King Lear is a Fool

When Lear is mad. What wouldst thou do, old man?
Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak
When power to flattery bows? To plainness honor’s bound
When majesty falls to folly.
This quote takes place in Act I Scene I just after King Lear has disowned Cordelia because she would not flatter him as her sisters did. Kent immediately comes to Cordelia’s defense with this monologue. He states that he can speak plainly and rudely if Lear the King has gone completely mad, which in Kent’s opinion, he has. He refers to him as an old man who is too easily bending his will to flatterers that are not sincere with their words. He asserts that King Lear has fallen to folly, and I agree.
My first impression of King Lear is that he is a horribly insecure old man who has become terribly lonely in his old age, and thus craves love and attention. He wants to be doted upon. He declares that he is going to divide up his kingdom between his daughters, and spend the remainder of his days relaxing and visiting his children. Immediately, I got the sense that he was lonely and insecure as the king. What greater pleasure is there for an elderly Father than to spend time with his children? It makes sense that this is how he would want to spend the remainder of his days. Unfortunately, in this case, it seems that, save for Cordelia, King Lear’s other two daughters don’t care for him at all, but rather they crave his land, wealth, and power. King Lear’s susceptibility to flattery exposes a serious character flaw. He has grown foolish in his old age, rather than wise. (An argument that his fool makes to him later on in Act I) His daughters deceived him, immediately turned on him as soon as they were sure they had all his wealth, and I fear there are greater abuses to come for poor old King Lear.
Something else that I took note of was the verbal bashing of Cordelia simply for being honest. King Lear behaved like a fool and a child when Cordelia refused to flatter him, but rather was honest in explaining her love for him. It’s sad that so far the only apparently redeemable characters Kent and Cordelia, have been verbally bashed abused and punished simply for being honest with the grumpy old King Lear. I think he is going to suffer immensely for his foolhardy decisions.


3 thoughts on “King Lear is a Fool

  1. jolisa

    I like your notion of Lear being insecure and lonely. I think a branch of this may also be the fact that he is also tired of being King and ending his reign completely by claiming that he is mad. I do think that it is his conscious choice to be mad because I don't think that mad people sit around saying that they are crazy. But I think he does want people to dote on his because he is just so exhausted from his reign, he wants to be loved and cared for. I think that if he had a wife he would be behaving differently than now. We may not have had this story.

  2. Genevieve

    I agree with your post saying how Lear comes across as insecure and lonely as well. I got the same impression when reading Act I. It seems to me that he is just tired of being King and wants to finally be able to do as he pleases without having to please others. To do this, however, he must no longer be King. But, he can't just say "I don't want to do this anymore" so he splits up his land between his daughters and puts on this crazy facade. I also think that if he had a wife he would be a completely different character. Maybe he would be more sensible in choosing who to give his land to.

  3. Cyrus Mulready

    You make some really insightful points here, Stephanie, and I agree that this play makes us look at and consider "foolishness" more broadly than simply the character of the Fool. But I wonder if foolishness, or folly, is always such a bad thing? We should consider, as we read on in the play, if folly might actually be a remedy for some of the things we see happen on the stage.


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