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The Blindness of "King Lear"

Updated on May 11, 2011
Benjamin West, King Lear, 1788
Benjamin West, King Lear, 1788 | Source

A very important, recurring theme throughout King Lear is blindness. Blindness is usually defined as the inability of the eye to see but, as Shakespeare proves, it can also refer to a mental flaw. Shakespeare uses two important characters in this play to display some type of blindness, King Lear and Gloucester. Perhaps their blindness was the cause of the terrible decisions that each of them seemed to make.

            Although King Lear is not physically blind, he displays many acts of mental blindness. He displays his lack of sight when he is deceived by two of his daughters. He is made vulnerable to destruction by his lack of insight. This is a very surprising characteristic because he is a king. A king should be aware of things going on in his presence. King Lear’s blindness also causes him to banish his daughter, Cordelia, because he does not see the love she has for him. King Lear’s vision improves throughout the play but not before he also banishes a very loyal follower, Kent. The terrible decisions that King Lear makes, ultimately leads to his own downfall.

            Gloucester was also plagued by mental blindness. He was blind to see the good in his bastard son, Edgar and the evil ways of his son, Edmund. He allowed Edmund to cloud his vision with evil ideas that Edgar was plotting to kill him. It was not until the Duke of Cornwall removed his eyes that he was able to see the truth concerning the loyalty/love and disloyalty/hatred of his sons. He stated, “I stumbled when I saw” (King Lear, 4.1, line 17). This ironic statement made by Gloucester speaks volumes.

            King Lear and Gloucester both display the characteristic of only seeing what is presented on the surface. Their attitude and confidence proves to be a major downfall in the course of their life. Shakespeare used this theme throughout the play in order to tell people that everything in the universe cannot be see solely with the eye, but with the heart and soul. What do you think?


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