The Functions of the Fools in Shakespeare's Problem Plays
Department of English Graduate School of Ajou University
This study aims at examining the fools in Shakespeare's problem plays. My presupposition is that Shakespeare employs different types of fools to analyze main characters in the plays. The fools are Thersites in Troilus Cressida, Parolles in All's Well that Ends Well, and Lucio in Measure for Measure.
In the introduction, I examined the critical questions about classifying the three plays as the problem plays. After this, I explored the historical, social, and dramatic origins of the fool together with two other similar types, the jester and the clown. In his tragedies and comedies, Shakespeare introduces wise fools who are characterized not only by their freedom but also by bondage.
In the problem plays, the fools perform several functions. First, they are commentators. Thersites, Parolles, and Lucio make witty, satirical observations on the folly of main characters. Thersites reveals the absurdity of characters like Agamemnon and Ajax with poignancy. While Parolles exposes Bertram's hypocrisy with boastful language, Lucio unmasks the reality of Duke Vincentio in his irresponsible statements. These fools provide new perspectives on the major issues of the problem plays.
Second, the fools are a comic foil in "artificial societies, whose civilization is ripe unto rottenness"(Boas 344). Examples of this function are found in the Lucio's ceaseless chatters, Parolles's mission of taking back the drum, and Thersites's entertaining remarks on Greek leaders.
Third, fools become scapegoats. The fools undergo almost the same fortune as their masters. As their masters are deconstructed, the fools are sacrificed against their will. Through the fools Shakespeare generates different views of the world and the people.