King Lear

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King Lear

Shakespeare's dynamic use of irony in King Lear aids the microcosmic
illustration of not only 16th century Britain, but of all times and places. The
theme that best develops this illustration is the discussion of fools and their
foolishness. This discussion allows Shakespeare not only to portray human
nature, but also to elicit a sort of Socratic introspection into the nature of
society's own ignorance as well. One type of fool that Shakespeare involves in

King Lear is the immoral fool. Edmund, for instance, may be seen as a fool in
the sense that he is morally weak. His foolishness lies in the fact that he has
no sense of right or justice, which rewards him with an untimely, ironic death.

He discusses this as his father, Gloucester, leaves to ponder the
"plotting" of his son Edgar. Edmund soliloquizes, "This is the
excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune... ...we make
guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains on
necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion." (I. ii. 32) for the sole purpose
of illustrating his wickedness. Edmund realizes that his evil is self- taught.

This soliloquy shows the audience Edgar's foolishness in his belief that
malevolence is the force that drives one to greatness or prosperity. It also
illustrates the bastard's mistaken belief that by fooling his father, he might
be able to eliminate Edgar, the competition for Gloucester's title, and possibly
rid himself of his father in the same act. This is a prime example of immoral
foolishness in King Lear. Another type of fool in King Lear is the ignorant
fool. Whereas characters such as Goneril, Regan, and Edmund are fools because of
their tendency to harm others for self- gain, the ignorant foolish are not
necessarily driven to evil. However, the evil are almost always driven to
foolish actions. Gloucester, arguably Lear's foil, puts forth an interesting
perspective in the play. His character is presented as one who is blind to the
truth, and ironically, one who becomes physically blind in the end. In
actuality, it is his blindness to the truth of Edgar's love and Edmund's greed
and apathy that ultimately brings about Gloucester's demise. When he says,
"I have no way and therefore want no eyes, / I stumbled when I saw"
(IV.i.173), he seems to be illustrating the realization of his own foolishness.

Gloucester illustrates, through his use of verbal irony, that his foolishness
lies in the fact that he never truly saw anything (e.g. the true nature of

Edmund or Edgar) until he was blind. Another example of Gloucester's ignorant
foolishness is the misfortune he predicts at the beginning of the play. He says,
"These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us. Though the
wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged
by the sequent effects. Love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide...in
palaces, treason; and the bond cracked 'twixt son and father" (I, ii,

103-109). This statement ironically predicts the vast majority of the play with
uncanny accuracy. Shakespeare seems to be using Gloucester as a tool to provide
more insight into the nature of foolishness. Another ignorant fool, and
obviously one of the most important, is King Lear himself. Shakespeare
deliberately uses Lear as a representation of the darker side of human
foolishness. He appears to be illustrating the folly of not listening to one's
inner voice, as well as discussing the corruption of power and wealth. He first
demonstrates his foolishness by saying to his daughters, "Only we shall
retain the name, and all the addition of a king" (I, i, 15). His wish is to
maintain the kingdom without all the accompanying responsibility of the crown.

However, in a more complicated manner, Lear's foolishness is derived from his
inability to see that although he was king, he was a simple man as well. As a
king, he wished to have his daughters openly display an undying affection for
him. He shows that his practices are derived from that of a king, in that he can
only see life through the eyes of a king, not a simple man. Unfortunately for

Lear, his reason comes to him in madness. He states "When we are born, we
cry that we come to this great stage of fools" (IV.vi.178-179) as if he
finally had come to realization that everyone is a human being, be they king or
beggar. By far the most influential medium used by

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