The fool’s lines in Act 3 Scene 2 of King Lear make an ironic echo to the immediately preceding passionate invocation by Lear, the famous passage where he implores the maelstrom of nature to consume him because he is so deeply in grief due his perceiving the betrayal of his daughters. Lear says: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!/You cataracts and hurricanoes,/ spout Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!” (1-3) These lines imply erotic and sexual imagery, alongside Lear’s naked pain and rage. In response, and keying on the aforementioned sexual imagery, the fool replies:
“He that has a house to put`s head in has a good headpiece.
The codpeice that will house
Before the head has any,
The head and he shall louse;
So beggars marry many.
The man that makes his toe
What he his heart should make,
Shall of a corn cry woe,
And turn his sleep wake.
For there was never yet fair woman but she made mouths in a glass.”
The central irony of the fool’s response is that it is, ostensibly, delivered by a fool. However, the sophisticated metaphor, wordplay, and double-entendre in the fool’s response indicates not only a wise and witty retort, but a deep-seeing and worldly knowledge, given ironic and tragic juxtaposition with the King’s primal invocation to the forces of destructive nature.
The fool’s advice is that one must be pragmatic “He that has a house to put’s head in has a good headpice,” which is to say: “the man who has a solid home is a smart man, he has a good head on his shoulders.” This bit of useful advice is quickly expanded upon by the fool, through an extension of the wordplay involving the phrase “head,” which finds sexual connotation in the fool’s observation that “the codpiece that will house/ before the head has any” is a direct indictment of lust prevailing over reason.
It is worth noting that the fool’s words are delivered in the manner of a world-wise individual , not the chipper and curious wanderings of a naive ponderer, but the quasi-cynical observations of an experienced soul, one whose wry observations begin with noting the futility of a man attempting to identify with the entirety of nature, the drama and epic scope. Rather, the man should be humble take care of his “head” and his “home.” The fool’s admonitions conclude with dire warnings concerning the nature of women, and particularly their potential sexual proclivities and deviances. The fool seems to be suggesting throughout his clever reply to Lear that the King has allowed women to influence his life far too heavily; the fool hints that Lear’s faults are rooted in vanity, that he has been thinking with the wrong “head,” so to speak. And this vanity, which has feminized Lear, by the fool’s reckoning, is the same vanity that affects beautiful women themselves, who, the fool concludes, spend all of their time looking in mirrors.
The mirror image in line 38: “For there was never yet fair woman but she made mouths in a glass” is both fascinating and technically brilliant because the fool’s words have, in effect, functioned as a mirror for Lear’s own self-involved imploring. The fool’s words, as a mirror to Lear’s instability, reveal that Lear, rather than invoking destructive nature in his passion, she rather invoke within himself an authentic “manliness” or vigor, which will allow him to do as the fool advises: to have “a good headpiece.”