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King Lear's Dementia

By netteo Dec 01, 2011 1443 Words
To See or Not To See
Blindness can be interpreted in many different ways. We can speak about blindness in the sense of physical blindness or emotionally blind, even so we can speak about being spiritually blind. In the end, it all comes to one thing, which is that blindness causes you to miss out or not see certain things depending on the subject. A blind man might say he has been blind all his life and has never seen the beauty of a rose but has only smelt the sweet fragrance of it, a devoted Christian might say that one is blind to the love of God who forgives all sins a human makes; a mother who blinded by love does not realize the negative activities her child has been involved in. In life, we sometime fail to see the bigger picture because there are too many things happening at the same time and we are trying to absorb everything in an instance. Like Lear in Shakespeare’s he was blinded by dementia which caused him to make irrational decisions, when Gloucester lost his sight, he managed to see the truth which was right before his eyes all these while. Blindness can be a gift of darkness, it allows you to settle down and focus only on your own thoughts. It helps heighten your senses and enables you to probe deeper than just the surface meaning. Dementia can be said as a form of blindness. It causes King Lear to be blind to the truth around him. He only focused on the nice things and the things he wanted to hear and whomever who dared go against it suffered the consequences of his wrath. Cordelia who refused to flatter him with beautiful lies was disowned by Lear and Kent whom dared speak against Lear advising him about his decision was banished from the country. Lear blinded by dementia gave his kingdom away to his two selfish daughters and asked for only the title as the King and the 150 followers as a show of power. Regan and Goneril not wanting to upset Lear quickly agreed with the decision. In Act3, Scene 4 as Lear begins to speak about his realization of his own faults. He says the “tempest in his mind” which refers to a storm in his mind keeps him from feeling the storm around him but the wrong decision of trusting Regan and Goneril. Lear finally realizes what the proletarians in his country faces. He thinks about all the poor people facing the storm, which is something he has never had to face before since he has been sheltered all his life in his castle with all his knights protecting him. He feels guilty now for not caring enough for his people when he was still a king. He questions their warmth and their ability to put up with a storm this rough considering the fact that some people don’t even have a roof above their heads, not enough fat in their body to keep themselves warm and having nothing but rags to cover themselves in. Gloucester on the other hand however has been physically blinded by Cornwall during the interrogation of Gloucester which has been cleverly manipulated by his own son Edmund. Like Lear, Gloucester has been the victim of his own flesh and blood. He trusted the wrong child with his live and ended up in misery. Gloucester believed that Edgar was out to harm him and Edmund. In his selfishness to protect his own life, he chose to believe Edmund’s false accusation without further investigating the truth. He, blinded by his own selfishness which cost him this vision. Gloucester states “Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man, that slaves your ordinance that will not see because he doth not feel” (4.1.69-71) brings us back to what Lear is feeling right now. Lear now facing insanity and Gloucester facing blindness both realizes that mistakes of their lives due to the harsh consequences of their own actions. Gloucester realizes that he is not the only one in pain but there are many other unfortunate souls, these all which he has failed to see when he had his eyes. He doesn’t see because he has never felt it before in his life. He has never had to worry where his next meal came from, or whether he had a roof over his head when he fell asleep, whether he was going to be drenched in the rain or be cold when the wind blows. Gloucester now meets Lear and Lear has lost his mind and babbling his head off about made up theories and how women are just sex machines. Gloucester is sad that he has lost his ability to see but Lear says to him “What, art mad? A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears” (4.6.152-153) and tells him to see the world with his ears instead of his eyes. Lear points out the loophole in the justice system. It’s the authority that allows a man to speak louder than he normally would, allows him to act more aggressive towards another person. Lear makes a comparison “There thou mightst behold the great image of authority: a dog’s obeyed in office.” (4.6.159-161) that if you give a proletariat the authority, he would be obeyed by the upper class just because he has the power to do so. People are generally afraid of authority, once you lose your authority; you lose your power over everything. One of the reasons why his daughters, Regan and Goneril, dismissed his followers to lessen the power and authority Lear has over them. Lear also sees how “plate sin with gold, and the strong lance of justice hurtles breaks. Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw pierce it.” (4.6.167-169) where he means that the rich will be able to cover up their crime just cause they can do so but the poor will have to suffer for a small crime they committed just cause they do not have the money nor power to control the justice system. Here Shakespeare questions the justice system in the real world, just dropping the slightest hints of the corruption in the judiciary system. Lear tells Gloucester to pretend to see the world like a crooked politician. Lear could have meant that Gloucester should just pretend to see the truth in the lies that surrounds him and he will just as well get by in life. Lear has always thought of himself as someone wise and a good ruler of the kingdom because he chose to believe in flattery and praises his court indulges him with. Lear was blinded by lies that he fails to perceive the truth to it all. A person cannot be born wise but he can be made wise. After Lear experiences all the stormy incidents is when he really understands what his people have been going through outside his comfort of the castle. He learns the bitterness of the weather, he learns the fury of the storm and he learns to see the truth from the lie in his madness. Gloucester however has always been blinded to see Edmund as a son because of his shame. Maybe if he has loved both sons the same way, he wouldn’t have ended up blind in the end. Gloucester also experiences sorrow and agony that allowed him to see the world through his heart and experience the cruel jokes that God plays on his people. Irony seems to be a theme in most Shakespearian plays, the truth that lies in the babbling madness, the clarity that lies in the blindness, just the irony of it all is enough to intrigue us to want to probe deeper into finding the hidden meaning behind every word. King Lear offered us a much deeper perspective to life, telling us how everything doesn’t always seem like what they are. Sometimes in life, you have to see with your heart and not just with your eyes to be able to see the whole picture. The play teaches us that if we are not able to differentiate a truth from a lie, we will be headed into serious consequences due to our own actions. So all in all, if we were all mad and blind, would that make the world a better place to live in?

Works Cited
Shakespeare, William, and Russell A. Fraser. The Tragedy of King Lear. New York: New American Library, 1986. Print.

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