RE-EDUCATING A KING: KING LEAR'S SELF-AWARENESS
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:
The fisherman that walk along the beach
Appear like mice.
Although this quote from Shakespeare's King Lear is made by Poor Tom to his unknowing father Gloucester about the terrain far below them, it accurately summarizes the plight of the mad king. Lear is out of touch with his surroundings, riding high upon the wave of power associated with the monarchy: even those closest to him are out of reach, viewed with a distorted lens. It is through this lens of madness that Lear views his friends and family, and thus he is stripped of everything before he can realize the folly of his judgment. Reduced to a simple man, Lear is forced to learn the lessons that God's anointed is already supposed to know.
This is the purpose of the secondary characters of King Lear; they serve to show the many complex facets of Lear's complex personality, as they force him to finally get in touch with his self-conscious.
For example, the Fool, oddly enough, acts as the voice of reason for the out-of -touch King. He views events critically and thus seems to foreshadow situations that an ignorant Lear is completely oblivious to. This is evident in act 1, scene 1, when a prodding Fool asks the king if he knows the difference between a bitter fool and a sweet fool. When Lear admits that he does not, the Fool attempts to lay it all out in front of him:
That lord which councelled thee
To give away thy land,
Come place him here by me;
Do thou for him stand.
The sweet and bitter fool
Will presently appear;
The one in...