King Lear Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Is the fool a figment of King Lear's imagination? Most of the time, the fool ONLY talks to Lear, and he only started to appear when Lear started going mad. Kent could seemingly be going along with the fact that Lear is speaking to an imaginary friend out of utter respect for his master. It seems that the fool represents Cordelia, and only really appears when she herself is disowned and cast away. Yes, the fool talks to Goneril, but I find that could simply be a manifestation of what Cordilia would say, had she been there, not necessarily the fool speaking to Goneril, but merely a sheer representation of what would happen if a sane person were in the mix. The fool also disappears at a very unlikely time, and is inevitably NOT around when Lear and Cordelia reunite. I am a bit confused, because while one of my teachers completely agrees with this theory, another doesn't, and I would like to have other peoples opinions.

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It shows deep thoughtfulness that you are considering the character of the Fool in this way, for this is the kind of questioning that has kept scholars discussing and analyzing this (and all of Shakespeare's plays!) through the centuries.

However, if you are interested in a definitive answer, then I'm afraid you'll simply have to rely on the literal evidence of the text.  And, as far as characters in his plays, Shakespeare was clear, obvious and direct.  If a character appears onstage and is visible to all, then that character holds conversation and is included in the action.  And this is true for the Fool.

If Shakespeare, on the other hand, meant a character to be an apparition or visible only to one character, then...

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