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Published: 02-10-2019

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Vision, Sight and Blindness: a Metaphors' Study

In King Lear, the recurring pictures of sight and blindness linked with the characters of Lear and Gloucester illustrate the theme of self-expertise and consciousness that exist in the play.

These classic tropes are inverted in King Lear, making a predicament in which those with healthy eyes are ignorant of what is going on around them, and these without having vision seem to “see” the clearest. While Lear’s “blindness” is 1 which is metaphorical, the blindness of Gloucester, who carries the parallel plot of the play, is literal. Nevertheless, each characters suffer from an inability to see the true nature of their children, an ability only gained as soon as the two patriarchs have plummeted to the utter depths of depravity. Through a close reading of the text, I will argue that Shakespeare employs the plot of Gloucester to explicate Lear’s plot, and, in impact, contextualizes Lear’s metaphorical blindness with Gloucester’s physical loss of vision.

When the audience is initial introduced to Lear, he is portrayed as a raging, vain old man who can not see the purity of his daughter Cordelia’s love for him from the insincerity of her sisters Goneril and Regan. In his fiery rage following disowning Cordelia, Lear commands to Kent, “Out of my sight!” (1.1.156). Kent fittingly implores the aging king to “See much better, Lear and let me nonetheless stay / The correct blank of thine eye” (1.1.157-8). Kent recognizes love in its most noble kind in the individual of Cordelia, and is able to see by means of the hypocrisy of Lear’s other two daughters. In beseeching Lear to “[s]ee much better,” Kent is, in effect, asking Lear to look beyond his vanity and inward pride to see the honesty of Cordelia, who refuses to place her love for her father on show.

From the very 1st act of the play, then, Shakespeare has set up the theme of consciousness, using the metaphor of sight. Kent’s imperative to “see better” is prompting Lear not to use his faculty of vision, but, metaphorically, to become conscious of what is going on around him to see the globe as it actually is. It is fascinating that, upon Kent’s imperative, Lear swears, “Now, by Apollo-” (1.1.159). As Apollo is the god of the sun whose maxim is to “know thyself,” it is specifically telling that Lear is invoking the god linked with sharpness of vision and light, when he, himself, remains unenlightened. The unrelenting Kent, recognizes Lear’s blindness as well as the futility of invoking the god of self-understanding, and, in spite of the king’s increasing anger, declares, “Thou swear’st thy gods in vain” (1.1.161).

The theme of consciousness is underscored by the Gloucester plot in King Lear. Gloucester, like Lear, is an aging man who has but to find out the correct nature of his youngsters. In this way, he shares Lear’s metaphorical blindness, but Shakespeare does not quit there he adds the physical impairment of vision to Gloucester’s character as effectively. It is pointed out that Gloucester demands the require of “spectacles” in order to study the fabricated letter his son Edmund presents to him. Ironically, even with the use of an instrument to heighten his vision, Gloucester is nevertheless unable to see items as they truly are. With no prior provocation, and hardly any “ocular” proof, Gloucester right away believes that his reputable son Edgar has formed a conspiracy against him.

Shakespeare heightens Gloucester’s metaphoric blindness by casting him offstage in the course of Lear’s banishment of Cordelia. As a result, in this sense, Gloucester is blind onstage. If he were present, Gloucester would have been able to acquire awareness of the insincerity of children, as illustrated by Goneril and Regan, and apply it to his own situation. Lear, who is onstage, lacks this awareness. Even the lord of France comments to Burgundy that “Love’s not love / When it is mingled with regards that stands / Aloof from th’ complete point” (1.1.239-241). France is primarily asserting that really like is not adore when one is just competing for a piece of land. Lear is onstage to hear these words, but he fails to see how this can be applied to his personal predicament.

The tragic descent of Lear into blindness begins shortly soon after transferring his power to his daughters. Lear becomes disoriented as early as Act 1.four when he inquiries his identity in terms of sight: “Doth any right here know me? This is not Lear. / Doth Lear stroll therefore? Speak therefore? Exactly where are his eyes?” (201-two). Lear is starting to query his identity simply because he is no longer at the identical location he was at the play’s opening. He is beginning to see the correct nature of his ungrateful daughters, and, as a result, his self has began to disintegrate, as he progressively delves into madness.

After becoming turned away but once more by his daughters, as they question his need to have for a train of knights, Lear exclaims, exasperated, “O, cause not the want! Our basest beggars / Are in the poorest issue superfluous. / Allow not nature more than nature wants, / Man’s life’s as low-cost as beast’s” (2.four.259-262). Right here the parallel plot of the Gloucester comes into play, for Edgar, disguised as a beggar and stripped to his barest essentials, becomes emblematic of what Lear is articulating in the above speech. Lear, also, is stripped down: stripped of his sovereignty, his train, and respect from his daughters.

By means of his wanderings and his experience on the heath, Lear learns to turn out to be a far more sympathetic character. He is forced to ruminate upon the day-to-day lives of the poor, commenting,


Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,

That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you

From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en

As well small care of this! Take physic, pomp

Expose thyself to feel what wretches really feel

That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,

And show the heavens a lot more just. (3.4.29-37)


Therefore, on the threshold of madness, Lear is in a position to concentrate on concerns that he neglected as king. The once blind Lear is now gaining a limited sight.

Clearly, poor Tom is the physical character who represents the man Lear realizes he has ignored throughout his rule. It is also really interesting to note that it is only following Lear cries out in recognition of his ignorance, that he meets Poor Tom. Lear’s humbling experiences have permitted him to actually recognize the human situation, and, in effect, becomes a much more self-conscious figure.

Even though Lear seems to be redeeming himself through self-awareness, the plot of Gloucester remains one particular step behind. As opposed to Lear, Gloucester does not even start to question his understanding of the events going on around him until at the finish of Act III. Gloucester, despite the fact that portrayed in this play as a man accompanied with spectacles in Act I, and a torch in Act IV, he is lagging far behind in sight. It is only following Regan reveals that Edmund has betrayed him that he becomes undone. In a moment of recognition, Gloucester cries, “O my follies! Then Edgar was abused,” but not ahead of being robbed of both his eyes (three.7.94). Ironically, Gloucester only begins to “see” as soon as he has lost his vision. However, this awakening to the truth comes as well late, for Gloucester’s former blindness to the truth has now been literalized in physical terms.

By the finish of the play, Lear and Gloucester have turn out to be conscious and self-knowledgeable. Lear is able to “see” via a sympathetic lens, after getting exchanged pride for shame, while Gloucester, who willingly admits that “[he] stumbled when [he] saw,” is only capable to “see,” although sightless, after he has suffered (4.1.20). Gloucester is capable to see how the world goes, “feelingly” he can now see without eyes. It is by way of the inverted tropes of sight and blindness that the audience views Gloucester’s and Lear’s development to self-information, as they turn into conscious of their own situation and that of the world about them. Undeniably, the plots of Lear and Gloucester run equivalent courses. However, Shakespeare employs Gloucester’s plot to explicate Lear’s plot. Through the physical blinding of Gloucester, Shakespeare supplies an analog which contextualizes King Lear’s theme of consciousness and permits Lear’s own metaphorical blindness to be fully grasped.
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