A reoccurring theme in Shakespeares King Lear is the theme of blindness. Blindness in todays society is generally interpreted as the inability of the eye to see. In Shakespearian terms, blindness is not a physical state of being, but rather a temporary mental flaw. The theme of blindness in King Lear is clearly shown through the actions of Albany, Gloucester, and King Lear.
Albany suffers from the classic case of blindness. Albany is blinded by love. Although Albany disagrees with Gonerils cruel actions towards her father, he only half-heartedly argues his case against her. Albanys fear of upsetting Goneril is exemplified in his response to her demand that Lear dispose of his knights. I cannot be so partial, Goneril, / To the great love I bear you (I, iv, 309-310). Albany is unable to behold Gonerils evil intentions because of his deep devotion and love for her. Goneril is cruel and deceitful and merely flatters her father with lies, yet, Albany is visionless and does not observe her wretched personality. Albany is also unaware Goneril is cheating on him with Edmund, as well as, plotting to kill him. It is not until Albany receives a note from Edgar, outlining Gonerils evil intentions, that he regains his sight. Finally, Albany realizes Goneril is not the woman he thought she was. Albany discerns she is a heartless, lying, adulterer. Albany finally reveals his emotion saying, O Goneril, / You are not worth the dust which the rude wind Blows in your face (IV, ii, 29-31) and See thyself, devil! / Proper deformity shows not in the fiend / so horrid as in woman (IV, ii, 59-61). Albany is able to overcome his blindness without suffering severe losses and lives to become ruler of Lears kingdom.
Gloucester is another character Shakespeare uses to promote his theme of blindness. Gloucester is deceived by his son Edmund in King Lear, just as Isaac is deceived by his son Jacob in the Bible. In both instances, an evil sons jealousy provokes him to deceive his father. Gloucesters blindness prevents him from seeing Edmund is conspiring against his brother, in search of his fathers love and inheritance. Edmund is able to convince his father that Edgar is plotting to murder him and take his lands. Edmunds lie results in Gloucester disowning Edgar and desiring to kill him, even though he is the good and loving son. Ironically, Gloucester contemplates killing the son that would later save his life. Gloucester fails to realize the true nature of his sons disposition, while possessing the physical ability to see, because he is mentally blind. It is not until Gloucester literally loses his sight that he realizes Edmund is deceiving him.
King Lear was the blindest character of all. Being king, one would suspect Lear should posses the ability to distinguish the difference between good and evil. There are several instances where Lears inability to see, lead him to make poor decisions bearing fatal consequences. The first example Shakespeare gives of Lears blindness occurs in the first act of the play. Lears desire to be glorified by his daughters leads him to be deceived by the lies of his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan. Lear perceives Cordelias response as an insult from an unappreciative child. He is unable to comprehend the love and respect she has for him and banishes her.
Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see
That face of hers again. Therefore begone,
Without our grace, our love, our benison! (I, i, 262-265)
Another tragic result of Lears inability to see leads to the banishment of his most loyal servant, Kent. Kent is able to see through Goneril and Regans faade and tries to explicate to Lear the true love Cordelia possesses for him. Kent is banished from the castle, and later disguises himself as an ordinary, run of the mill commoner. Ironically, he is later hired by Lear as a servant. Shakespeare gives a blatant example of Lears blindness through his inability to recognize his servants true identity. As the play progresses, King Lear begins to see the light and gains sight of the corruption around him. Lear learns of the wicked plot Goneril and Regan have devised after they