Discuss how the fool in King Lear is important to the play as a whole. Explain how the Fool becomes Lear's voice of reason and his conscience. Does the fool lead Lear to find sanity and wisdom, catalyzing the process of his self awareness?
There is another reason that the Fool is important in the play. Lear has specified that he intends to stay with each of his daughters Goneril and Regan with one hundred knights. He will stay with Goneril for a month and then with Regan for a month. Then return to Goneril. Altogether he will be staying with each daughter for half a year with one hundred knights. This will obviously create chaos. Each daughter will just be getting rid of all these men and restoring domestic order, when here they will be coming back again blowing their hunting horns, with a hundred horses and probably a big pack of hunting dogs. Shakespeare could not show this on his small Elizabethan stage. The Fool therefore has to represent all the hundred knights and the trouble they create. The Fool is consistently insolent to Goneril and encourages the King to be boisterous, rude, demanding, and jocular. Together the King and the Fool suggest the general atmosphere created by one hundred rough, fun-loving men who have nothing to do but enjoy themselves in hunting, feasting, drinking, joking, laughing, sometimes quarreling, and in general taking over the whole castle for a month at a time. Goneril is the first to play hostess. We can imagine how any woman would feel if she had to put up with such an invasion. Even if she truly loved her father, it would still be a housewife's nightmare; but she doesn't love him at all. And she has no idea how long the King will live. The Fool adds to her irritation because he keeps making fun of her. He knows she is angry and frustrated, but this only amuses him because he doesn't like her. He dislikes her because he truly loved Cordelia and feels that the youngest daughter was cheated out of her inheritance by the mendacity of her two older sisters. The more trouble Lear and his hundred knights cause Goneril, the more the Fool will enjoy it.
The Fool is essential to the narrative of the drama. One of the most important reasons is because he is the only individual who can openly criticize King Lear. Since he is licensed, the Fool is able to speak any truth about King Lear and not receive banishment or death for it. This enables him to become a voice of reason and conscience, criticizing Lear when he is wrong. The Fool is able to operate as Lear's moral and spiritual alter- ego, questioning his actions and probing into the nature of what might be or what should be without reproach. Since the Fool is the only one that follows King Lear after his banishment, it is logical that Fool operates as a one who is able to trigger Lear's awakening. The Fool is able to speak the truth, something that got Cordelia banished and repudiated. Since the Fool follows Lear everywhere, this would mean that truth, in a symbolic sense, never leaves Lear's side, deny it as he might like. This becomes the reason why the Fool operates as a catalyst for Lear's process of self- awareness and gaining wise insight into the world and his place in it.
The Fool's lines helps to confirm such a role. Consider that in the first Act, the Fool is the only one to speak of Lear's actions as riddled with fault and a lack of insight:
There, take my coxcomb! Why,this fellow has banished two on's daughters, anddid the third a blessing against his will. If thou followhim, thou must needs wear my coxcomb.--Hownow, nuncle? Would I had two coxcombs and two daughters!
Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,
Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest;
Leave thy drink and thy whore,
And keep in-a-door,
And thou shall have more
Than two tens to a score.
Fathers that wear rags
Do make their children blind,
But fathers that bear bags
Shall see their children kind.
He that has and a little tiny wit,With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
Though the rain it raineth every day.