King Lear: The Theme of Blindness (Lack of Insight)
In Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, King Lear, the issue of sight and its relevance to clear vision is a recurring theme. Shakespeare’s principal means of portraying this theme is through the characters of Lear and Gloucester. Although Lear can physically see, he is blind in the sense that he lacks insight, understanding, and direction. In contrast, Gloucester becomes physically blind but gains the type of vision that Lear lacks. It is evident from these two characters that clear vision is not derived solely from physical sight. Lear’s failure to understand this is the principal cause of his demise, while Gloucester learns to achieve clear vision, and consequently avoids a fate similar to Lear’s.
Throughout most of King Lear, Lear’s vision is clouded by his lack of insight. Since he cannot see into other people’s characters, he can never identify them for who they truly are. When Cordelia angers Lear, Kent tries to reason with Lear, who is too stubborn to remain open-minded. Lear responds to Kent’s opposition with, “Out of my sight,” to which Kent responds, “See better, Lear, and let me still remain” (I.i.160). Here, Lear is saying he never wants to see Kent again, but he could never truly see him for who he is. Kent was only trying to do what was best for Lear, but Lear could not see that. Kent’s vision is not clouded, as is Lear’s, and he knows that he can remain near Lear as long as he is in disguise. Later, Lear’s vision is so superficial that the physical garments and simple disguise that Kent wears easily dupe him. Lear cannot see who Kent really is. He only learns of Kent’s noble and honest character just prior to his death, when his vision is cleared. By this time, however, it is too late for an honest relationship to be salvaged.
Lear’s vision is also marred by his lack of direction in life, and his poor foresight, his inability to predict the consequences of his actions. He cannot look far enough into the future to see the consequences of his actions. This, in addition to his lack of insight into other people, condemns his relationship with his most beloved daughter, Cordelia. When Lear asks his daughters who loves him most, he already thinks that Cordelia has the most love for him.