Last Modification Monday July 14, 2003 15:01  
King Lear FAQ

This list of Frequently Asked Questions is derived from the discussion board provided on this site. The answers were contributed by people on this board. I have two main reasons for creating this FAQ: 1. I do not host this discussion board on my server, so it could literally disappear at any moment. All of the excellent information provided by King Lear readers would be lost. 2. This is an easy way to sift through the volume of messages on this board. Most important is that I believe this information should be free and accessible to anyone who would like to study King Lear. If you have any additions, corrections, or new questions with answers to add, please e-mail me at: I intend for this to be a living document, so please contribute and make your thoughts of this play survive eternally on the internet!

Here it is:

What happens to the fool in the latter half of the play? Where does he go?

Are Cordelia and the fool the same character?

How should an actor play the role of Kent?

Is King Lear Insane?

What do the storm scenes reveal about Shakespeare's intentions in the creation of Lear's character and how is the Fool important to this?

What makes King Lear a tragedy?

Why does King Lear take off his clothes in Act 3?

What happens to the fool in the latter half of the play? Where does he go?

Huh writes: "I think the fool does not return because during Shakespeare's time, people played a dual part. And if I remember correctly, the person playing the fool played another part that was included in much of the final parts of the play. The fool and this other character (Cordelia, I think) never were on stage at the same time."

Mickey writes: "It has been argued that the fool is killed
"and My Poor Fool is hanged" Lear V,iii."

Marshall writes: "The fool leaves the play as soon as he is not needed anymore. What I mean about this is that the play sprt of Lear's Conscience througout the play, He was his eyes and his way to truth. Once lear realized what he had done wrong the fool was no longer needed to guide him.
And comment of the quote "and my poor fool is hanged" It is not referring to his fool. Fool is a term of endearment in this context reflecting on the death of Cordelia. Cordelia of course was just hung in that scene"

pureblonde writes: "i think the fool goes because he is symbolic in the first act to make comments on Lear's increasing madness and to help him come to grips with what is happening to him. His part is ironic because the 'fool' is actually the wisest one. But after Act 3, the fool isn't needed anymore because Lear now realizes his mistakes and misjudgement."


Are Cordelia and the fool the same character?

A. Collins writes: "The Fool is not Cordelia in disguise - that wouldn't work. She's in France. However they are never in the play at the same time because the Fool is Lear's voice of reason once Cordelia has gone. In Shakespearian times the actor who played Cordelia would also have played the Fool - probably. The fact that the Fool speaks wisdom when he appears to be speaking nonsense is hugely ironic. He is a wise character, but anyone else who tries to tell Lear he's an idiot does not get away with it (namely Kent :) ). Lear likes the Fool to entertain him - he pretends not to notice he's being called a fool himself. Apparently it was a technique Shakespeare used - having fools and jesters speak wisdom. As for the line "My poor fool is hanged", some people are absolutely rigid in their belief that Lear refers to Cordelia and only her. However is it not possible that the Fool may also have been hanged for treason? Anyone who helps Lear is committing reason - let's not forget poor old Gloucester."

jenny writes: "one of the concerns of king lear is the issue of wisdom and folly. the fool serves as a contrast. the king, when he is in his right senses, or 'wisdom', he is a fool, ie dividing up his kingdom, and giving away all his power. the fool, in his maddness, is shown to have a type of 'wisdom', and lear's wisdom is found after he reverts to maddness in the storm scene, and influenced by another fool, Edgar, or tom o' bedlam. the Fool dramitises one of the play's main concerns - the nature of true folly, and therefore the nature of true wisdom. he still has completely irrelevant, crude and sometimes even incoherent lines like the fools of the miracle plays, but the fool's function in lear is different - not to just give the audience a few laughs, but also to teach lear (and consequently, the audience). as for the fool being cordelia in disguise, the original text does not suggest this (a knight says in Act I, 'Since my young lady's going into France,sir, the fool hath much pined away' suggesting the fool and cordelia's relationship), but it has happened in many recent productions, with the same actor playing Cordelia and the Fool. it often happens because both characters are used as tools to teach Lear the nature of his folly. also, it was believed that in Shakesepeare's time, the same popular boy actor was used for both roles, and the fool's last line 'and i'll go to bed at noon' was his apology to the audience for having to leave the stage and go back to his role as cordelia."

Mike writes: "The Cordelia/ Fool debate, I believe, stems from Lear's ambiguous line towards the play's end 'alas my poor fool is hanged'. Some people, many of whom should know better, believe this to be a reference to the Fool- it empahtically is not! Fool is a term of endearment (much like darling) and the rest of Lear's speech prove the line to be delivered to Cordelia. The Fool is not hanged but, I would argue, dies of hypothermia- there are numerous references to him lagging behind during the storm. He physically cannot handle the storm.
However, he dies in part due to mental weariness- Lear has learnt nothing (!) from him...In a sense his all knowing impotence and subsequent death make him one of the most, I believe the most, tragic figure of the play."

olou writes: "many people lean both ways on this matter. back in the day men (or boys) played women's roles, the fool was a young man, so it is quite possible that the boy who played the fool also played cordelia.
people who believe this is the case sight the fact that cordelia and the fool never appear on stage at the same time (explicitiely). note that the fool isn't said to be on stage in act one scene one when cordelia is pissing her dad off. and also the fool just "disapears" for no said reason right before cordelia's return to the play. this is (i believe) act three i don't know what scene.
further arguments for the coexhistance is in the fact that both the fool and cordelia are "good guys", they are among the small group who are good natured and look to help lear out. it wouldn't make too much sense to have a villian and a good guy portrayed by the same actor, but because they both would be in the same mindset (both wanting to help lear) there would be less of a change in the actor's "inspiration" or whatever.
naysayers don't have much to go by...except that the fool KNOWS what happens in act 1 scene 1 of the play in scene 2. how could this be if he wasn't around in act 1? i'm sure there are more arguments against, but i can't recall off top of my head (and i am almost late for class).
in closing, who cares? they ARE different characters in the play, they don't meet or interact at all, buy neither do Edgar and cordellia...who are also both for lear. this is just a small quirk, and with so many other interisting sub-plots and inuendos etc, this is a very minor thing for a paper to be on. "


How should an actor play the role of Kent?

Alexander Mulligan writes: "I played Kent a number of years ago in a strange production. I came to think of him as a very earnest, bumbling man, desperate to please those he loved. There's a craving for attention in Lear, and he's very lonely. Another man without a wife, adoring of Cordelia and Lear, ready to die for both. When he loses his job and his status he's very vulnerable, and clings to Lear in disguise. Deeply insecure. Respect for others turns into worship. He's so self effacing, despite that bluntness. He cannot ask for credit and goes to the bitter end without really being recogised or getting what he needs. When I played him I found him to be single minded, fiercely loyal with a loyalty that blinded him to reality. As the world disintegrated around him he buried himself in service: "I will serve, I will make everything better by serving..." I liked the character enormously: so soft, so unworldly, and throughout the play so lost."


Is King Lear insane?

markally writes: "Lear talk's about "going mad". I'm not sure that's the same as insane. If your using the terms interchangibly, then 1. he leaves the safety of indoors to spend the night in the storm, 2. his rantings with Gloucester, 3. his willingness to spend the rest of his life in prison with Cordelia (before she is killeed."


What do the storm scenes reveal about Shakespeare's intentions in the creation of Lear's character and how is the Fool important to this? (question from Soozie)

nico_b writes: "The revelance of company to character- KL keeps company with his Fool at this low point, so what does it say about him?
The Fool provokes a little response in terms of action from KL which may show character, but mostly he has much insight into KL's personality and life, which he shares with him and the audience. I would try to interpret what the fool is trying to say in the storm scenes and what it shows about KL. See also what is different about what the Fool says here as oppose to in the rest of the play."

What makes King Lear a tragedy?

KatiePete84 writes: "The full title of this novel is The Tragedy of King Lear. More commonly known as simply King Lear, it seems more appropriate to include the full title because this story truly is a tragedy. It is arguably Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, if not his greatest play. Critic Ernest Dowden notes that King Lear is "one in which the passions assume the largest proportion, act upon the widest theater, and attain their absolute extremes." It is all too true. King Lear is a complex character and does not respond well to criticism or a pessimistic outlook in relation to him. The reader finds him to be full of passion (fury) when Cordelia tells him that there is nothing she could say that could rightly express her love for her father. He does not understand that she is the only faithful daughter that he has.
King Lear continues to wear his heart on his sleeve throughout the entire play. Towards the end, we see that he is so engulfed in his remorse and grief of the death of Cordelia that it consumes him. The reason why the play is so tragic is because Lear goes through the entire play, not knowing the quantity and strength of the love that Cordelia has for him. He feels smothered with remorse that he treated her with such disrespect and anger, yet all the while, Cordelia continues to remain loyal despite his cruelty. There certainly is a great deal of significance within this title."

Why does King Lear take off his clothes in Act 3?

Jude writes: "Lear takes his clothes off in the storm to be as close to nature as possible. Also Edgar, who is not wearing many clothes, has inspired him, Lear finds Edgar to be down to earth and easy to relate to."

smiles writes: "lear takes his clothes off 2 find out what separates man from man.He is trying 2 find out how different r we really 2 the 'bare forked animal'"

Table of Contents for the full text of King Lear compiled by MIT

Characters, setting, etc...

Act 1

Act 2

Act 3

Act 4

Act 5

Entire play as one page.

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