Shakespear: King Lear Vs. Gloucester Essay, Research Paper
Out Of Sight Out Of Mind?
In Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, King Lear, there are several characters who do not see the reality of their environment. Two such characters are Lear and Gloucester. Both characters inhabit a blindness to the world around them. Lear does not see clearly the truth of his daughters mentions, while Gloucester is also blinded by Edmond’s treachery. This failure to see reality leads to Lears intellectual blindness, which is his insanity, and Gloucester’s physical blindness that leads to his trusting tendencies. They both achieve inner awareness at the end as their surreal blindness’ are lifted and then realize the truth. Both Lear and Gloucester are characters used by Shakespeare to show the relevance of having a clear vision in life.
Lear’s vision is marred by lack of direction in life, poor foresight and 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. However, when Cordelia says: “I love your Majesty according to my bond, no more nor less.” (I, i, 94-95) Lear cannot see what these words really mean. Goneril and Regan are only putting on an act. They do not truly love Lear as much as they should. When Cordelia says these words, she has seen her sister’s facade, and she does not want to associate her true love with their false love. Lear, however, is fooled by Goneril and Regan into thinking that they love him, while Cordelia does not. This is when Lear first shows a sign of becoming blind to those around him. He snaps and disowns her:
Let be so! Thy truth then be thy dower!
For, by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate and the night;
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist and cease to be;
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee from this for ever. The barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighboured, pitied, and relieved,
As thou may sometime daughter. (I, i, 110-123)
Not only does he disown her, but he also banishes her from his land altogether. This drastic and rash action shows that Lear’s mental state, and blindness is perilously unstable. Kent, who has sufficient insight, is able to see through the dialogue and knows that Cordelia is the only daughter who actually loves Lear. He tries to convince Lear of this, however Lear lacks the insight Kent has. He only sees what is on the surface, and cannot understand the deeper intentions of the daughter’s speeches. His anger grows from the argument, and foresight diminishes, as he becomes increasingly rash and narrow minded.
Prior to the loss of his eyes, Gloucester’s vision was much like Lear’s; he too was very foolish in distinguishing between good and bad children. He could not see what was truly going on around him. Instead, he only saw what was presented to him on the surface. Gloucester’s blindness denied him the ability to see the goodness of Edgar and the evil of Edmund. Gloucester is aware Edgar is the good son, and still he chooses to disown him. Gloucester’s blindness began when Edmund convinced him by the means of a forged letter that Edgar was plotting to kill him. Gloucester becomes outraged and gives all of his trust into Edmund; he even declares:
“O, villain, villain! His very opinion in the letter!
Abhorred villain! Unnatural, detested, brutish villain!
Worse than brutish! Go, sirrah, seek him. I’ll appre-
hend him. Abominable villain! Where is he? (I, ii, 75-78)
He does not even stop to consider whether Edgar would do such a thing because he cannot see into Edgar’s character. “He did bewray his practice, and received this hurt you see, striving to apprehend him.” (II, i, 106-107) At this point, Gloucester’s life is headed down a path of damnation similar to Lear’s because of a similar lack of sight.
Lear made a monumental mistake when he handed over the British rule to his two evil daughters, Regan and Goneril. This is what eventually led to his mental breakdown and the deaths of many of the heads of Britain. If he had only chosen to keep control over his Kingdom or to give up control to someone trustworthy, no one would have had to suffer as they did. Some people knew he was committing a terrible folly, especially the Earl of Kent. This is apparent when he says:
Thinkest thou that duty shall have dread to speak
When power to flattery bows? To plainness honour’s
When majesty falls to folly. Reserve thy state
And in thy best consideration check
This hideous rashness. Answer my life my judgement. (I, i, 147-153)
Lear ignores this plea and even banishes Kent, who returns later, disguised as a servant. Another person to recognize his mistake is the fool. While Lear is lost in his grief and self-pity the fool is introduced to guide Lear back to the sane world, and to help find the Lear that was once lost behind a hundred Knights. Now Lear is out in the open and scared like a little child. The fact that Lear has now been pushed out from behind his Knights is dramatically represented by him actually being out on the lawns of his castle. The terrified King is now unsheltered and dramatically portrayed by his sudden insanity, rage, and anger seen through the thunderous weather that is being experienced. These complications effect Lear’s already dwindling sanity, and now he is starting to realize that his suffering is taking it’s toll. He complains: “O, how this mother swells up toward my heart! Hysterica passio! Down, thou climbing sorrow” (II, iv, 56-57) Lear is complaining that his suffering is so great, that it has manifested itself as a physical sensation below the heart, and it is rising towards the heart. By Act 3, Lear could be medically defined as psychotic, as a result of undergoing so much intense suffering. Lear’s treachery depicts Shakespeare’s theme of clear vision by demonstrating that physical sight does not guarantee clear sight.
Gloucester depicts Shakespeare’s theme by demonstrating clear vision, despite the total lack of physical sight. Gloucester again takes Edmund completely into his confidence when he informs him that he is going to try and help Lear when he is out in the storm, even though he is given strict orders by Regan and the Duke of Cornwall. Edgar immediately tells Cornwall of the information he has just learned. He says to himself:
This courtesy, forbid thee, shall the Duke
Instantly know, and of that letter too.
This seems a fair deserving, and must draw me
That which my father loses-no less then all.
The younger rises when the old doth fall. (III, iii, 21-25)
This treachery by Edmund ultimately leads to Gloucester having his eyes gouged out. When Gloucester is captured by Cornwall, Gloucester provokes him to pluck out his eyes: “but I shall see the winged vengeance overtaken such children.” (III, vii, 66-67) When Gloucester is saying this, he still lacks clear vision and would never have seen vengeance taken upon Cornwall. When Cornwall puts out his eyes, Gloucester’s vision becomes clear from this point on, and he later discovers that Cornwall was killed. Ironically, Gloucester does not see vengeance until after he is blinded. In this sense, Cornwall also suffered from clouded vision because his death was a direct result of his blinding of Gloucester, when a servant kills him. As a result, Gloucester is spared and his vision is cleared.
The pain and suffering endured by Lear eventually tears down his strength and sanity. Lear is not as strong, arrogant, and pride full as he was in the beginning of the play instead he is weak, scared, and a confused old man. His inability to see far enough into the future and understand the consequences of his actions is what first begins Lear’s downfall. Ironically, he later discovers that Cordelia is the only daughter he wants to see, asking her to “forget and forgive.” (IV, vii, 85) By this time, he has finally started to gain some direction, and his vision is cleared, but it is too late for his life to be saved. His lack of procognition had condemned him from the beginning. Cordelia’s loss has Lear break down, and say this before he, himself dies, as he cannot live without his daughter.
Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones.
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever!
I know when one is dead, and when one lives.
She’s dead as earth. (V, iii, 256-261)
Lear’s pain and sufferings are tracked back to the single most important error that he made; the choice to give up his throne. Lear and Gloucester both gains insight through their suffering. Neither Lear nor Gloucester realizes he has committed an error until he has suffered.
Near the end of the play, Gloucester finally regains his sight and realizes that Edgar is the one who saved his life disguised as Poor Tom and loved him all along. He realizes that Edmund planned to take over the earldom and that he was the evil son of the two. Gloucester’s famous line: “I stumbled when I saw.” (IV, i, 19) 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. Lear questions Gloucester’s state:
No eyes in your head,
nor no money in your purse? Your eyes are in a heavy
case, your purse in a light. Yet you see how this
world goes. (IV, vi, 143-147)
Here, Lear cannot relate to Gloucester because his own vision has not yet been cleared. Although Lear has seen his mistakes, he still believes that sight comes only from the eyes, and not from within. Gloucester tells him that sight comes from within. Vision is not just physical sight, it is the result of the mind, heart, and emotions put together. It is not until the end of the play that the righteous people are recognized.
In King Lear, clear vision is an attribute portrayed by the main characters of the two plots. Throughout this play, Shakespeare is saying that the world cannot truly be seen with the eye, but with the heart. The physical world that the eye can detect can accordingly hide its evils with physical attributes, and thus clear vision cannot result from the eye alone. Lear’s downfall was a result of his failure to comprehend that appearances do not always represent reality. Gloucester avoided a similar demise by learning the relationship between appearance and reality. If Lear had learned to look with more than just his eyes before the end, he might have avoided this tragedy. These two tragic stories unfolding at the same time gave the play a great eminence.
Roy, Ken, kr. King Lear. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1990