King Lear - Theme of Blindness


In Shakespearean terms, blinds means a whole different thing. 
Blindness can normally be defined as the inability of the eye to see, 
but according to Shakespeare, blindness is not a physical quality, 
but a mental flaw some people possess. Shakespeare's most dominant 
theme in his play King Lear is that of blindness. King Lear, 
Gloucester, and Albany are three prime examples Shakespeare 
incorporates this theme into. Each of these character's blindness was 
the primary cause of the bad decisions they made; decisions which all 
of them would eventually come to regret.

 The blindest bat of all was undoubtedly King Lear. Because of 
Lear's high position in society, he was supposed to be able to 
distinguish the good from the bad; unfortunately, his lack of sight 
prevented him to do so. Lear's first act of blindness came at the 
beginning of the play. First, he was easily deceived by his two eldest 
daughters' lies, then, he was unable to see the reality of Cordelia's 
true love for him, and as a result, banished her from his kingdom with 
the following words:

"..................................for we
Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see
That face of her again. Therefore be gone
Without our grace, our love, our benison." 
(Act I, Sc I, Ln 265-267)

Lear's blindness also caused him to banish one of his loyal followers, 
Kent. Kent was able to see Cordelia's true love for her father, and 
tried to protect her from her blind father's irrationality. After 
Kent was banished, he created a disguise for himself and was 
eventually hired by Lear as a servant. Lear's inability to determine 
his servant's true identity proved once again how blind Lear actually 
was. As the play progressed, Lear's eyesight reached closer to 20/20 
vision. He realized how wicked his two eldest daughters really were 
after they locked him out of the castle during a tremendous storm. 
More importantly, Lear saw through Cordelia's lack of flatterings and 
realized that her love for him was so great that she couldn't express 
it into words. Unfortunately, Lear's blindness ended up costing 
Cordelia her life and consequently the life of himself.

 Gloucester was another example of a character who suffered 
from an awful case of blindness. Gloucester's blindness denied him of 
the ability to see the goodness of Edgar and the evil of Edmund. 
Although Edgar was the good and loving son, Gloucester all but 
disowned him. He wanted to kill the son that would later save his 
life. Gloucester's blindness began when Edmund convinced him by the 
means of a forged letter that Edgar was plotting to kill him. 
Gloucester's lack of sight caused him to believe Edmund was the good 
son and prevented him from pondering the idea of Edmund being after 
his earldom. Near the end of the play, Gloucester finally regained 
his sight and realized that Edgar saved his life disguised as Poor Tom 
and loved him all along. He realized that Edmund planned to take over 
the earldom and that he was the evil son of the two. Gloucester's 
famous line: "I stumbled when I saw" (Act IV, Sc I, Ln 20-21) was 
ironic. His inability to see the realities of his sons occurred when 
he had his physical sight but was mentally blind; but his ability to 
see the true nature of his sons occurred after having his eyes plucked 
out by the Duke of Cornwall. Fortunately, the consequences of 
Gloucester's blindness throughout the play was minimal, after all, he 
was the only one to die as a result of his tragic flaw. 

 Albany was another character suffering from the classic case 
of blindness, but luckily for him, he survived his battle. Albany's 
case of blindness was purely a result of the love he had for Goneril. 
 Although he disapproved of Goneril's actions, he would only mildly 
argue his case. When Goneril forced Lear to reduce his army so that 
he could stay in their castle, Albany protested:

" I cannot be so partial, Goneril,
 To the great love I bear You -"
 (Act I, Sc IV, Ln 309-310)

Albany's deep devotion to Goneril blinded him from the evil she 
possessed. His inability to realize how greedy and mean Goneril was 
after she flattered Lear with a bunch of lies and then kicked him out 
of their home, just goes to show you how much Albany loved Goneril. 
Albany was also blind to the fact that Goneril was cheating on him and 
that she was plotting to kill him. Fortunately, Edgar came across a 
cure for Albany's blindness. A note outlining Goneril's evil plans 
was all Albany needed to see. Finally, Albany recognized what a devil 
he was married to and for once let out his emotions when he said:

"O Goneril,
You are not worth the dust which the rude wind
Blows in your face!" 
(Act IV, Sc II, Ln 29-31)

Unlike Lear and Gloucester, Albany didn't suffer much during his bout 
with blindness. Not only did he survive his battle, but he lived to 
remain the ruler of what was once Lear's kingdom.


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