ACT I – Scene.v
(This scene is still set in the Duke of Albany’s palace)
Kent is given orders to ride to Regan’s home so that she can prepare for the
King’s arrival. The Fool endeavors to lift the burden that his master carries and tries to lighten his mood with rhymes. However, Lear is depressed and fears for his own sanity.
The scene ends with the announcement that preparations are ready for the
This scene is only fifty-one lines long, but it is a masterpiece of dramatic
It requires the actors playing Lear and the Fool to be at their best.
The challenge is to do justice to the lines provided for them by Shakespeare.
The Fool says of Regan, “Shalt see, thy other daughter will use thee kindly;
for though she’s as like this as a crab is like an apple, yet I can tell what I can tell.”
Lear asks the Fool to explain and he goes on to say, “She will taste as like this as a crab does to a crab. Thou canst tell why one’s nose stands in the middle on’s face?” We think initially that the Fool is referring to Regan, but it is in fact Cordelia that he refers to and as the conversation develops, Lear realizes his true folly in not only disposing of his Kingdom, but also losing the daughter that really loved him. He concludes, “I did her wrong.”
Again speaking in riddles, the Fool comments on Lear’s disposal of Britain
by saying, “I can tell why a snail has a house.”
Lear: “Why?” Fool: “Why, to put his head in; not to give it away to his daughters and leave his horns without a case.” In giving away his Kingdom, Lear has made himself very vulnerable, like a snail without its shell. Lear finishes by saying, “O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven!”
Through their conversations, we see how close the King and the Fool are.
There is even a suggestion of role reversal when the Fool suggests that if Lear were his Fool, he would have beaten him for being old before his time.
The reader may have suspected that Lear’s sanity was in doubt, and now he
suspects that he is mad because of the recent poor decisions he has made. Perhaps he suffers from what we would today term as a kind of dementia, the symptoms of which we have previously described. The
Fool tries to warn Lear about the reception he may obtain from Regan, but whatever happens to the King he will obtain support from both Kent and the Fool.
Perhaps it might be appropriate if Lear swaps his crown for a coxcomb.