What is the significance of the mock trial in King Lear?
The mock trial in this play occurs in Act III scene 6, and is a moment that blends tragedy and comedy. The function of this mock trial overall is to shown the descent of Lear into a state of madness from which it is uncertain that he will never be able to regain his sanity. The absurd nature of the trial of the two stools, which Lear addresses as "she-foxes," is grotesque in its humour, especially when Lear makes Tom o' Bedlam his "robed man of justice," which, as the audience can visually see, is hilarious given that this title represents a pun on the only article of clothing he has on. The ridiculous nature of the mock trial is continued when the Fool is appointed as "yoke-fellow of equity," which, given his nature as a Fool is rather inappropriate, to say the least. The scene as a whole shows the way in which Lear, in his madness, has converted the tragedy of what has happened to him into something of a farce, which interestingly does not make us feel his tragic situation is one that he faces with dignity. We do feel sorry for him and for what he has endured, but such comments as the following, when he is talking about Goneril, hardly imbue him with tragic nobility:
Arraign her first. 'Tis Goneril. I here take my oath before this honorable assembly, she kicked the poor king her father.
The scene is deliberately intended to demonstrate the depths of madness and insanity into which Lear has plunged, problematically challenging our perceptions of him as a tragic hero.