Seeing Blind… Or Not

Throughout King Lear, there is a motif of blindness that can be interpreted in many different ways. There are instances where blindness is figurative, such as when King Lear and Gloucester misjudge their children and are failing to see what they are doing for them, but there are also instances when blindness is literal, such as when Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out.

In terms of the figurative blindness main characters such as Lear face, this theme can be tied into others, including power and madness. In act 1, Lear’s daughters are trying to prove their love to him in order to inherit the best part of the kingdom and Lear’s power. However, once Lear gives up his power and has nothing left considering he gave it to his daughters, he feels that they are now blind to him and don’t care about him. This is captured when Lear states “Fathers that wear rags/Do make their children blind” (page 101). Lear expresses his feelings of betrayal caused by his daughters. He gave them everything, and the power they now hold is causing them to be blind to their father and his well-being, leaving him in the dust. In terms of madness, in act 3, Lear and Kent come across a terrible storm. King Lear has gone so mad because of his loss of power and being betrayed by his daughters that he becomes blind to what is best for him. He states “When the mind’s free,/The body’s delicate” (page 137), meaning that his mind is so consumed by his daughters betraying him that he is unaffected by the physical effects of the storm, or he’s blind to the elements.

Now for Gloucester’s blindness. There is some irony in this blindness motif. Throughout the entire play, Gloucester is blind to which one of his sons is loyal to him. Edgar has to go so far as to disguise himself to earn even a little respect from his father. Even though Edmund is out to get Gloucester, he has created this elaborate lie about how it’s truly Edgar who is out to get him, which is why Edgar must disguise himself and flee. What’s ironic about this whole situation is that after Gloucester is literally blinded when his eyes are gouged out, it is then that he can see which one of his sons is loyal. In act 4, Gloucester explains that he could not see clearly when he had eyes, saying “I stumbled when I saw. Full oft ’tis seen,/Our means secure us and our mere defects/Prove our commodities” (page 173). Gloucester is apologizing to Edgar here, saying that now he sees the situation even more clearly than when he did have his eyesight, and that sometimes having things makes us spoiled but not having them makes us better people.

Overall in this novel, the motif of blindness presents characters with a new and often wiser outlook on situations, which is an ironic way to incorporate this motif. However, it conveys the importance of trust.

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