King Lear Essay, Research Paper
In order to understand the theme of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, “King Lear”, we must explore what is meant by ‘eyesight or lack of it’. Eyesight is a recurring theme throughout the play, which refers to the metaphorical and physical blindness of the characters.
From the beginning, Shakespeare lets the audience see King Lear as himself. Lear isn’t given any premisconceptions and the audience is left to explore Lear’s character on their own.
In the first scene the audience sees Lear proclaiming to his three daughters that, in order to be awarded her dowry, she must express her love accordingly to him. Goneril going first uses wit, deceit and Lear’s state of metaphorical blindness to create such an indulgent speech of which no father could disapprove. “I love you more than word can wield the matter; dearer than eyesight, space and liberty…rich or rare; no less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor…beyond all matter of so much I love you” (Act I, scene I, 55-61)
At this point of the play, the audience has their first insight to Goneril’s true personality, and Lear’s lack of eyesight. It’s not until we hear all three daughters’ speeches that the audience is introduced to Lear’s metaphorical blindness. The metaphorical language and beauty of both Goneril and Regan’s speeches blind Lear. It is Lear’s blinded state that stops him from understanding and accepting Cordelia’s expression of her love. “Noting will come of nothing. Speak again.” (Act I, scene I, 90)
Lear’s eyesight blinds him of the truth. Cordelia’s speech challenges Lear’s intellect and portrays him as being less powerful, than he was implied to be in the beginning.
Cordelia’s speech is the first point in the play where the audience sees the difference between the three daughters and the truth behind King Lear.
Goneril and Regan’s’ speeches give Lear exactly what he wants to hear. Lear seems to be entertained by the fact that each daughter is competing against each other’s love towards him; or how great they can make out that their love is for him, is. It is for this reason, that when Cordelia finds it hard to heave her heart into her mouth; unlike her sisters; that Lear acts in such the way he did. “Let it be so, thy truth then be thy dower…by the sacred radiance of the sun, of Hecate and the night…I disclaim all my paternal care…a stranger to my heart and me Hold thee from this for ever.” (Act I, scene I, 110-115) Lear’s anger ridden speech does not hide his frustration, and the fact that he is doing all the damage. Driven by his own blindness/lack of sight, Lear begins to make many mistakes, which later in the play, the audience sees him get his justice. He not only loses his daughter; in his darkened state, but probably the most loyal friend he had, Kent.
His next words, to Kent, make the point clear. “Come not between the dragon and his wrath. I loved her most, and though to set my rest on her kind nursery.-Hence and avoid my sight” (Act I, scene I, 122-124) This quote says two things about Lear; that he can admit to his own wish for peace and rest, although he will not exhibit to the audience his need of it. Lear also cannot acknowledge the fact that both Cordelia and he are being stubborn and selfish to not allow love except on their own terms. Cordelia’s speech says a lot about her character. Can it be said that even though she loves her father with duty, honor and love, she has failed him by not telling him what he wants to hear? It is strange the way Shakespeare made the audience aware of Cordelia’s knowledge of Lear’s blindness, but she did not she answer him.
Sure, there is something wrong with Lear, who requires love to handed to him easily on a platter; but on the other hand there has to be something strange said about his daughter, who is aware of his metaphorical blindness, but does not fulfil his demanding needs. “I love you majesty according to my bond, no more nor less.” (Act I, scene I, 92-93)
It seems Cordelia does a poor job to sell the fact she truly loves her father. Even though, once compared to Goneril and Regan’s overly exaggerated speeches, Cordelia still shines out among them as the most innocent daughter, from the audience’s perspective. Even when Lear’s disbelief encourages him to give Cordelia another chance to “mend “her speech, Cordelia uses her plain, honestly spoken, simple language again; even after seeing the pain she caused her father by her “nothing” speech. Even when Cordelia does speak again, she does not go any further than saying that it is her duty to honor and love Lear. “You have begot me, bred me, loved me. I return those duties back as are right fit, Obey you, love you, and most honor you” (Act I, scene I, 96-98)
Shakespeare uses Lear’s kingdom as a symbol of his affection towards his three daughters. It’s implied throughout Act I, that Cordelia is Lear’s favourite daughter, therefore receiving the most prized part of his kingdom. Not only does this show the daughters’ ranking in Lear’s heart but also, the blindness he is unaware of. It is suggested that Lear thinks that by dividing the land by level of love, he is being a good father. He does not see that Goneril and Regan deceive him and him just for their own greedy benefit. Lear does not see that Cordelia does not want his riches, but his love.
Gloucester like Lear is metaphorically blinded by his son’s betrayal and is not able to see balanced until Regan and Cornwall physically blind him.
Gloucester again like Lear is challenged by Edgar’s mistrust. In the blind panic of hurt and fear, Gloucester is easily persuaded and can openly not doubt his own sons loyalty, even though he had seen no evidence of any such thing. This shows the audience how much Gloucester relies on others judgements, so make up his own mind. Gloucester and Lear are both similar in vulnerability; neither can recognise in themselves. Lear thinks that “nature” has to be controlled and commanded, where Gloucester fears and mistrusts it.
Gloucester plays an important role in the play. The play would be inconceivable without the figure of Gloucester in it. Not because he is so important to the plot, nor because his experience parallels Lear’s, but because his specific character and experience each subtly shape the other and realise an aspect of life necessary to those associated in the other characters – especially in Edgar and Lear. It’s quite clear that this blinding course, the physical, emotional and moral pain of which he cannot neglect nor bear. Which is necessary to the action just because as an audience we too cannot avoid nor bear the horror of what is done to him and why.