King Lear

by

William Shakespeare

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King Lear: Foreshadowing 4 key examples

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Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Act 1, scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—To Act a Fool:

As a typical Shakespearean fool, the Fool in King Lear possesses a preternatural ability to speak the truth about Lear’s folly. In Act 1, Scene 5, the Fool appears to predict Lear’s coming fall from grace:

Fool: Yes indeed. Thou wouldst make a good fool.

Lear: To take't again perforce! Monster ingratitude!

Fool: If thou wert my fool, uncle, I'd have thee beaten for
being old before thy time.

As the Fool mocks Lear, he foreshadows Lear’s estrangement from his throne and kingdom; much like a Shakespearean fool, Lear will have nothing else but his wit and his words once his daughters strip him of his land and power. Earlier, in Act 1, Scene 4, he even offers Lear his own coxcomb, or fool's hat:

There, take my coxcomb. Why, this fellow has banished two on 's daughters, and did the third a blessing against his will. If thou follow him, thou must needs wear my coxcomb.—How now, nuncle? Would I had two coxcombs and two daughters.

Identifying the consequences of Lear’s mistake in the shrewd manner available only to the Shakespearean fool, the Fool asserts that anyone misguided enough to follow in Lear’s footsteps would likely need to don a fool’s hat of their own. This statement foreshadows the fact that the few loyal followers remaining after Regan and Goneril’s insurrection (Edgar and Kent) will need to disguise themselves as peasants and mad men in order to remain in service. Although they will not literally don coxcombs, the effect is the same—through changing their clothing, they change their very identity.

Act 1, scene 5
Explanation and Analysis—To Act a Fool:

As a typical Shakespearean fool, the Fool in King Lear possesses a preternatural ability to speak the truth about Lear’s folly. In Act 1, Scene 5, the Fool appears to predict Lear’s coming fall from grace:

Fool: Yes indeed. Thou wouldst make a good fool.

Lear: To take't again perforce! Monster ingratitude!

Fool: If thou wert my fool, uncle, I'd have thee beaten for
being old before thy time.

As the Fool mocks Lear, he foreshadows Lear’s estrangement from his throne and kingdom; much like a Shakespearean fool, Lear will have nothing else but his wit and his words once his daughters strip him of his land and power. Earlier, in Act 1, Scene 4, he even offers Lear his own coxcomb, or fool's hat:

There, take my coxcomb. Why, this fellow has banished two on 's daughters, and did the third a blessing against his will. If thou follow him, thou must needs wear my coxcomb.—How now, nuncle? Would I had two coxcombs and two daughters.

Identifying the consequences of Lear’s mistake in the shrewd manner available only to the Shakespearean fool, the Fool asserts that anyone misguided enough to follow in Lear’s footsteps would likely need to don a fool’s hat of their own. This statement foreshadows the fact that the few loyal followers remaining after Regan and Goneril’s insurrection (Edgar and Kent) will need to disguise themselves as peasants and mad men in order to remain in service. Although they will not literally don coxcombs, the effect is the same—through changing their clothing, they change their very identity.

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Explanation and Analysis—To Build a Shell:

Although they often appear to be largely nonsensical, the conversations between the various characters of the play who are in some state of real or pretend madness—including the Fool, Edgar as Poor Tom, and King Lear himself—often contain astute observations and grains of profound truth. This is the case with this whimsical interaction between the Fool and Lear in Act 1, Scene 5:

Fool: Canst tell how an oyster makes his shell?

Lear: No.

Fool: Nor I neither. But I can tell why a snail has a house.

Lear: Why?

Fool: Why, to put 's head in, not to give it away to his daughters and leave his horns without a case.

Lear: I will forget my nature. So kind a father!—Be my horses ready?

Comparing a snail's ability to keep a home for its own protection with Lear's foolish decision to parcel away his kingdom to his daughters, the Fool hints that Lear has inadvertently risked plunging himself into homelessness. While this is not the case for Lear at the moment, it is a striking bit of foreshadowing: Lear will be cast out into the wilds by his own family and forced to wander in the storm without shelter.

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Act 2, scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—The Coming Storm:

In Act 2, Scene 4, the Fool shares some of his precious—and admittedly obtuse—advice with Kent about the nature of loyalty, ultimately foreshadowing both the literal and emotional storms to come:

When a wise man gives thee better
counsel, give me mine again. I would have none but
knaves follow it, since a Fool gives it.
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, perdie.

Even if the Fool’s point—that a self-serving man will feign loyalty only to abandon the second it begins to rain—was entirely metaphorical, it would be sage advice at this stage in the play, as Lear and Kent begin to learn that the loyalty of Regan and Cornwall is anything but certain. As it stands, however, the Fool not only offers wisdom but also a clear vision of things to come: the reference to the storm directly foreshadows the tempest that will break out by the end of Act 2 and shape the events of the play thereafter. As it would happen, both the Fool and Kent himself are not the sort of men to “pack when it begins to rain,” and, ironically, Lear—who has spent much of the play thus far surrounding himself with disloyal family—will be left in the storm with his most faithful subjects by his side.

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Act 3, scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Gloucester's Stakes:

Foreshadowing is a major tool that Shakespeare uses to build suspense and the sense of impending doom as his tragedies progress. In King Lear, Gloucester in particular makes frequent statements, in various fits of passion, that may feel melodramatic in the moment but in fact hint at the bloodshed to come. When Gloucester confides in Edmund that he has received a letter intimating the arrival of French forces in Act 3, Scene 3, he lays out the high stakes of the ordeal:

Go to; say you nothing. There is division between the dukes, and a worse matter than that. I have received a letter this night; 'tis dangerous to be spoken; I have locked the letter in my closet. These injuries the King now bears will be revenged home; there’s a part of a power already footed. We must incline to the king. I will look him and privily relieve him. [...] If I die for it, as no less is threatened me, the King my old master must be relieved. There is strange things toward, Edmund. Pray you, be careful.

This passage presents a few layers of foreshadowing. Gloucester makes numerous references to the danger of the matter of the letter—it is dangerous to even “speak” of it—and he proudly asserts that the task of helping Lear may well be worth his own sacrifice. Both of these remarks foreshadow the fact that, as it will happen, there is enormous danger in this matter, and it will ultimately spell his doom.

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