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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: May ::
What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0474  Monday, 22 May 2006

[1] 	From: 	Carol Barton <
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 	Date: 	Wednesday, 17 May 2006 12:33:17 -0400 (GMT-04:00)
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?

[2] 	From: 	Sarah Cohen <
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 	Date: 	Wednesday, 17 May 2006 10:56:58 -0700
 	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?

[3] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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 	Date: 	Wednesday, 17 May 2006 19:38:52 +0000
 	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?

[4] 	From: 	David Evett <
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 	Date: 	Wednesday, 17 May 2006 17:14:05 -0400
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?

[5] 	From: 	Bruce Young <
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 	Date: 	Wednesday, 17 May 2006 15:34:38 -0600
 	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Carol Barton <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 17 May 2006 12:33:17 -0400 (GMT-04:00)
Subject: 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?

In line with Gregory McNamara's observation that the Fool's "prophecy" 
proves true where Cordelia is concerned, I have an entirely different 
"take" on Lear's response to his daughter's death. Just as the Fool has 
been Lear's "mirror up to nature," pointing out his follies, so Kent and 
Cordelia have been his Fools, too--not in the modern sense of one who is 
foolish, but in St. Francis of Assisi's sense, of one who does what men 
consider foolish in the service of God. The Fool risks death by exposure 
for accompanying Lear to the heath; Kent risks execution for defying his 
banishment; Cordelia loses her own life for saving her father; yet Lear is 
the true fool in the modern sense, because he fails (until the end) to see 
the great love and loyalty each of them bear to king and father, in spite 
of himself.

"My poor Fool is hanged" can mean in this context any one of the three 
Fools who were daring enough to tell Lear the truth, each at his or her 
own peril. I don't think there's any warrant in the text for believing 
that the figure in Lear's arms--who we know for certain has been 
hanged--is anyone but Cordelia--and certainly, the lament "Why should a 
dog, a horse, a rat have life, and thou no breath at all...?" would be a 
little OT, unless it did in fact refer to his daughter.

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Sarah Cohen <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 17 May 2006 10:56:58 -0700
Subject: 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?

>is "fool" used as a term of endearment anywhere else in
>the canon?


Yes.

* The Nurse twice refers to the infant Juliet as "pretty fool".

*  Hermione says " Doe not weepe (goode Fooles) There is no cause." Wint. 
T. II. i. 118 (The OED uses this quote to illustrate the use of the word 
fool "as a term of endearment or pity".)

Also, the following uses of the word "fool" might arguably play on a 
double meaning of "fool" as "simpleton" and "child":

* Hamlet (Polonius to Ophelia): "Tender yourself more dearly; or - not to 
crack the wind of a poor phrase, running in thus - you'll tender me a 
fool".

* All's Well That Ends Well (Parolles to First Soldier): "I know him: a' 
was a botcher's 'prentice in Paris, from whence he was whipped for getting 
the shrieve's fool with child, --a dumb innocent, that would not say him 
nay."

Cary Dean Barney's point is well taken, though. In the overwhelming 
majority of instances, the word "fool" appears to be either an insult or a 
job description.

Sarah Cohen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 17 May 2006 19:38:52 +0000
Subject: 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?

Cary Dean Barney asks:

>is "fool" used as a term of endearment anywhere else in
>the canon?  Wouldn't Shakespeare have chosen another such term so as
>to avoid confusion with another character in the play?

Couldn't Shakespeare have intended the confusion or mind meld of Fool and 
Cordelia? Furness in his NEW VARIORUM KING LEAR (republished 1963) offers 
a three-page note on V.3.106. All the cited critics, save one, opt for 
"Cordelia" as the "poor fool": they include Chambers, Clarke, Collier, 
Dyce, Halliwell, Hudson, Knight, Lloyd, Malone, Moderly, Rann, Steevens, 
Verplanck, Wright, and Furness himself. Of these, Collier, Halliwell, 
Knight, and Lloyd see the confusion as possibly deliberate.  Sir Joshua 
Reynolds alone votes for the "Fool" as Lear's "poor fool."

Regards,
Joe Egert

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Evett <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 17 May 2006 17:14:05 -0400
Subject: 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?

>I recall an RSC production in which Michael Gambon played
>Lear and Antony Sher played the Fool, and in the mock justice
>scene Lear accidentally stabs the Fool who sinks back dead into
>a barrel.  Lear of course, does not notice what he's done.
>
>It's as good a theatrical solution as any to an intractable problem.

The ploy has been borrowed (or maybe reinvented) for the Actors' 
Shakespeare Project production of the play, with the 81-year-old Alvin 
Epstein as a memorable King. It will be reprised at LaMaMa in New York 
June 16-July 2.

David Evett

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bruce Young <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 17 May 2006 15:34:38 -0600
Subject: 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0457 What happens to the Fool in _Lear_?

Though Cary Dean Barney makes a plausible case that Lear is referring to 
the Fool when he says, "My poor fool is hanged," I'm still not convinced. 
A brief summary of my reasons:

(1) Though Lear's mentioning the Fool might be another example of bad 
timing along with several others, it doesn't feel to me like the others. 
(For instance, Kent's interruption to reveal himself is just the sort of 
thing a person might do in such a situation; but Lear's interruption of 
himself when he's so intensely focused on Cordelia rings less true to me.)

(2) It seems to me unlike Shakespeare to casually (and ambiguously) refer 
to a significant character's death with no further explanation about when, 
where, by whose orders, etc.--especially in such a way that the casual 
reference could be taken as referring to someone else.

(3) "Poor fool" could be a term of endearment.  At the moment I can't 
think of other uses by Shakespeare, but I just ran across one by Ben 
Jonson, in Bartholomew Fair: Littlewit is looking for his wife--"my pretty 
little Win"--and says, "Poor fool, I fear she's stepped aside" (Act V, 
scene vi).

I'm sure further research would yield evidence that might make me more or 
less confident in thinking Lear is referring to Cordelia.

Bruce Young

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