Themes of Nothing and Blindness in King LearMany of the passages of King Lear, particularly those between the characters of Lear, Kent, the Fool, and Cordelia, all share a common theme. The theme of nothing, as well as the theme of blindness, echoes throughout the play. King Lear is in many ways about nothing. However, Kent, the Fool, and Cordelia make him more than nothing by serving faithfully, speaking bluntly, and loving unconditionally.
The first occurrence of the imagery of nothing takes place between Lear and Cordelia. In this particular scene, Lear asks his three daughters to profess their love for him. When Cordelia is prompted to speak, she replies “Nothing, my Lord” (1.1.87). Here, Cordelia acknowledges that her other sisters are only putting on an act for Lear. Since she truly loves him the most, she cannot bring herself to praise him falsely. Instead, she says “I love your majesty according to my bond, no more no less” (1.1.92-93). In this short dialogue between Lear and Cordelia, the word “nothing” is said four times. What’s notable is that each time it is said, it implies a different meaning. The purpose of this repetition is to show the audience its importance in the text and to make the ideas and imagery that go along with the word to be clear. By replying “nothing” when posed with the question of her love for Lear, Cordelia implies that there is nothing left to say since her sisters have already said all that there is to be said. This particular passage, with its usage of the word “nothing” also takes on its own rhythm compared to the rest of the text. In a later passage between Lear, Kent, and the Fool, this imagery of “nothing” occurs again. In the Fool’s first speech, he gives both Lear and Kent a little bit of his own brand of wisdom. To that, Kent replies, “This is nothing, Fool” (1.4.126). The Fool tells Kent “you gave me nothing for’t” (1.4.128). The Fool then asks Lear “Can you make no use of nothing, nuncle?” (1.4.128) To that, Lear relies, “Why no, boy; nothing can be made out of nothing” (1.4.130). These “nothings” that occur again here all seem to have different meanings as well. Kent tells the Fool that his wisdom is nothing, since it seems on the surface to not make any sense. When Kent tells the Fool this, the Fool tells him that it was just free advise, and that he was paid nothing for it.