In Shakespearean terms, being blind means something entirely different than our common day view. Blindness can normally be defined as the inability of the eye to see, but according to Shakespeare, blindness is not a physical quality,
but a mental flaw some people possess. In other words, its the ability to see life not from an openly logical point of view, but instead through their emotions and false pretenses that are the base of their societyShakespeares most dominant
theme in his play King Lear is that of blindness. King Lear,
Gloucester, and Albany are three prime examples Shakespeare
incorporates this theme into. Each of these characters blindness was
the primary cause of the bad decisions they made; decisions which all
of them would eventually come to regret.
The blindest bat of all was undoubtedly King Lear. Because of
Lears high position in society, he was supposed to be able to
distinguish the good from the bad; unfortunately, his lack of sight
prevented him to do so. Lears first act of blindness came at the
beginning of the play. First, he was easily deceived by his two eldest
daughters lies, then, he was unable to see the reality of Cordelias
true love for him, and as a result, banished her from his kingdom with
the following words:
Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see
That face of her again. Therefore be gone
Without our grace, our love, our benison.
(Act I, Sc I, Ln 265-267)
Lears blindness also caused him to banish one of his loyal followers,
Kent. Kent was able to see Cordelias true love for her father, and
tried to protect her from her blind fathers irrationality. After
Kent was banished, he created a disguise for himself and was
eventually hired by Lear as a servant. Lears inability to determine
his servants true identity proved once again how blind Lear actually
was. As the play progressed, Lears eyesight reached closer to 20/20
vision. He realized how wicked his two eldest daughters really were
after they locked him out of the castle during a tremendous storm.
More importantly, Lear saw through Cordelias lack of flatterings and
realized that her love for him was so great that she couldnt express
it into words. Unfortunately, Lears blindness ended up costing
Cordelia her life and consequently the life of himself.
Gloucester was another example of a character who suffered
from an awful case of blindness. Gloucesters blindness denied him of
the ability to see the goodness of Edgar and the evil of Edmund.
Although Edgar was the good and loving son, Gloucester all but
disowned him. He wanted to kill the son that would later save his
life. Gloucesters blindness began when Edmund convinced him by the
means of a forged letter that Edgar was plotting to kill him.
Gloucesters lack of sight caused him to believe Edmund was the good
son and prevented him from pondering the idea of Edmund being after
his earldom. Near the end of the play, Gloucester finally regained
his sight and realized that Edgar saved his life disguised as Poor Tom
and loved him all along. He realized that Edmund planned to take over
the earldom and that he was the evil son of the two. Gloucesters
famous line: I stumbled when I saw (Act IV, Sc I, Ln 20-21) was
ironic. His inability to see the realities of his sons occurred when
he had his physical sight but was mentally blind; but his ability to
see the true nature of his sons occurred after having his eyes plucked
out by the Duke of Cornwall. Fortunately, the consequences of
Gloucesters blindness throughout the play was minimal, after all, he
was the only one to die as a result of his tragic flaw.
Albany was another character suffering from the classic case
of blindness, but luckily for him, he survived his battle. Albanys
case of blindness was purely a result of the love he had for Goneril.
Although he disapproved of Gonerils actions, he would only mildly
argue his case. When Goneril forced Lear to reduce his army so that
he could stay in their castle, Albany protested:
I cannot be so partial, Goneril,
To the great love I bear You –
(Act I, Sc IV, Ln 309-310)
Albanys deep devotion to Goneril blinded him from the evil she
possessed. His inability to realize how greedy and mean Goneril was
after she flattered Lear with a bunch of lies and then kicked him out
of their home, just goes to show you how much Albany loved Goneril.
Albany was also blind to the fact that Goneril was cheating on him and
that she was plotting to kill him. Fortunately, Edgar came across a
cure for Albanys blindness. A note outlining Gonerils evil plans
was all Albany needed to see. Finally, Albany recognized what a devil
he was married to and for once let out his emotions when he said:
You are not worth the dust which the rude wind
Blows in your face!
(Act IV, Sc II, Ln 29-31)
Unlike Lear and Gloucester, Albany didnt suffer much during his bout
with blindness. Not only did he survive his battle, but he lived to
remain the ruler of what was once Lears kingdom.