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How Shakespeare presents and uses the theme of blindness in the play King Lear Essay

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    In ‘King Lear’ Shakespeare shows the importance of the theme of blindness by portraying it throughout play. Blindness appears in various forms in both the main-plot and the sub-plot; which Shakespeare shows through the primary characters King Lear and Gloucester. The audience see both of these characters blindness leading them to make bad decisions throughout the play. However, the audience start seeing the characters eventually regretting their bad decision, which is represented through the good deeds, they carry out.

    Both of these characters aren’t physically blind in anyway at the start of the play, but are morally blind because of their wealth and power. In this play Shakespeare shows how, blindness is not only a physical quality, but also a mental flaw some characters possess. The character who is undoubtedly morally blind is to be King Lear; this may be due to his high position in society. Someone in a position of high authority is supposed to be able to distinguish bad from good; however his lack of sight prevents him from being able to do this.

    King Lear’s first act of blindness is immediately grasped by the audience when he reacts bitterly towards his youngest daughter Cordelia due to her refusal to take part in the love test. At this point the audience can see that King Lear was unable to see Cordeila’s true love for him, and as the result of this he banishes her from the kingdom saying”…….. for we have no such daughter, nor shall ever see that face of her again. ” King Lear disowns Cordelia as she has refused to express her love for him in front of the Court.

    Here Shakespeare shows the audience that King Lear’s eyes and mind are only open to seeing things that are on the surface which are artificial. Shakespeare has also demonstrated this to the audience earlier in the scene when King Lear accepts Goneril and Regan’s proclamation of how much they love him, which the audience are able recognize as fabrications. This portrays him as both mentally and emotionally blind. Lear’s blindness also leads him to banishing one of his loyal followers ‘Noble Kent’. Kent is able to see Cordelia’s true love for her father and tries to protect her from her father’s unreasonable actions.

    However, King Lear says, “Out of my sight! ” and the audience witness Kent being banished. This symbolises King Lear’s loss of sight metaphorically as the audience know that Kent is King Lear’s adviser and is a person who helps him to see the truth. Now that King Lear has banished him from his sight, the audience understand King Lear has become sightless. King Lear’s blindness in the main-plot is mirrored in the sub-plot by Gloucester’s. Gloucester is seen to believe Edgar has betrayed him. His outburst “This villain of mine comes under the prediction…. son against father, King falls from bias of nature…… oble Kent banished” Shakespeare shows Gloucester being irrational as, Shakespeare creates dramatic irony with Gloucester’s anger as he had recently complained to Edmund that Kent being banished was a blind act by King Lear.

    However, Gloucester has just committed a similar blind act, by believing a letter which made his son Edgar look like a criminal, without investigating further. He simply believes Edmund who slyly handed over a forged letter. Gloucester is as blind as King Lear because he is being blind to what may be the goodness of Edgar and the evil side of Edmund.

    The audience can see this relates back to how King Lear is seeing things as he’s also acting blind towards Cordelia and not Goneril and Regan, who are the real felons. Shakespeare emphasises Gloucester’s blindness more when he says “He betrayed his practice and received, this hurt you see striving to apprehend him” Gloucester describes Edgar’s betrayal by stating that Edgar can’t see what consequences will lead to his wrong doings, however, the audience know that the only person who cannot not see the consequences of his actions is Gloucester.

    The audience start to see King Lear going mad due to Goneril and Regan’s cruel behaviour towards him. This leads to him being stuck outside in a storm, which I believe helps him in a positive aspect as it opens his mind up, even though he is probably going through a great deal of suffering. In my opinion I think even though he starts to see the truth he still doesn’t seem to be thinking clearly. The audience understands when he says “I tax not you, your elements, with unkindness, I never gave you Kingdom, called you children…….. wo pernicious join… ” Here Shakespeare shows the audience that King Lear has finally realised that his two eldest daughters are evil.

    On the other hand Shakespeare also shows the audience that Lear still hasn’t changed and is still selfish. As he only thinks about the cruel things that have been done towards him and not about how he could redeem himself from cruel things he has done towards others. The audience know now that King Lear still cannot see things clearly especially “Noble Kent” who is disguised as a servant.

    The king’s vision is so superficial that he is easily deceived by Kent’s changed appearance. He can never see his trusted servant for whom he really is. He only learns of Kent’s noble and honest character prior to his death, when his vision is cleared. By this time, however, it is too late for the honest relationship to be salvaged. However, even though he doesn’t recognize the things close to him, Shakespeare does show that he starts to recognize things that are of less personal importance such as peasants and how they live “My wits begin to change…. Come on my boy… art cold? I am cold myself.

    Here King Lear is talking to Edgar who is disguised as Poor Tom; Shakespeare shows that for once he feels sorry for someone else but himself. This is probably because he has never really been in the cold before especially at storm like this, which helps him to become more caring even, thought his state of mind, may not be stable as he actually starts to see “poor naked wretches”. Throughout the play the audience witness King Lear blindly believing many of the evil characters who end up betraying him, which is similar in Gloucester’s situation as he also, seems to believe in his evil son Edmund to whom he tell things in trust.

    The audience witness Gloucester making the worst blind mistake, when he says, “Go to say nothing… I will look him and privily relieve him… be note perceived him… ” At this point in the play Shakespeare shows Gloucester’s good nature to be loyal to King Lear as he wants to bring him into his household from the storm, however Shakespeare also shows Gloucester’s stupidity and blindness, as only the audience can see that Edmund will go and tell Goneril and Regan about his father’s actions because he is immoral.

    Even though Gloucester doesn’t see or think of this, the audience easily sense this blind action of Gloucester’s will lead to disastrous consequences. The unfortunate consequences of Gloucester’s stupidity leads to the most shocking incidence in the play when Gloucester gets blinded physically by Goneril and Regan after they have found out he has been loyal to their father. The darkest point of the play is the incidence of Gloucester getting blinded, this can be interpreted in two ways, and the most important one is the audience see how cruel and evil Regan and Goneril can be.

    The audience witness this when Goneril says “Pluck out his eyes,” Which indicates to the audience she has no heart. However the audience also see how evil Regan is after Goneril has left, as she decides to take Gloucester’s other eye herself, as the locality towards Gloucester stops the servant form doing so. On the other hand Regan also shows her cruelty when she kills the servant, while he is fighting with Cornwall, this is show in the stage directions “she takes the sword and runs at him behind.

    After this scene the audience can see why this is the darkest point, as the complete evil side of Goneril and Regan is shown. Furthermore this incidence is also important as it shows, Gloucester physically losing his sight, which indicates darkness being created in the play, implying to the audience only a tragic ending will end this feud and cruelty Shakespeare shows Gloucester thinking more clearly firstly when he says” I have no way and therefore want no eyes; I stumbled when I saw.

    Full oft ’tis seen, our means secure us, and our mere defects prove our commodities. ” In this, Shakespeare is saying that he has no need for eyes because when he had them, he could not see clearly and that he realizes that when he had eyes, he was confident that he could see, while in reality, he could not see until he was physically blind. The audience can see that Gloucester sees with his mind instead of his eyes and that Gloucester’s vision can be contrasted with that of Lear.

    While Lear has the physical sight that Gloucester has lost, Gloucester has the clearer vision that Lear will never gain. Gloucester may not be able to see his son Edgar disguised as Mad Tom but Shakespeare does make it clear that he has finally come to see the truth and cares deeply for Edgar, as even though he has just asked Edgar to help him fall off a cliff before he falls he prays to god for his son Edgar “Let Edgar live o bless him, fare thee well.

    The audience see that he’s not really getting pushed off a cliff but only made to think, however even though he may not be able to see this physically, he still sees things around him more clearly such as who the true villain was. On the other hand Lear does not see “Noble Kent” as the disguised servant which portrays him to the audience as still half blind. When Lear says “A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. ” The audience know even though King Lear is saying this he has no idea of what it really means compared to Gloucester who probably has more understanding of what it really means.

    When Lear and Gloucester meet near the cliffs of Dover, Lear questions Gloucester’s states “No eyes in your head, nor no money in your purse? Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a light, yet you see how this world goes”. Gloucester says to Lear. “I see it feelingly. ” Here, Lear cannot relate to Gloucester because his vision is not clear, and he wonders how Gloucester can see without eyes. The audience know that Gloucester truly understands that sight is something that you feel and not just what you see.

    I believe Gloucester has managed to see this as when he lost his sight, he gained more strength in his other senses therefore was probably able to understand that even without sight, he can still sense things, which probably indicated to him he didn’t need sight to see things. Although Lear has seen his mistakes, he still believes that sight comes only from the eyes. Gloucester tells him that sight comes from within. Vision is the result of the mind, heart, and emotions put together, not just physical sight.

    However even though Lear may not be able to see things completely clear which are close to him. He has come to see the real world in a better view after losing his wealth and home he seems to understand the world more, even with a rocky state of mind, this is probably because he is able to be freer. However, even though the audience start to feel sorry for King Lear because he has started to see the truth, they also know there has to be consequences to what he did at the start of the play, and this is most likely to be a tragic ending.

    Shakespeare shows this very clearly when Kent says “Thank you sir, Do you see this? Look on her! Look her lips! Look there look there! ” The audience witness King Lear’s death after Kent has said the above. At this point Lear saw everything clearly, he no longer had an unstable mind, however when he saw the complete truth, he dies, Shakespeare shows here that because of all the blindness at the start of the play the consequence was his death at the shock of truth.

    If the audience look closely at our theme blindness they can see that these characters may have not been physically blind but were mentally, which was transformed throughout the play because of various actions from all the characters. In my opinion, I think the theme blindness has a very close link to madness in the play, which can be also seen in figurative language that tends to link the two themes together.

    Ironically, if the audience look right at the start of the play they can see this clearly in the first scene, when Goneril says her love for him is “dearer than eyesight” and shortly afterwards, when Cordelia refuses to play this “love-game,” Lear says to her, “Hence and avoid my sight” He’s telling her to get out of his sight, Shakespeare shows this cleverly as the audience know if Cordelia left there would be difficulty for King Lear which is similar as to when Kent tells Lear after the King banishes him, “See better, Lear, and let me still remain”, once again the audience can see if Kent left Lear, he will find it hard without him, soon after Kent and Cordelia leave, Lear goes mad because he is “blind” and does not see or understand the truth.

    On the other hand Gloucester loses his eyesight literally because he is loyal to King Lear, so therefore studying the pattern of language in relation to blindness and madness shows the structure of the double plot that shapes the themes of the play. Therefore, I think Gloucester’s blindness in the play symbolises the figurative blindness of both Lear and Gloucester. As I believe only when Gloucester goes blind and King Lear goes mad they realize how wrong they were about their children and King Lear about Kent. Both men were blinded to the love and loyalty of their truthful children whom they banished and in blindness made their wicked children their heirs.

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