King Lear

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Fool Character Analysis

Lear's jester, who accompanies him through much of the play. Although his statements come out as riddles, the Fool offers insight into Lear's mistakes and their consequences. Insofar as he stays with Lear, despite all his mockery and criticisms (and at his peril, during the violent storm in Act 3), the Fool, like Kent, Gloucester, and Cordelia, proves himself loyal.

Fool Quotes in King Lear

The King Lear quotes below are all either spoken by Fool or refer to Fool. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of King Lear published in 2004.
Act 1, scene 4 Quotes
"Thou hast pared thy wit o' both sides and left nothing in the middle."
Related Characters: Fool (speaker), King Lear
Page Number: 1.4.191-192
Explanation and Analysis:

As Lear prepares to depart from Goneril’s palace, he is chastised by his Fool (the jester who attends to him, offering entertainment and often wisdom) for his irrational actions. The Fool claims that Lear has lost his mind.

The Fool’s point is not direct, here, but rather conveyed through an odd image. That Lear has “pared thy wit o’ both sides” means that he has sliced or cut off his intelligence—so the Fool imagines “wit” as a physical object that can be cut. Symbolically, the “both sides” could represent Goneril and Regan, to whom Lear has apportioned each half of his estate. For in doing so, he has indeed “left nothing in the middle”: he maintains no power or land of his own, and thus his action could be seen as the result of no “wit.”

This passage also plays with the idea of madness and role-playing in the tragedy. Though the Fool is supposed to be a jesting figure, he speaks here with remarkable insight. (That his words are lighthearted but his content weighty is an another example of how Shakespeare explores the difference between language and meaning.) Indeed, one would never expect him to be able to criticize a king in this way—so Shakespeare seems to have turned the Fool into a ruler at the very moment the King becomes a Fool. Thus even amidst the strict social roles that predominate the text, interactions like this speak to a fluidity in the identities of all the play's characters.


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Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
"Here's a night pities neither wise men nor fools."
Related Characters: Fool (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.14-15
Explanation and Analysis:

Lear and his Fool stand amidst the overpowering storm. The first shouts at the natural forces, while the second offers these more reasoned statements.

The Fool is here describing the way Nature does not affect humans differently based on their social status. This night “pities” none more than others, because it affects all equally. Physically, this would be taking place on the stage as we would see King Lear and the Fool equally affected by the “night.” This statement quite cleverly plays with the opposition between “wise men” and “fools.” Note how the Fool and Lear continue to switch roles: whereas the supposedly wise king is screaming insanely into the environment, the supposedly jesting Fool is offering poignant commentary. Yet that Fool’s wise comment is to once more equate wise men and fools! After all, it is in his madness rather than his earlier rationality that Lear seems more introspective and intelligent. Thus the effect is not particularly to invert their roles but rather to, amidst a physical and metaphorical storm, show how fluidly intelligence and insanity bleed together.

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Fool Character Timeline in King Lear

The timeline below shows where the character Fool appears in King Lear. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 4
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Fooling and Madness Theme Icon
Blindness and Insight Theme Icon
...commoner, to offer his services to Lear. Lear accepts. He sends Kent to fetch his Fool. (full context)
Act 1, scene 5
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
Fooling and Madness Theme Icon
Blindness and Insight Theme Icon
As he prepares to head for Regan's castle himself, Lear is teased by his Fool, who predicts that Regan will be as like Goneril as "a crab […] to a... (full context)
Act 2, scene 4
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
Fooling and Madness Theme Icon
Lear, his Fool, a Gentleman, and his other followers arrive at Gloucester's castle. Confused not to have found... (full context)