Early on in the play, Lear’s two daughters, Goneril and Regan, appear to be very caring and are loving towards him, but with animal imagery, their true nature is shown. When Lear tells his three daughter to profess their love to him (when he is dividing the kingdom) Goneril and Regan speak words of love and affection such as “ Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter,…/ Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare,…“, when in reality, they do not possess the feelings they claim they have. Their appearance is that they are sincere, loyal and charming but the reality is the opposite. The two sister lie to their father to get what they want. They say what they know he wants to hear. It is only after Goneril tries to force Lear to get rid of his men when he finally starts to realise how uncaring they are. Lear even calls Goneril a “Detested kite!”, and that is in fact what she is. Her and her sister lied and faked emotion to benefit them, “fed” off Lear as a vulture would to it’s prey. Further into the play, Lear completely realises his daughters true evil nature, “…How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.”, again referring to them as unpleasant, vile animals. They took advantage of their father who was blinded by his ego to see the reality of who his daughters were. He mistook Goneril and Regan as the loving daughters, and Cordelia as the unloving one. Just because Cordelia did not play Lear’s love game, she was seen as the uncaring child. The reality of the daughters nature was swapped. These uses of animal imagery help show what the two, seemingly loving and affectionate sisters are actually like. Deceitful, and cruel.
Another way that the play shows false appearance is with clothing imagery. If a person wears extravagant, well-made clothing he is thought to be high society and is well respected. On the contrary, someone who wears ragged clothing is seen as useless, unimportant, and of low society. Lear was seen as powerful and respected, he was in fact the King, and wore luxurious robes and a fancy crown. In reality, he was not an intelligent man who was as powerful as he perceived himself to be. His clothing gave him that appearance, the illusion of power. When he had nothing, no kingdom, power, authority, or shelter, he still had the clothing, but he realises that it now means nothing, “Through tattered clothes great vices do appear;/ Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,…”. In this quote Lear is saying that poor people may appear to have weaker characters, but people like him have this clothing to cover/ hide all those characteristics. Because of societal perceptions, certain clothing portray certain expected qualities of the wearer. Edgar, the son of Gloucester, knew of these societal perceptions and used them to his advantage. His bastard brother, Edmund, forges a letter of him plotting to kill his father. When his father learns of his apparent plan, he seeks to kill Edgar. To keep from being found and killed Edgar disguises himself as a Bedlam beggar, “…Brought near to beast. My face I’ll grime with filth,/ Blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots,/ And with presented nakedness outface/ The winds and persecutions of the sky.” Since he drastically altered his appearance, and removed his clothes that represented who he is, no one will recognise and be able to kill him. This imagery shows just how important and influential the clothing they wear are. Society associates specific appearances to specific people. If you have the look, you are what the look signifies. An illusion of importance or unimportance can be made depending on what clothes are draped. This imagery again explores the theme of appearance verses reality and shows the reader what reality is underneath the appearance.
As well as the pervious types of imagery enhanced the central theme, eye imagery is perhaps the most prominent. Eyes are what literally see what happens. It would be presumed that one could see the reality when it is happening before their eyes, but in King Lear this was not the case. As mentioned before, Goneril and Regan were also reality twisting children who deceived their father. Eye imagery is used to help covey the message that Lear is finally seeing the reality of his daughters when he says, “Pierce every sense thee!/ Old fond eyes,/ Between this cause again, I’ll pluck ye out. And cast you with the waters that you loose,/ To temper clay./ Yea, isn’t come to this? Ha! Let it be so, I have another daughter/ Who I am sure is kind and comfortable.” He now has the idea that Goneril and Regan are the daughters that do not care for him, and that it is, in fact, Cordelia that truly loves him. Edmund appears to all as a fine young gentleman who is loyal and brave. In reality, Edmund is a cunning, devious, opportunist who will stop at nothing to please himself. Gloucester and many others are tricked by Edmund's appearance. What Gloucester does not see or refuse to see, is the hatred Edmund has for him because of his cavalier treatment of him. Edmund wants all control of Gloucester's money and power. He fools both Edgar and Gloucester, destroying both of them, and turns them against each other. Only when Gloucester loses his physical sight does he see the reality of his two sons, “O my follies! Then Edgar was abused. Kind gods forgive me that, and prosper him!”. He is told that Edmund was the one who ratted him out and that Edgar, all along, wasn’t plotting to kill him. What appeared to him was Edmund was the honourable one and Edgar was the one turning against him, when in reality, it was the other way around. This type of imagery shows that what is seen is not always what it appears to be. These characters acted in a manner that made them appear to be who they are not, and even with sight, the reality was not seen immediately.
To conclude, Shakespeare effectively used imagery in King Lear to help emphasis his theme of appearance verses reality, and how things are not always what they appear to be. The use of animal imagery to portray the true nature of the two daughters, clothing imagery to show how illusions can be made by one’s appearance, and eye imagery of how things that can be physically seen, are not always what they appear to be, all further prove that reality can be completely different from the appearance. At first glance or impression, something can seem totally different than it’s reality. Sometimes in order to see the truth, it takes more than just seeing and believing what is right before your eyes.