‘The theme of blindness, both literal and metaphoric, is thought-provokingly explored throughout King Lear’
Discuss this view with reference to the play.
To say that King Lear is thought-provoking is like saying the pope is a committed catholic! Everywhere you look in the play there’s something to stimulate the grey matter; it’s no wonder the brilliant bard is as famous as ever. From the fascinating characters to the intense drama of it all, Lear is clearly a play that deserves to live long in the mind. Crucial to the appeal of the play, even for a modern audience, lies in its ability to explore themes that are as relevant today as they ever were. Central to those, in my mind, is the theme of blindness. In its literal form It is responsible for one of the most savage acts in all of literature, but in reality, it’s the metaphorical significance of blindness in the play that really gets you thinking; and how, in the end, ‘a man can see how this world goes with no eyes.’
(*1 + 2) Gloucester’s literal and metaphorical blindness
Horrifying as much as thought-provoking, I defy any student of this play not to be forever scarred by Cornwall’s sadistic blinding of Gloucester. Egged on by those ‘pelican daughters’ he mercilessly ‘plucks’ out the ‘vile jelly’. I found it to be a deeply disturbing moment, made all the worse by the terrible truth being revealed to the blind and bleeding Gloucester, that it was own blindness to his son Edmund’s true nature that led him to his terrible fate. It was reminder to us as an audience that lacking insight can bring terrible consequences. Though I had nothing but sympathy for Gloucester for the brutality of the act against him, it was hard not to think that he contributed heavily to his own demise by being so ‘credulous’, and therefore so easily fooled by the cunning Edmund.
(3) LEAR: Blind to his daughter’s true nature
To be fair to Gloucester, he is far from the only one who is blind to the true nature of others. Lear is similarly lacking in the ability to distinguish between those have love for him and those who seek to do him harm. I really couldn’t get over just how long it took him to realise that Goneril and Regan are ‘tigers, not daughters’; and even that he could get it so badly wrong in the first place. The false flattery that he falls for is barely credible, and the fact that he compounds the situation by disclaiming ‘all my paternal care’ to the one daughter that does love him and have his best interests at heart, is quite shocking. I found it extraordinary to think that a man, who, as king of England, had the fate of millions of people in his hand, could be such a poor judge of character, and remain completely blind to their true intentions. Could any living person, never mind a king, really be that naïve?
- (4)LEAR: Blind to his own weaknesses
- (5)LEAR: Blind to human suffering
- (6)LEAR: Blind to reality of his own powerlessness
- (7)GONERIL/REGAN: Blinded by love for Edmund