In class we’ve talked a little about the motif of sight and blindness. The meta-performance of the onion that is King Lear has a way of veiling motivations behind several layers of storytelling. We, as the audience, have the unique ability to peel back and examine each layer to understand the whole. The fundamental question is why are there so many layers, and what truth lies at the center?
The many narratives and manipulations aren’t pointless complications to confuse the audience. At first glance, the motivations to conceal true identity, intent, and such may seem like they come from a place of selfish want. We do see this in characters like Edmund, Goneril, and Regan. Their greed and lust for power, control, and legitimacy drive their performances. However, we find more noble characters such as Edgar or Kent staging performances, but doing so for the benefit of others. Therefore, we must rule out the purpose of these layers as purely a way to conceal bad faith actions. Instead, let us consider the possibility that these narrative layers best serve to draw us further into the story, expanding it and pulling us deeper and closer to its intended meaning.
Still, if there is one all-encompassing truth to the story of King Lear, I don’t know it. It seems a story with many layers must also contain many themes. To disregard all other meanings and choose one would be to rob the story of its complexity and Shakespeare’s craftsmanship. That said, one of the driving motifs in the story is finding sight in blindness, or reason in madness, which really isn’t much different. Gloucester only understands the truth about his sons after he has been blinded for his blindness. Likewise, through Lear’s madness his eyes are opened to poverty, justice and the lack of it, who actually loved and didn’t love him, and more. Witnessing these revelations should hopefully prime us as the audience to be willing to accept truths from where we least expect them. Our modern society is plagued with misinformation, false stories and manipulations, and much of it is spread with truly malicious intent. But in an age of misinformation, King Lear invites us to peel back these layers, to find reason in the madness, and hopefully to emerge a little wiser from it.