Childishness and Foolishness in King Lear

When we look at the play King Lear, it includes much childishness and foolishness. 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} 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 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 free reign against their most venerable father. 

As the play wears on we see King Lear consumed 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 young 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 (offering his guidance and support along the old man’s heartbreaking journey) [ironically it is almost certain that 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 Three.

Although Lear’s initial mistake was indeed foolishness, yet his downfall is indeed prompted by utmost childishness. When Lear is reunited with Cordelia at the end of Act Four, King Lear speaks like a helpless child, “You must bear with me; pray you now, forget and forgive: I am…foolish.” He pleads in the name of forgiveness & second chances [a basic principle of teaching our children] for he realizes that he has her so much wrong:

“For, as I am a man, I think this lady

To be my child, Cordelia.”

consequently Cordelia in turn speaks, just like a mother, with tenderest consolation:

“And so I am; I am.”

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



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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