A reoccurring concept throughout King Lear is the theme of sight and blindness in order to physically convey the deception Lear experiences from his daughters. Shakespeare often links sight and blindness to Lear in order to identify Lear’s foolishness, at dividing his kingdom. In act 1 Kent speaks to Lear, in an attempt to force him to “see better Lear, and let me remain the true blank of thine eye” showing Lears lack of insight and foolishness in dividing his kingdom, and giving each of his daughters, Gonerill and Regan, who have deceived Lear telling him how wise and great he is, to attain personal gain. In dividing his kingdom, Lear has also gone against the divine order of being, and in doing so foreshadows his certain downfall as a result of the deceptive acts of his daughters Gonerill and Regan as well as his own short sightedness driven by his vanity and need to be told how great and wise he is. The progressive undoing Lear experiences is indicative of a tragedy, where the main character often has a fatal flaw which leads to their degradation. In making constant refererecnes to events where Lear finds himself to be “out of my sight” highlighting his folly and easily deceived nature, the reader is able to make links relating to the way Lear views his daughters actions, and betrayal of him. Unlike Lear, Gloucester although being symbolically blind to his step son Edmonds’ deceptive acts, he eventually gains insight into life after his eyes are “plucked out” by Cornwall and in turn by not being able to use his eyes, resorts to his other senses, which allow him to “see it feelingly”, giving him a new found insight to his life. This message by Shakespeare indicates that world cannot only be viewed from the eye, but with the heart.
In both Lear’s and Gloucester’s case, the result of their downfalls is due to a combination of factors. One being the deceptive perpetrated acts of their children, but also due to their self-obsessed psyche which gives them reason to make extravagant decisions, based on shallow, meaningless comments. From the start of the text, it is clear that Lear places worth on items that will boast his self obsessed nature. When Lear first decides to divide his kingdom, his self obsession is evident when he asks his daughters to one by one profess their love for him by asking “which of you shall we say doth love us most”, in return both Gonerill and Regan boast their supposed love for their father, deceiving him in order to gain positions of power. Unlike the other two sisters Cordelia refuses to “heave her heart into her mouth” as she does not believe in such vain professions of love towards her father, hence resulting in Lear splitting his Kingdom in half, rather than thirds. Although Lear believes both Gonerill and Regan have showed loyalty towards him, he eventually begins to gain insight to his folly and short-sightedness as a result of his own, vanity and selfish desires. Outraged by his daughters, he exclaims how they “flattered me like a dog and told me I hate white hairs in my beard ere the black one’s were there”. It is not until this discussion with Gloucester that Lear comes to a comprehensive realisation that his daughters had betrayed and deceived him by telling him how great and wise he was, not to show their love, but for their personal gain. The healing process for Lear does not begin until he is confronted by Cordelia, who highlights his weakness: “o look upon me sir, and hold your head in benediction o’er me, you must not kneel”. By Shakespeare initiating a healing process through Cordelia, the reader is able to analyse the outcome of Lear’s downfall as a result of Gonerill and Regan, but also predict future outcomes for Lear. From this the reader is able understand the different genre’s of bonds between parent and child, from those which seem to be truly compassionate but in reality aim to gain positions of power, to those that seem to lack empathy, however when seen “feelingly”, solicitude emerges.
Arguably the major theme in King Lear is Order and Disorder, due to not only the complete inversion of Lear’s kingdom as a result of his folly, but also of his family. Order and disorder can identified via two techniques, one being the fool, and the other pathetic fallacy. Ironically in the play, the fool acts as a source of wisdom as well as a source of entertainment. Although the fool can poke fun at the king, he must also keep within the boundaries of being excessively rude. In a conversation with Lear, a important statement is made, and makes Lear question his past behaviour: “thou shouldst not have been old till thou hads’t been wise” demonstrating that the fool believes that the king can surely not be so naïve to have no concept of what will come of his actions, indirectly foreshadowing Lear’s downfall, as a consequence of his rule. Shakespeare also incorporates pathetic fallacy in order to provide the reader with a supporting, dramatic element in order to aid the reader in their understanding of the deeper meanings in the text. The storm in Act 3 is evidence of pathetic fallacy, showing Lear’s inner turmoil and confusion, being simultaneously released in the one scene. This stage acts as a checkpoint, in which Lear begins to finally accept his folly, and in turn wants to start healing. These actions of Lear link to the wheel of fortune, an Elizabethan belief that good will be restored, or in other words, good will prevail over evil.
Throughout the text, Shakespeare uses the typical structure of a tragedy in order to effectively shape and present his ideas to the reader. Like all Shakespearean tragedies, Lear accommodates a fatal flaw, in this case his vanity, which leads to his downfall. The disorder Lear experiences is to an extent inevitable, but through Lear’s disorder, order can be restored through characters such as Cordelia, who begins the healing process, by forcing lear to accept his folly. In order to help the reader understand the main ideas of a Shakespearean tragedy, Sight and blindness are incorporated as the central stylistic features in order to allow sub plots such as the relationship Gloucester shares with his sons, so that comparisons can be made between each characters experiences, and emphasis can be placed on the deceptive acts both Lear and Gloucester are faced with as a result of their own folly.