the historic trend of the maligned lower class, post overthrow.
Historically, the transition from the Elizabethan reign to James’ was a time of subtle social-realignment. The idea of the monarchy was beginning to show signs of weakness following the James’ ascension and the intellectual, producing artists like Shakespeare, were among the first to placate and simultaneously subvert it. Those of Shakespeare's own socio-economic class were fostering a class-limiting, Puritan structure. It is evident Shakespeare wholly rejected this new social ethic. He began to suggest in his writing a morality based in the issue brought to light by the humanist “bourgeoisie” of the Renaissance that was largely extracted from all but the landed feudal class. This “Renaissance Bourgeoisie” historically did not carry out its promises at that time nor later. Immediately after its first victories, its class limitations and contradictions forced it to chan...
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...’s Men depended on the patronage of the court. This precarious position afforded them many privileges in exchange for a limited artistic freedom that consciously praised and subversively undermined the imperfections of the royal politic. Both characters lend themselves to what, in retrospect, resembles a semi-Marxist, class defined, framework. Both Lear’s Fool and Cloten act as intermediaries of progress in the thinking of heads of state affecting redirection of the ruling class. King Lear’s Fool and Cymbeline’s Cloten, both reflect the duty of Shakespeare’s writing to the crown and the ability of art and entertainment, to critique those in power and move them towards change.
Shakespeare, William, Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katharine Eisaman Maus. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.
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