The Theme of Blindness in King Lear In the tragedy King Lear, the term blindness has an entirely different meaning. It is not a physical flaw, but the inability of the characters to use their thoughts and emotions to see a person for whom they truly are. They can only read what is presented to them on the surface. King Lear, Gloucester and Albany are three prime examples characters who suffered most by having this flaw. Lear was by far the blindest of the three. Because Lear was the King, one would expect him to have superb reasoning skills, but his lack of insight kept him from making wise choices.
This is the flaw that led to his downfall. Lear’s first big mistake was letting himself be fooled by Regan and Goneril, and giving them his throne. For they did not love him at all, he could not understand the depth of Cordelia’s love for him. He banished her from the kingdom without one thought to what she had said. Lear’s last words to the only daughter that truly loved him were; “…for we/ have no such daughter, nor shall we ever see/ that face of hers again.
Therefore be gone/ without our grace, our love, our benison.” (Shakespeare 1, 1. 262-265) Lear’s blindness also caused him to banish Kent, one of his most loyal followers. Kent tried to stand up to Lear in Cordelia’s honor, but Lear would not listen to what Kent was trying to tell him. To Kent’s opposition; “This hideous rashness, answer my life, my judgement,/ Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least;” ( 1,1. 150-151) Lear responded with, “Kent on thy life, no more.” ( 1, 1, 154) “Out of my sight!” ( 1, 1. 157) This is a good example of Lear’s lack of insight.
He was being too stubborn to see that Kent was only trying to do what was best for Lear. After Kent had been banished, he continued to serve Lear, by wearing a disguise. Because of Lear’s lack of sight he could not see through the costume. As the play progressed Lear’s sanity went downhill, but his vision became clearer. When Goneril and Regan would not provide him with shelter during a furious storm, Lear realized that they were the daughters who did not love him. He also began to understand the words of Cordelia from the beginning of the play, he realized that she loved him too much to put into words.
When Lear and Cordelia finally reunited near the end of the play, Lear expressed his sorrow for what he had done. “You must bear with me, I pray you now, forget and forgive:/ I am old an foolish.” ( 4, 7. 82 ) But it was too late, Lear’s rashness and inability to see clearly had already cost him, and Cordelia their lives. Lear was not the only character to suffer from blindness, Gloucester too, had lack of insight. He could not see the goodness of his son Edgar, and the wickedness of Edmund. A forged letter was the only evidence needed to convince Gloucester that Edgar was plotting to kill him.
Immediately after reading the letter Gloucester screams in a rage; “O villain, villain! His very opinion in the/ letter! Abhorred villain! Unatural, delested, brutish/ villain! Worse than brutish! Go, sirrah, seek him; I’ll/ apprehend him. Abominable villain! Where is he?” (1, 2. 75-78 ) He did not even stop to consider if Edgar were capable of doing such a thing. Ironically, it is not until Gloucester loses his physical sight, when his vision becomes clear. He finds out that it was really Edmund who was after his earldom.
Gloucester feels guilty for the way that he treated Edgar, which is obvious when he says; “I have no way and therefore I want no eyes;/ I stumbled when I saw. Full oft tis seen, our means secure us, and our mere defects. Prove our commodities. Ah! dear son Edgar;/ The food of thy abused fathers wrath;/ Might I but live to see thee in my touch, / I’d say I had eyes again. ( 4, 1. 18-24 ) From this point on Gloucester learns to see clearly by using his heart instead of his eyes.
When Lear questions his vision, he replies; “I see it feelingly.” (4, 6. 149) Albany was another character suffering from blindness, but luckily for him, he survived his battle. Albany’s blindness was purely a result of his devotion to Goneril. Although he disapproved of Goneril’s actions, he would not speak his true feelings. When Goneril would not let Lear’s men into her castle, Albany protested; “I cannot be so partial, Goneril,/ to the great love I bear you-” (1, 4. 306-307 ) Albany’s love for Goneril blinded him from the evilness that she possessed.
He was blind from the fact that Goneril was having an affair with Edmund, and planning to have her husband killed. Fortunately Edgar, devised a plan to cure Albany’s blindness. A letter outlining Goneril’s plan, was all that Albany needed to see. After reading the letter Albany came to his senses and confronted Goneril; ” O Goneril,/ You are not worth the dust which the rude wind/ Blows in your face!” ( 4, 2. 29-31) Unlike Lear and Gloucester, Albany did not suffer from his bout of blindness, he lived to become the leader of which was once Lear’s kingdom. In King Lear, blindness is a theme portrayed by the main characters of these plots. Throughout the play Shakespeare is saying that the world cannot be seen with eyes only.
It is a combination of mind, emotion and heart. True sight comes from within.