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Comparative Study of Fool's Character in Shakespeare’s and Kurosawa's Works

In Akira Kurosawa’s transformation of King Lear into Ran, the flat character of the Lear’s Fool has evolved into Hidetora’s Kyoami, a character who exhibits a quantity of private complexities absent from Shakespeare’s Fool. Both characters have a substantial and special position in their respective dramas, however exactly where the Fool is a flat character with a reasonably tiny impact on the Lear plot, Kyoami is bigger, far more fleshed-out figure in Ran, a single whose relationship with his Wonderful Lord gives a lot more individual complexities than the more familiar partnership among a Western king and his jester. Ultimately, Kyoami is a more human character than the Fool, one whose crises of conscience in remaining loyal to Hidetora are a important aspect of the film’s morality.

In Lear, the Fool occupies a position in the Lear’s court which would have been familiar to Shakespeare’s audience. The Fool has a higher license than any other character to criticize Lear, and certainly the Fool spends considerably of Act I excoriating a bemused Lear, in spite of the vaguely jocular threat of a whipping. In addition, the Fool enjoys a position of prominence in the Court with Lear as his benefactor Lear indeed is said to have struck a gentleman for the “chiding of his fool” (I.iii 1), and Lear, irrespective of his attitudes at any offered point, exhibits a willingness to listen to his Fool and banter with him, even when the Fool’s observations are specifically biting.

In contrast to the relationship in between Kyoami and Hidetora, however, the partnership in between Lear and the Fool seems extremely 1-dimensional. The Fool receives no real backstory in the play, and his position was not an unfamiliar 1 to early 17th century viewers: he is simply a Fool, and hence is anticipated to make such observations in counsel for the King. His partnership with Lear is as nicely a given. Roz Simon, Royal Shakespeare Company play guide writer and editor, notes the following:

Distinction was produced between fools and clowns, or nation bumpkins. The fool’s status was 1 of privilege within a royal or noble household. His folly could be regarded as the raving of a madman but was usually deemed to be divinely inspired. The ‘natural’ fool was touched by God. Significantly to Goneril’s annoyance, Lear’s ‘all-licensed’ Fool enjoys a privileged status. His characteristic idiom suggests he is a ‘natural’ fool, not an artificial one particular, although his perceptiveness and wit show that he is far from being an idiot, even so ‘touched’ he may well be.

Much more importantly, the Fool himself is a very flat character, a single who has no real character arc of his personal he is, in all these respects, almost a stock character, one particular whose functionality in the major Lear plot as a source of observation, commentary, augury, wit, and even persuasion is much more important than himself as an actor in the play. In other words, although every single other primary character has a uniquely traceable story inside Lear, one particular which includes crises of conscience and morality as well as a distinct personality, the Fool’s character features no such complexities: the Fool is constantly merely the Fool, and he professes to stay with the fallen King during Lear’s time of misfortune merely due to the fact he is a Fool. In spite of the provocative nature of the Fool’s statements which render him an engaging force in the play, the Fool is in the end so marginalized in the story that he merely disappears in the third act beneath ambiguous situations.

For all of Kurosawa’s intention to give Lear a stronger backstory, there exists a marked absence of a backstory for Kyoami, an aspect which underscores the complexities of his turbulent partnership with Hidetora. As with the Fool, the audience learns small about Kyoami’s previous life with regards to how he came to be Hidetora’s retainer, the difference becoming that there apparently existed no comparable tradition of a fool-variety character in medieval Japanese history. Whereas an audience can view Lear’s Fool and right away comprehend the position of the character, the identical can not be mentioned for Kyoami. Even in writing the script to the film, Kurosawa needed to grasp at the Lear story in order to accurately describe the character he was forming on this, Alexander Leggart writes:

He has some precedent in Japanese tradition: commenting on him, Kurosawa equated him to the licensed entertainers kept by warlords and permitted freedom from the rules of etiquette. […] But he also comes from the outdoors: he is introduced in the screenplay as a ‘servant-entertainer, the equivalent of the fool in a medieval European court.’ This is the only Western analogy the screenplay draws. (182)

Kyoami, hence, is established in the film as Hidetora’s servant, a person of low birth and low privilege (in contrast to Lear’s “natural” Fool) who nonetheless enjoys a number of specific privileges in his connection with Hidetora. Visually, Kyoami seems in stark contrast to the rest of the hunting celebration in the film’s initial scene. Whereas the a variety of nobles and warriors are displayed sitting stiffly and decorously, Kyoami, in his short efficiency, is a lively presence. He moves his colorfully-dressed physique enthusiastically and without restraint, virtually seeming to transcend the respectful rigidity of those around him. In spite of his position of subservience, Kyoami, as an entertainer and as a comic, naturally enjoys a certain freedom of movement, of dress, and of speech.

Unlike Lear with his Fool, the laconic Hidetora does not frequently engage in banter with Kyoami Hidetora hardly ever even seems to take pleasure in his loyal servant-entertainer’s antics, and as the Great Lord slips into madness, he acts belligerently and capriciously towards Kyoami, at one point whipping him for his insolence. But there appears to exist a mutual loyalty in between servant and master in this relationship, very best exemplified by the early scene in which Hidetora unexpectedly slays a soldier threatening to maim or kill an unarmed Kyoami. Even though this incident is not explicitly discussed at any point in the film (except as the impetus for Taro’s exile of his father), that reality must not obfuscate the important truth that Kyoami owes his life to Hidetora. Additionally, this violent act is the closest point to an expression of gratitude or affection we see Hidetora make for Kyoami.

Whereas the Fool sticks with Lear because, he says, he is a Fool, Kyoami’s continued loyalty to Hidetora is a far more nebulous matter. In spite of his cynicism towards Hidetora’s warlike approaches, Kyoami is clearly really emotionally invested in his service to Hidetora: he cries openly right after Hidetora casts him out for disagreeing with the choice to go to the third castle. After Hidetora is mentally enfeebled by his experience in the third castle, the onus falls on Kyoami and Tango to care for their leader, which they initially do unquestioningly. Sooner or later though, Tango departs, and for a time, Kyoami is tasked with caring for Hidetora alone the time the two commit with each other ultimately causes Kyoami to undergo a moment of significant introspection. As Hidetora sleeps, Kyoami wonders aloud why he decides to remain with the fallen and helpless old man in the burnt ruins of the third castle: “Why keep with this mad old man? If the rock you sit on begins to roll, jump clear. Or you will go with it and be squashed. Only a fool stays aboard.”

In Lear, the Fool ruminates in equivalent terms, despite the fact that his questioning is not private. In Act II, scene iv, the Fool uses the metaphor of a wheel rolling down a hill, concluding that it would be knavery to desert Lear: “But I will tarry the fool will stay, / And let the sensible man fly. / The knave turns fool that runs away / The fool no knave, perdy” (76-79). Kyoami’s own conclusion to stay with Hidetora appears more emotional. Kyoami in fact collects his belongings and starts to run off, only to cease when Hidetora unexpectedly calls out asking where he is. “Paradise! [Heaven!],” Kyoami responds bitterly, then walks back to pull a blanket more than Hidetora and lie beside him. “All my life, I’ve been his nurse,” Kyoami remarks, as the Excellent Lord looks up at him with sad, hollow eyes.

From the earlier incident, Kyoami owes a debt of life to Hidetora, and this may possibly extremely nicely factor into his selection to remain with the helpless fallen man. Yet there is a far more sublime aspect to Kyoami’s character in the story, one which Kyoami himself seems to recognize. In contrast to the violence, chaos and rampant perfidy which characterize Ran’s milieu, Kyoami is a strongly meliorating influence. He is an enthusiastic entertainer, not a warrior or a geisha by virtue of his position, he seeks to amuse, to lighten one’s feelings and thoughts. Like the devout Sue and the blind Tsurumaru, Kyoami is an really pacifistic character in the film. Other than Tsurumaru, is the only male character seen with out weapons or armor, and he excoriates Hidetora for his life of violence, keenly perceiving the awful consequences to a life of bloodlust (contrast this to the attitudes of Hidetora’s other loyal retainer Tango, who zealously and eagerly hunts down two traitorous former lords). Kyoami is as properly a quite feminine character, exhibiting a quantity of traits contrary to the dominant hyper-violent masculine social structure of the period, including his fanciful behavior, his physical look, his frequent crying, and his antipathy towards violence (the actor cast as Kyoami, Peter, was at the time a young drag performer).

The truth that Kyoami calls himself Hidetora’s “nurse” is considerable. If Kyoami had indeed been Hidetora’s servant all his life, he probably did not have to take care of his Lord in quite the identical fashion as he does in the ruins. Saying that he “nursed” Hidetora carries a feminine connotation and suggests that Kyoami has been acutely aware of the palliative aspects of his performance — and, perhaps, of his mere presence — for Hidetora more than the years. At the scene’s finish, the shot lingers on Hidetora and Kyoami lying beside each other, as Hidetora dumbly appears more than his shoulder at his “nurse,” insisting on the emotional tranquility which Kyoami’s presence brings. Kyoami, in deciding to remain with his Lord, hence recognizes how much Hidetora wants him. It suggests not only that Kyoami is grateful, but also that, just as Kyoami is acutely averse to harming one more individual via violence, he is also averse to causing harm via inaction. Kyoami’s tender kindness in this instance hence suggests a private morality which exists far above and beyond the violent stances of the rest of the film’s characters.

Performs Cited

Leggatt, Alexander. King Lear. 2nd ed. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.

Simon, Roz. “King Lear.” Royal Shakespeare Firm. Accessed 18 April, 2008. <>.
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