How does the Fool contribute to the theme in Act I? Why is the Fool important for the overall play in King Lear?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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King Lear has been lied to all his life, first when he was a prince and then when he became a king. The play is about human hypocrisy and mendacity (to borrow a good word from Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). As long as Lear had power nearly everyone, including two of his daughters, pretended to admire and adore him. He was misled by all this false adulation. Once he gave away his kingdom, he found out the truth about human nature, which we can still see in operation today. The Fool, on the other hand, is like a village idiot who has never known anything but verbal and physical abuse. He knows very well what human nature is like, and, though he has a low intelligence, he can foresee what is going to happen to his master once he has lost his power. The King, in a sense, is a fool, and the Fool is in some ways superior to the King. Throughout Act I, the Fool is warning Lear what is going to happen. Lear does not fully realize his mistake in trusting his daughters until he is nearly dying of cold and hunger. At one point in Act 4, Scene 6, he says: "They flattered me like a dog, and told me I had white hairs in my beard ere the black ones were there. To say "ay" and "no" to everything that I said!"


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