The Tragic Consequence of Blindness in King Lear

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Samuel Butler, an English novelist, said, “A blind man knows he cannot see, and is glad to be led, though it be by a dog; but he that is blind in his understanding, which is the worst blindness of all, believes he sees as the best, and scorns a guide." Blindness is a major theme that recurs throughout Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. Samuel Butler’s quote can be used to describe King Lear, who suffers, not from a lack of physical sight, but from a lack of insight and understanding. Blindness is a factor in his poor judgment. It plays a major role in the bad decisions he makes. It leads to harsh treatment of those closest to him. It is the combination of these consequences of Lear’s failed sight that demonstrate how blindness is a major flaw that contributes to the chain of events that ultimately result in his tragic downfall. In order to “see” the truth, one must first be able to properly judge actions, words, and character. Lear’s blindness causes him to exercise poor judgment as he believes the professions of love of Goneril and Regan to be true. He wrongly judges Cordelia and believes her love for him is not as great as her sisters’ love for him. In Kent’s pleas for Lear to reconsider his decision to award his kingdom to Goneril and Regan, “See better, Lear, and let me still remain / The true blank of thine eye.” (Lr. I.i.160-1), Lear has a closed mind to anything other than what he physically sees and hears on the surface from Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, and Kent as he refers to Kent as a rascal with the words, “O vassal! Miscreant!” (Lr.I.i.163). He lacks the insight to see beyond their words and therefore, cannot appropriately judge their words and actions to find the truth. This contributes to the events that unfold and ultimately his tragic end. It is difficult to make good decisions in the absence of insight. Lear suffers from bad decision-making throughout the play. From the beginning of the play, Lear’s decision to divide his...
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