Childishness and Foolishness in King Lear

When we look at the play King Lear, it includes much foolishness and childishness. The two terms at first glance seem to be the same thing, and although they are similar, they are not the same. Childishness is concerned with relying on a maternal figure; a lack of independence coupled with a self-conciousness towards mistakes when consequences appear. Foolishness {as defined by dictionary.com} is, “lacking forethought or [lacking] caution.” At the outset, King Lear acts with a consummate foolishness by disinheriting the only daughter who truly loves him and leaving the rest to the odious pair hight Goneril and Regan. Cordelia also acts foolishly when she refuses to tell her father how much she truly loves him. It loses her share of the kingdom and sends the whole land into havoc giving her malevolent sisters full reign against their most vulnerable father. As the play wears on we see King Lear comsumed by a destructive kind of childishness. He has lost his independence and seems to be searching for some kind of consolement for his mistake against his youngest and True daughter Cordelia; this has consequently left him out in the cold raging against a terrible tempest of the elements. The fool in a certain sense takes on a maternal role to Lear as he is always there to offer his guidance and support along the old man’s heartbreaking journey [coincidentally it is almost certain the role of Cordelia was doubled by the Fool]. Just like a mother, the Fool is never afraid to tell it like it is. He never leaves Lear’s side till his mysterious departure at the end of act 3. King Lear’s initial mistake was indeed foolishness, but his downfall is indeed prompted by utmost childishness. When he is reunited with Cordlia at the conclusion of Act 4, King Lear speaks like a helpless child; he pleads in the name of forgivness [a basic principle of teaching our children] for doing her so much wrong, and Cordelia in turn speaks just like a mother with tenderest consolation. King Lear shows what can happen when we live so long; our minds can make children out of old men.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:

I think, right there and then, she realized none of us is perfect forever

{Cordelia}

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One thought on “Childishness and Foolishness in King Lear

  1. I think it’s really interesting that you’ve mentioned childishness as being a major theme, I agree with you completely. Like you’ve said, there are maternal figures, but what always struck me was that the play has no actual mothers. The only one mentioned is Edmund’s -and not in the most complimentary terms either.

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