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King Lear Blindness

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King Lear - Blindness

In Shakespeare's "King Lear" the issue of sight against blindness is a recurring theme. In Shakespearean terms, being blind does not refer to the physical inability to see. Blindness is here a mental flaw some characters posses, and vision is not derived solely from physical sight.

King Lear and Gloucester are the two prime examples Shakespeare incorporates this theme into. Each of these characters' lack of vision was the primary cause of the unfortunate decisions they made, decisions that they would eventually come to regret.

The blindest of all was undoubtedly King Lear. Because of his high position in society he is supposed to be able to distinguish good from bad: unfortunately, his lack of insight prevented him to do so.

However, his "vision" is clouded by his lack of insight. Since he cannot see into other people's characters, he can never identify them for who they truly are. When Lear is

angered by Cordelia, Kent tries to reason with Lear, who is too stubborn to remain open-minded. Lear responds to Kent's opposition with, "Out of my sight!" to which Kent responds:

"See better, Lear,

and let me still remain"

(Act I, sc I, l. 160).

Kent, once banished, creates a disguise for himself and is eventually hired by Lear as a servant. The king's vision is so superficial that he is easily deceived by Kent's changed appearance. He can never see his trusted servant for whom he really is. He only learns of Kent's noble and honest character just prior to his death, when his vision is cleared. By this time, however, it is too late for an honest relationship to be salvaged.

Lear's vision is also blurred by his lack of direction in life, and his poor ability to predict the outcome of his actions. This, in addition to his lack of insight into other people, condemns his relationship with his most beloved daughter, Cordelia. When Lear asks his daughters who loves him most, he already thinks that Cordelia has the most love for him. However, when Cordelia says:

"I love your Majesty

According to my bond, no more nor less

(Act I, sc. I,ln. 94-95)

Lear cannot see what these words really mean. Goneril and Regan are only putting on an act. Their love for their father is not as great as they say. Cordelia's words show that she has seen her sisters' facade, and she does not want to associate her true love with their false love. Lear, however, is fooled by Goneril and Regan into thinking that they love him and Cordelia does not. Kent, who has sufficient insight, is able to see through the dialogue and knows that Cordelia is the only daughter who actually loves Lear. He tries to convince Lear of this, saying

"Answer my life my judgment,

Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least"

(Act I, sc I, ln. 153-154).

Lear, however, only sees what is on the surface, and cannot understand the deeper intentions of his daughters' speeches. As his anger grows from the argument, his foresight diminishes and he becomes increasingly rash and narrow-minded. When Lear disowns Cordelia and banishes her from his kingdom he says


Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see

That face of hers again"

(Act I, scene I, lines 264-266)

Ironically, he later discovers that Cordelia is the only daughter he wants to see, asking her to "forget and forgive" (Act IV, scene VII, line 85). By this time, he has finally started to gain some direction, and his sight is cleared. But it is too late. His lack of precognition had condemned him from the beginning, and actually cost him his and his daughter's life.

In Lear's character one sees that physical sight does not necessary guarantee clear sight. Gloucester however shows that physical blindness does not bring ...

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