Symbol of Blindness in King Lear
Blindness is usually defined as the physical ability of the eye to see. But in King Lear by William Shakespeare, blindness is not just a physical quality but also a mental flaw that people possess. This mental flaw can then lead to people making bad decisions because they can’t see the truth. In King Lear, the recurring images of sight and blindness that are associated with the characters of Lear and Gloucester illustrate the theme of self-knowledge and consciousness that exists within the play and these characters. Gloucester’s characters plot parallels that of King Lear’s. Throughout the play, we explore what is meant by eyesight or the lack of it.
King Lear is the first and the main character that faces problems by this idea of blindness. In act one, Lear asks his three daughters to express their love for him in order to get the share of the land and dowry. Goneril and Regan come up with an elaborate speech that uses with wit and deceit. She starts off by saying “Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter; dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty; beyond what can be valued, rich or rare; no less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour; as much as child e'er loved, or father found; a love that makes breath poor, and speech unable; beyond all manner of so much I love you” (Foakes 1.1.55-61). The metaphorical language and beauty of Goneril and Regan’s speeches blind Lear. Cordelia truly loves him a lot but he doesn’t see it in her response when she says “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave; my heart into my mouth: I love your majesty; According to my bond; nor more nor less” (Foakes 1.1.93-95). But on the other hand, Cordelia’s speech makes him feel less powerful. Her language is legalistic and delimiting. It suggests that it is a contractual relationship (Kronenfeld 96). By using the word bond, she makes it more formal but she’s talking to her father so she should be able to express her feelings in a less formal way. She declares her love to be of no surpassing quality. She is not like her sisters because it is not in her nature to solicit her father with outward showings of love but instead will show it through her actions (Kronenfeld 106). He misunderstands her love and is unable to see the love she actually has for him because of the way all three of the daughters respond. The two older sisters flatter their father instead of speaking the truth so they can get what they want and this leads to Cordelia being disowned. The cause of his blindness appears to be an infatuation with his own rank and station, which is a result of senility. Lear’s kingdom is used as a symbol of affection towards his three daughters. In the first act, it is implied that Cordelia is his favorite daughter. He feels that dividing up the land by the level of love they show to him is the right thing to do. He does not see that Goneril and Regan will use this as a chance to become his favorites. They will say whatever they need to for their own benefit because they are greedy.
Driven by his own blindness, King Lear begins to make many mistakes not just with his daughters but also with his loyal supporter Kent. His blindness doesn’t allow him to see the truth in a person’s personality and character. When Kent hears about Cordelia getting disowned, he is shocked by the decision that King Lear. He tries helping King Lear understand the truth about his daughters but ends up getting banished himself. King Lear wants Kent “out of my sight” (Shakespeare 1.1.159). Kent responds by saying “See better, Lear; and let me still remain; The true blank of thine eye” (Foaks 1.1.160-161). Kent is trying to make him reconsider his decision but Lear’s anger gets the better of him and he banishes him from the Kingdom. The blank can refer to the center of a target but also the absence of something which captures the ambiguity and vulnerability of our seeing. Kent was King Lear’s eyes and ears and literally helped him...
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