, Research Paper
Through the Eyes of a King
“Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter, dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty, beyond what can be valued…” In this quote from King Lear, Goneril is proclaiming how much she loves her father, King Lear. The fact that she refers to eyesight as being a priceless thing foreshadows the whole “sight” theme of this play. Throughout King Lear, there are references to characters’ sight and perception. The perceptions of King Lear and Gloucester are changing and expanding throughout this whole play.
When Goneril professes her “love” for her father, it is ironic that she says she loves him more than eyesight itself, because Lear is “blind” to the fact that he is being set up by her and her sister, Regan. In act 3, scene 6, Gloucester is literally blinded when Cornwall digs out both of his eyes. Although Lear isn’t physically blind, he is unable to see which of his daughters really love him. Lear chooses not to acknowledge the fact that Cordelia really does love him. As the reader, we know that Cordelia truly does love her father. It is obvious because she says to herself in act 1, scene 1, line 86: “…since I am sure my love’s more ponderous than my tongue.” He is on a power trip and Goneril and Regan simply add fuel to the fire by telling him what he wants to hear.
Therefore, when Cordelia tells him she has no words to explain her love for him he just dismisses her and becomes outraged. Lear is blinded by his arrogance and power and chooses to accept his two daughters who make him feel loved.
In act 4, scene 1, Gloucester’s speech (lines 19-25) shows the reader his revelation of how he was blind and now can see how Edmund has betrayed him and that he falsely turned against his son Edgar, even though he is physically blind. Throughout this play, characters’ are faced with the dilemma of figuring out if what they are seeing is real or not. The old saying, “seeing is believing” does not apply to the characters in King Lear. Lear begins to go insane while wandering through the woods during the storm. Not only do the rain and the darkness of the forest alter Lear’s vision, but also he is unable to “see” who he is or who the people are around him. Lear doesn’t know who to trust or where to go.
One definition of the word see is to get a mental picture and grasp by thinking. Although Gloucester cannot see with his eyes, he is still able to think through what has happened and begin to realize what has been happening and he finally pleads with God to help him. This also brings to light the idea of religion playing a role in this play. Gloucester has “seen the light” so to speak.
Christianity and most other religions are based on faith. Although believers cannot see God or Jesus Christ and they can never be completely positive that he/she exists; they continue to have faith that God is real and they are being watched over by him. In the same way, Gloucester cannot physically see the fool, but he puts his trust in him that he will lead him safely to the cliff. Perhaps on some subconscious level, Gloucester knew it was his son, Edgar, who was guiding him. Gloucester cannot see his son’s face and realize he is helping him out of love. However, he can understand and connect with his son and deep down he can trust Edgar to be there for him even in his old, crippled, manipulated state.
King Lear, in contrast to Gloucester, put his faith in the wrong people. When he asked his daughters to profess their love for him, he went with what sounded good to him and not with his heart. King Lear knew that Cordelia loved him but he became selfish and didn’t keep the faith he had had in Cordelia’s word up until that point. Ironically, it was the lack of words from Cordelia that drove him to banish her from the family.
Goneril and Regan looked King Lear in the eyes and “blinded” him with lies. King Lear was lucky to have a daughter that kept her faith in him and saw through her sisters’ lies. Cordelia saw that her father needed help and remained faithful even though Lear exiled her and turned his back on her. Cordelia knew deep down that her father would come to see what she really meant to him.
As we travel through this long journey called life, we see many different people, places, and events. Sometimes we can’t tell what is real, or if someone is being real, or even if we are being real to ourselves. Gloucester and Lear were no different. Lear’s flaw was his arrogance and Gloucester’s was his shear ignorance. However, these are human flaws that many of us have. In the end, for these two men, it came down to looking within them. Whether they had been deceived, blinded, manipulated, or betrayed by other people, it all boiled down to who they were and having trust in who they were. These men went through all these misperceptions, but it finally resulted in them having a clear view of their world and themselves.