In King Lear, Lear says, 'When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.' Who are the fools to whom he refers and did the term "fool" have a different meaning than simply a...
In King Lear, Lear says, 'When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.' Who are the fools to whom he refers and did the term "fool" have a different meaning than simply a person who does silly things?
Shakespeare, speaking through King Lear, is using poetic license here. It is common knowledge that every baby cries as soon as it emerges from its mother's womb. If it doesn't cry of its own volition it will be given a sound slap on the behind to make it cry. This is supposedly necessary to start the lungs working and to clear the respiratory passages. Lear pretends that babies all cry at birth because they realize they have been brought into a terrible world. He has already described to Gloucester some of the human behavior he deplores, beginning with:
A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears: see how yond justice rails upon yond simple thief. Hark, in thine ear: change places, and handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?
Lear continues for many lines giving illustrations of the wickedness and duplicity of humanity. One striking example is:
The usurer hangs the cozener.
A cozener is what we would nowadays call a con-man, a swindler. A usurer may charge exorbitant interest and add penalties for late payments and be considered respectable and law-abiding.
When Lear uses the metaphor "this great stage of fools" he is talking about all the people in the entire world. He has developed a very negative world view as a result of his experiences with his two thankless, selfish and deceitful daughters. When a bit earlier Gloucester says, "O, let me kiss that hand!" Lear says, "Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality."
This is not the only play in which Shakespeare compares the entire world to a stage. In As You Like It, Jacques has a long monlogue in which he begins with the lines:
All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players
When Lear calls the world a...
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