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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Oil Paintings on Shakespearean Themes

#67 "KING LEAR: FOOLS"
Description of Painting - Oil on canvas 22"x 30"
by Hannah Tompkins

 

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Fool: (sings)
"Then they for sudden joy did weep,
And I for sorrow sung,
That such a king should play bo-peep,
And go the fools among."
This is what the Fool sings to Lear, after he has relinquished his crown and divided the royal power between his two daughters, who now conspire in a plot to reduce him further. Their first blow is one of humiliation.

Unable or unwilling to accept a situation that is apparent to both Kent, (the loyal Earl still serving the king though banished and in disguise), and the Fool, whose insights are in sharp contrast to his calling, the king vainly tries to assert his authority.

The "they" in the song refers to the daughters who beguiled their father with sweet talk till their legacy was secured, then set about to eliminate him.

The painting is divided by color contrasts denoting the opposites of joy and sorrow, represented by the two fools. The song of sorrow is on the bright side, while joy is framed by the dark curtain of secrets and intrigues.

Loyalty and deception are another pair in the many significant opposites in the play. The Fool is a sterling example of devotion. When he sees his king visibly shaken by the filial assault he comforts him with another song:
"That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain,
And leave thee in the storm.

But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
And let the wise man fly:
The knave turns fool that runs away;
The fool no knave, perdy".
His promise is prophetic, for in the next scene the Fool is the only one to accompany the distraught king when he flees into the raging storm on the heath.

FIN


Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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