The Fool is very important in King Lear. Why?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Fool has an important role in King Lear for several reasons. In the first place, he quickly becomes the only character Lear can confide in. Without the Fool, Lear might be talking to himself in soliloquies. Many kings and noblemen kept fools for amusement in ancient times. These fools were often mentally retarded men who were accustomed to being made the butts of cruel jokes and had developed an understanding of the dark side of human nature. Lear himself lacks this understanding because he has always been treated with great respect until he gives away his kingdom. The Fool serves as a foil to Lear, making the King seem like a fool. The jokes the Fool keeps telling are never funny but usually stale and bad. It would have been wrong for Shakespeare to provide him with jokes that would make the audience laugh while Lear was suffering rejection, disillusionment and bitter regret. The Fool is trying to teach Lear about humanity and about reality, which is Shakespeare's principal concern in this play.