What is the significance of the mock trial in King Lear?

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In act III, scene 6, Lear—with his new, exiled "court" consisting of his Fool, Edgar, and Kent—stages a mock trial of his treacherous daughters, Goneril and Regan. On one level, the scene shows, as Kent says of Lear, that "His wits are gone." Yet it functions as far more than an illustration of Lear's madness.

While there is humor in referring to the Fool as "sapient" or wise, this "upside down" trial continues to reinforce the Fool's role as a clear-sighted and practical advisor. From the moment Lear gives away his kingdom in act I, the Fool tells him he is the biggest fool of all. Now the Fool continues as a truth teller, informing everyone that Lear's Goneril is a "joint-stool." This both indicates that Lear is addressing a stool and is an accurate insult aimed at Goneril, suggesting she is crude and not refined.

The scene also helps raise our sorrow and pity for Lear, who was once a mighty king and is now reduced, as a child might be, to play-acting a trial that relieves some of...

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