A person’s perception is influenced by his or her character. Because of this subjectivity, there is often a disconnect between how things are perceived and reality. People often see what they want to see or hear what they want to hear. Blindness is literally defined as the inability to see, but it is also defined as “lacking perception, awareness, or discernment” (New Oxford American Dictionary). In King Lear, Shakespeare illustrates that figurative sight often is more important than the physical ability. Through Shakespeare’s deliberate language and complex characters, he demonstrates that a lack of perception can lead to impulsive decisions that eventually render a tragic demise.
In the beginning of the play, King Lear’s vanity, which is arguably one of his fatal flaws (hamartia, as defined by Aristotle) is the character trait that leads to his faulty perception. King Lear wants so badly to hear professions of love that he is unable to differentiate between honesty and dishonesty. However, it is not always clear whether King Lear has “lost this perception” or is “unwisely ignoring it” (Bradley). Even in the beginning of the play, it becomes evident that King Lear’s ability to perceive is significantly impaired. When he calls upon his daughters to profess their love in order to receive a share of his kingdom, he is pleased by Goneril’s flowery flattery, although it is clearly hyperbolic: “Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter/Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty” (I.i. 60-62). As A.C. Bradley states, “The rashness of his division of the kingdom troubles us [the readers]” and his “motive is mainly selfish” (Bradley). King Lear’s infatuation with himself leaves him satisfied with the false professions of love an…
…ome of which are character flaws and some of which are deliberate, that preclude them from comprehending reality. As later seen in the play, Gloucester’s hasty decision to disinherit his son Edgar based on a false perception, led to Gloucester’s ultimate death. Similarly, King Lear’s misperceptions of his children also led to thoughtless decisions that brought about his death. Even though King Lear eventually regained the ability to distinguish between appearance and reality, it was too late.
Bradley, A.C. “King Lear.” Shakespearian Tragedy. Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Macmillan and Co., London, 1919. Project Gutenberg. Web.
“Blind.” The New Oxford American Dictionary. 3rd ed. 2011. Print.
Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine. The Tragedy of King Lear. New York: Washington Square, 1993. Print.