Theme of Blindness in King Lear





Shakespeare\'s King Lear tells of the tragedies of two families. At the head of each family is a father who cannot see his children for what they are. Both fathers are lacking in perceptiveness, so the stories of the two families run parallel to each other. In Lear\'s case, two of his daughters fool him into believing their lies. Lear shuts out his third daughter because she cannot her love into words the way he wants her to. Gloucester, similarly, forbids the son that truly loves him, while putting all his trust into the son who betrays him. Both Lear and Gloucester lack the direction and insight that it takes to see reality, instead they see only physically. Lear does not realize his daughter\'s true feelings until it is too late. Gloucester must loose his physical sight in order to gain the type of vision that he needs to see his son\'s betrayal. Shakespeare uses Gloucester\'s realization of reality and Lear\'s inability to see with his heart to portray his theme of blindness.
Gloucester illustrates Shakespeare\'s theme of blindness throughout most of the story. Gloucester\'s blindness prevents him from seeing the goodness of his son Edgar and the evil of his son Edmund. Edmund shows Gloucester a letter that Edgar has supposedly written plotting against Gloucester. Gloucester is easily convinced that Edgar has written this letter and is plotting to kill him. Gloucester\'s lack of insight into Edgar allows him to call Edgar a "Abhorred villain! Unnatural, detested, brutish villain! Worse than brutish " ( I.ii.80-81 ). These are harsh words for Gloucester to say about his son, but he does not have the ability to see how loyal Edgar is to him, so he calls Edgar these names. Gloucester\'s lack of insight also leads him to trust Edmund, his evil son, with all his heart. Gloucester even trusts Edmund with incriminating news of a French invasion. He tells Edmund, " Say you nothing " ( III.iii.8 ). Edmund says to himself after Gloucester has left,
"This courtesy forbid thee shall the Duke
Instantly know, and of that letter too.
This seems a fair deserving, and must draw me
That which my father loses-no less than all.
The younger rises when the old doth fall"
( III.iv.21-25 ).
Edmund immediately says he will betray his father in order to gain his inheritance. Gloucester never sees Edmund\'s plan against him because he does not truly understand Edmund. Edmund\'s betrayal eventually leads to Gloucester\'s physical blindness. With the loss of his physical sight, though, Gloucester learns to see with his heart. Gloucester says " I have no way and therefore want no eyes; I stumbled when I saw ( IV.i.19-20 ). He is saying that his eyes cannot show him the reality he sees now, so he has no use for eyes. Gloucester finds his sense of insight just in time to save his life from his son Edmund. He sees Edmund as an evil man and Edgar as the loyal and loving son that he is.
Lear also cannot see people for who they are throughout most of the story. His lack of insight causes him to be fooled by his two ungrateful daughters. When Lear asks his daughters to publicly profess their love to him in return for a dowry, his two eldest daughters are eager to please. Goneril, the eldest daughter says, " Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter " ( I.i.60-61 ). Regan, the other greedy daughter tells her father, " I am made of that self mettle as my sister " ( I.i.76 ). These words satisfy Lear\'s demands, so he grants them each land. He does not see that these two daughters are playing him for a fool. When Lear asks his third daughter, Cordelia, to profess her love to him, she cannot. She says, " Unhappy as I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth " ( I.i.101-102 ). Lear does not see what Cordelia\'s words truly mean. He can only see on the surface and does not understand Cordelia\'s loyalty to him. His foresight is pushed aside by his anger and embarrassment and he banishes Cordelia from his kingdom. He says,
" we
Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see
That face of