Theme of Blindness in King Lear
Theme of Blindness in King Lear
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:
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:
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.