Lear’s Fool

Indira Ghose

in Shakespeare and Laughter

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780719076923
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700983 | DOI:
Lear’s Fool

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This chapter takes a closer look at the book that launched the idea of the wise fool, Erasmus's Praise of Folly. Erasmus is indebted to the ancient concept of learned ignorance that Renaissance thinkers such as Nicolas Cusa had revived. They believed that the goal of knowledge was to show us our ignorance. In Praise of Folly, Folly holds up a mirror to humanity and poses the question: who is the real fool? Erasmus uses laughter to defamiliarise the world and expose the absurdity of human pretensions. What does not become clear, however, is to what extent laughter serves as a political tool. The ambiguity inherent in humour undercuts any didactic point it purports to make. The most Erasmian wise fool in William Shakespeare's plays is Lear's Fool in King Lear, whose office is to mockingly reveal Lear's own folly. The chapter also explores the function of laughter in Shakespearean tragedy, suggesting that laughter articulates the strain of scepticism about a stable worldview which traversed the early modern age and undercut its sense of optimism.

Keywords: wise fool; Erasmus; Praise of Folly; laughter; humour; Lear's Fool; King Lear; William Shakespeare; tragedy; folly

Chapter.  19071 words. 

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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