Blind as a bat: "King Lear" - William Shakespeare

Essay by aldensoHigh School, 12th gradeA-, April 2006

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There are many recurring images of blindness or impaired vision in William Shakespeare's King Lear. The predominant images concern those characters in the play that cannot see, however in examining those who are blind we must also examine those who have the clarity and wisdom to see properly.

Gloucester and Lear are the characters most gravely afflicted by blindness. It begins as a metaphorical blindness, or lack of wisdom and insight. Not only do these characters not understand, know, or really 'see' those around them, but also they barely know or understand themselves. Both Lear and Gloucester make fatal errors in judgment. For example, Gloucester trusts his estranged illegitimate son Edmund over his trustworthy and honorable son Edgar. Similarly, Lear banishes Cordelia (the only daughter who's love for him is untainted be the desire for material gain) and bestows his kingdom on his two dishonest daughters.

Although many parallels can be drawn between the two aged fathers there is one important difference, particularly when considering the theme of blindness: essentially Gloucester is too trusting and in this way is blind to the true nature of his son; conversely Lear chooses to be blind rather than accept his mistakes and examine his own flaws.

Both men end up making huge sacrifices by the end of the play in order to gain true vision. Gloucester only learns to see things, as they are when he loses his physical sight. Lear loses all of his kingdom and respect, as well as some of his sanity, before he begins to learn to see. In the end Lear loses his loving daughter as well.

"I loved her most...Hence and avoid my sight!" (I, I ll.122-123)

This is King Lear speaking about Cordelia. The importance of this quote is that he is voluntarily casting her...