King LearQuestion #3: Consider the wisdom of King Lear’s fool. Look closely at the interplay between Lear and his fool and at the speeches of the fool, which offer instruction to the king. Look for connection the play makes between Lear’s fool and the other “fools” in the play – Cordelia, Kent, and Poor Tom.
King Lear’s fool is undoubtedly one of the wisest characters in the play. He is not only able to accurately analyze a situation which many other characters are blind to, but he is also able to foreshadow the actions of many characters and many other incidents to come. The main instruction the fool gives to the king is to beware of doing things that are unnatural, such as giving his inheritance, (splitting his kingdom among his daughters) to his daughters before he his dead. By doing this unnaturally, Lear must face many adverse consequences, such as losing his identity, self-worth, and respect from his daughters.
Many connections between the fool and Cordelia, Kent and Poor Tom are evident, mainly because they all remain true to the King throughout the entire play. Also, all four of them are not rewarded for their loyalty in the beginning and Cordelia and Kent are both “banished” from the kingdom by Lear. These four are the true selfless characters in the play, all a source virtue that the other characters lack.
1. “Mark it, nuncle:
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 shalt have no more
Than two tens to a score.”
(I, IV, 115.)
-One significant irony in the play is the wisdom the Fool has.
This advice the Fool is giving to Lear carries a great weight in foreshadowing mistakes, and solutions for them that Lear will make.
-The Fool’s constant advice to Lear goes unheeded by Lear, but ironically is the best advice for him to take.
-The main message the Fool is trying to tell Lear is be careful what you give in accordance to what you have.
-More clearly, the Fool is warning Lear that giving up his Kingdom (a necessity for Lear) before his time was unwise.
2. “Then ‘tis like the breath of an unfee’d lawyer; you
gave me nothing for’t. Can you make no use of nothing,
(I, IV, 127.)
-The Fool’s question to Lear “Can you make no use of nothing…” is not really a question concerning what Lear has given the Fool, but a direct question of Lear’s life. He had given away all he had to his daughters, which meant he literally had nothing. What the fool meant is that having nothing, he (Lear) cannot expect to make anything of it.
-The Fool is pointing out to Lear the obvious foolishness in giving away all he had to his two undeserving daughters.
-Ironically, Lear truly is the fool in this story, and even more ironically the Fool is one of the wisest characters.
3. “That lord that counseled thee
To give away thy land,
Come place him here by me;
Do thou for him stand.
The sweet and bitter fool
Will presently appear:
The one in motley here,
The other found out there.”
(I, IV, 138.)
-The Fool is showing the error in Lear’s way. He hinting that whoever put such a stupid idea in Lear’s head should be punished according to Lear’s future suffering.
-Also, it is possible the Fool suspects that whoever counseled Lear to make the decision to split up his kingdom among his daughters was in fact an adversary (possibly Oswald) of either Goneril or Regan, and would now be “here”, in life’s favor, while Lear would be “found out there”, outside of life’s favor, more specifically in the rain.
4. “All the other titles thou has given away; that
thou wast born with.”
(I, IV, 147.)
-The Fool is sarcastically speaking his feelings on the foolishness of Lear giving away his inheritance and power too soon.
-He is also stating that Lear is no longer the same person he used to be because he has lost his kingship, which was innately given to him.
-Lear’s mistakes leave him in a sort of identity crisis, because all that he used to be related to was taken away when he gave up his lifelong titles.
5. “Why, after I have cut the egg I’ the middle and eat
up the mat, the two crowns of the egg. When thou
clovest thy crown i’ the middle and gav’st away both
parts, thou bor’st thine ass on thy back o’er the dirt.
Thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown when thou
Gav’st thy golden one away. If I speak like myself in
This, let him be whipped that first finds it so.
[Sings.] “Fools had ne’er less grace in a year,
For wise men are grown foppish
And know not how their wits to wear,
Their manners are so apish.””
(I, IV, 156.)
-The Fool is clearly speaking the folly of Lear’s ways. By giving away his kingdom, he truly did bear his ass on his back over the dirt.
-By splitting his inheritance too soon, Lear put himself in a terrible situation, one which will cause him much suffering, grief, and disrespect from his daughters.
-Lear had no wisdom, wit when he gave away his golden crown because it was a major mistake.
-The Fool’s wisdom gives us an insight into what is to come. He already knows how Goneril and Regan will treat their father, and how Cordelia will as well.
-The Fool knows that Lear, giving up his crown, just as easily exposed his heart to be shot by anybody.
6. “I have used it, nuncle, e’er since thou mad’st thy
daughters thy mothers; for when thou gav’st them the
rod and put’st down thine own breeches,
[Sings.] “Then they for sudden joy did weep,
And I for sorrow sung,
That such a king should play bo-peep
And go the fools among.”
Prithee, nuncle, keep a schoolmaster that can teach thy
fool to lie. I would fain learn to lie.”
(I, IV, 169.)
-The Fool is speaking of how Lear putting power in his daughter’s actions put Lear in the position of a child, and his daughter’s as his mother.
-The Fool is speaking out his sorrow or discontent with the present situation of the king. He realizes that Lear is being played a fool, and it is his own fault.
7. “I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are.
They have me whipped for speaking true, thou’lt
have me whipped for lying, and sometimes I am
whipped for holding my peace. I had rather be any
kin o’ thing than a fool. And yet I would not be thee,
nuncle. Thou hast pared thy wit o’ both sides and left
nothing in the middle. Here comes one o’ the parings. ”
(I, IV, 179.)
-The Fool is able to see the significant difference between Lear and his two evil daughter’s Goneril and Regan. The inconsistency with their father in the treatment of the fool shows the true character of the daughters. They whip him for telling the truth, which is odd. Most people hate being lied to, but Goneril and Regan will have it no other way.
-The Fool is speaking of Lear’s self worth, expressing it to be nothing, for he’d rather not be a fool, but more so, he would not be Lear, for Lear is more a fool than he.
-The Fool knows that Goneril and Regan carry all the power that Lear used to have because he gave it to them, and now he is left with nothing.
8. “Thou wast a pretty fellow when thou hadst no
need to care for her frowning; now thou art a O with-
out a figure. I am better than thou art now; I am a fool,
thou art nothing.”
(I, IV, 188.)
-The Fool knows that Lear is changed now because he is worried that Goneril is frowning.
-Lear should not have to worry about Goneril frowning because he his her father, but the fact that he gave her half of his land and worth, he is nothing.
-The Fool thinks that Lear used to be respectable but now has become pathetic he has become an “O without a figure”. He has lost his identity, his self-respect, and his kingship.
9. “For you know nuncle,
“The hedge sparrow fed the cuckoo so long
That it had its head bit off by its young.”
So, out went the candle, and we were left darkling.”
(I, IV, 212.)
-The Fool is using an illustration to show Lear the error of his ways. Lear, just like the sparrow gave his daughters too much of what he had too soon, and now will bear the consequences.
-Lear’s head, or identity, will be bitten off by his daughters as a result of his lack of wisdom.
10. “May not an ass know when the cart draws the
horse? Whoop, Jug! I love thee.”
(I, IV, 221.)
-The Fool is making a sort of sarcastic joke pertaining to the fact that now Lear’s daughters are in control of Lear, and he does not even know it.
-This is due to Lear’s foolish nature.
-This is also a consequence to Lear’s unwise action of splitting up his kingdom before his time is up.
11. “Lear’s shadow.”
(I, IV, 228.)
-The Fool is sarcastically remarking that what he sees is not the grand King who Lear once was, but a mere shadow of that man.
-When one refers to a shadow of a man, it usually means what is left of a man after much of his good attributes were taken away, either by himself or by some other person/force,
in Lear’s case, the Fool is referring to what is left of Lear after he had given up all his self worth including his kingship, power, money, and land.
12. “Nuncle Lear, nuncle Lear! Tarry, take the Fool with
A fox when one has caught her,
And such a daughter
Should sure to the slaughter.
If my cap would buy a halter.
So the Fool follows after.”
(I, IV, 314.)
-The Fool is speaking of the evil in Goneril, and how a person of this character would soon be punished.
-The Fool being wise chooses to follow Lear rather than Goneril because he knows that Goneril’s selfish actions will catch up to her in the future.
13. “Shalt see thy other daughter will use thee kindly,
for though she’s as like this as a crab’s like an apple,
yet I can tell what I can tell.”
(I, V, 14.)
-The Fool is much more wise than Lear, so he already knows how Regan would act even before they see her.
-He knows that although Regan is not exactly like Goneril, she will treat Lear just as bad as her.
14. “Why, to put ‘s head in, not to give it away to his
daughters and leave his horns without a case.”
(I, V, 30.)
-This is the Fool’s explanation to Lear of why a snail has a shell.
-Although he is clearly talking about a snail, he is symbolically talking about Lear as well.
-The Fool is stating the obvious, that Lear is a fool for giving away his only source of protection, his shell (kingdom) to his daughters.
-The Fool is revealing the utter stupidity Lear carries for giving away such a necessary thing such as his kingship to his daughters, at the wrong time, while he is still living.
It would be as foolish as a snail giving up its shell while it’s alive, it would obviously die without the protection it had relied on its entire life.
15. “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst
(I, V, 43.)
-The Fool pointing out the fact that Lear, in accordance to his age should be very wise by now.
-Because Lear is not as wise as his age should tell, the Fool is merely stating that for his own good, he should’ve been wise before he had decided to pass on his inheritance to his daughters.
-The Fool presents this as a sort of solution to Lear’s problems, al though a solution to a problem unsolvable now. If Lear had been wiser and less hasty with his decision, he would not be in such a horrible disposition.
16. “She that’s a maid now, and laughs at my departure,
Shall not be a maid long, unless things be cut shorter.”
(I, V, 50.)
-The Fool speaks of Lear’s daughter.
-The fact that the Fool is so wise is a great source of irony carried throughout the play. He already foreshadows the fact that Lear’s evil daughters (Goneril and Regan) disrespectful behavior, and cruel treatment of their father will not go unpunished, and their youth will be taken away soon.
17. “Winter’s not gone yet if the wild geese fly that
Father’s that wear rags
Do make their children blind,
But fathers that bear bags
Shall see their children kind.
Fortune, that arrant whore,
Ne’er turns the key to the poor.
But, for all this, thou shalt have as many dolors for thy
Daughters as thou canst tell in a year.”
(II, IV, 45.)
-The Fool knows that because Goneril and Regan allow their father to be in such a peasant-like state they will suffer greatly.
-If Lear had stored up his inheritance for his children, then his daughters would’ve not been as selfish and in turn would treat him kind.
18. “That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain
And leave thee in the storm.
But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
And let the wise man fly.
The knave turns fool that runs away;
The fool no knave, pardie. ”
(II, IV, 76.)
-This is the Fool’s insight into the situation Lear is in.
-He knows that certain followers of Lear are not true, and when the situation gets tough, they will leave, but the Fool is true to the King.
19. “This is a brave night to cool a courtesan. I’ll speak
a prophecy ere I go:
When priests are more in word than matter;
When brewers mar their malt with water;
When nobles are their tailors’ tutors,
No heretics burned but wenches’ suitors’
Then shall the realm of Albion
Come to great confusion.
When every case in law is right,
No squire in debt, nor no poor knight;
When slanders do not live in tongues,
Nor cutpurses come not to throngs;
When usurers tell their gold I’ the field,
And bawds and shores do churches build,
Then comes the time, who lives to see ‘t,
That going shall be used with feet.
This prophecy Merlin shall make, for I live before his
(III, II, 79.)
-The Fool’s allusions to great ironies in life reflects his opinion of Lear’s choice to split his kingship up among Goneril and Regan.
-He is showing us the wrongfulness of Lear’s decision, and how it defies against all rules of nature.
-All the things that are meant to be are not, which for Lear is going to cause him suffering.
-He should’ve waited to die and then pass on his kingdom to his daughters, and he did not, he should’ve given Cordelia most of his kingdom and he gave her none.
20. “And I’ll go to bed at noon.”
(III, VI, 85.)
-This is a response to Lear’s ironic statement: “We’ll go to supper I’
the morning.” (III, VI, 83.)
-The Fool is obviously responding to Lear’s foolish statement by paralleling it with a statement just as senseless.
-This is the last line the Fool has in the play, in a sense his sleep to symbolize a “death” of his character in the play.