Blindness is a whole different thing than not having the ability for the eye to see an object, according to Shakespeare. It is not a physical quality but a mental flaw that some people possess. This fault in characters exacerbates their ability to understand and it also leads them in the wrong direction. In King Lear written by William Shakespeare, the characters of Gloucester and Lear are victims of this blemish. Although Lear can physically see, he is blind in the sense that he lacks direction, insight and understanding. However, Gloucester becomes physically blind but gains the ability of discernment that Lear does not have.
It is evident from these two characters that true vision is not derived solely from having physical sight. Lear's downfall is primarily based on this principle, while Gloucester learns that true sight is only achieved by experience, and by this, he escapes a fate parallel to Lear's. All through most of the play, Lear's vision is clouded by his lack of insight. Lear is unable to distinguish characters from their true self due to the fact that he cannot see into other people's character. During the scene where Lear is enraged at Cordelia, Kent tries to reason with him saying that Goneril and Regan are fakes. Lear, unaware of this, yells in opposition to Kent "Out of my sight' (Shakespeare 1.
1. 156). Kent responds, "See better, Lear' (1. 1. 157). Here, Kent, one of Lear's followers, is the first person to directly tell the King that he has made mistakes concerning the partition of his sovereignty.
Unlike Lear who shows blindness in judgement, Kent is able to see through the superficiality of the elder daughters' confessions of love. He believes that Cordelia is wronged when she receives nothing and is exiled due to her honesty. Lear tells Kent he never wants to see him again and displays a great extent of outrage voicing, "Come not between the dragon and his wrath' (1. 1. 121).
Kent being the appointed counselor of Lear, was just trying to do the best for Lear, but Lear could not see that. Later, Kent's argument with Lear worsens and Lear lays banishment upon Kent (1. 1. 175-178). Kent, being knowledgeable of Lear's naive character, realizes he can return to Lear as long as he is in disguise. Later on in the play, Lear's vision is so superficial that he is unable to tell of Kent's disguise as a beggar.
Kent manipulates Lear's vision by dressing himself with poor physical apparel, resembling a servant. Lear is incapable of seeing who Kent really is. Just prior to Lear's death near the end of the play, Lear's vision is cleared and only now, he learns of the loyal and honest character of Kent. By this time, however, it is too late for an honest relationship for Lear and Kent to be recovered.
Lear's vision is also flawed by his lack of direction in life, his poor foresight and his failure to understand his actions. Lear is unable to see far enough into the future to see the consequences. Rather, he only sees the shallow surface and its present effects. Lear condemns his relationship with his most beloved daughter, Cordelia.
When Lear asks his daughters which one loves him most, he assumes Cordelia has the most love for him. However, Cordelia says "I love your Majesty/According to my bond, no more nor less' (1. 1. 91-93). These words from Cordelia do not please Lear, as did from the elder sisters. Lear cannot see what these words really mean.
Goneril and Regan are pretending to love Lear solely for the reward of land and money. They do not love Lear as much as they said. However, Lear is duped by Goneril and Regan into thinking they love him the most. Kent, who has sufficient insight, is able to perceive the dialogue and knows that Cordelia is the only one who truly loves him.
Kent tries to convince Lear by saying "Answer my life my judgment, /Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least' (1. 1. 150-151). Lear lacks the insight that Kent has. He does not understand the deeper intentions of the daughters's peaches.
Lear is aggravated to an extent that his foresight diminishes and he becomes reckless and narrow-minded. Lear disowns Cordelia saying "we/Have no such daughter, not shall ever see that face of hers again' (1. 1. 261-262). Lear cannot see the future consequences of his immediate decisions on Cordelia.
Ironically, he later discovers that Cordelia is the only daughter who truly loves him and asks her to "forget and forgive' (4. 6. 84). However, it is already too late for Lear to be saved. Lear has lost all his power to his elder daughters. Lear's lack of precognition had attacked him ever since the beginning of the play.
Shakespeare's idea of true vision demonstrates that physical sight does not guarantee a clear view upon situations. Gloucester depicts this notion of true vision, despite the total lack of physical sight. Ever since Gloucester was able to see, his perception was similar to that of Lear's. Similarly, Gloucester could not see what was truly going on around him, only what was presented to him on the surface, just like Lear. When Edmund shows him the letter that is supposedly from Edgar, Gloucester takes his word for it and acts upon it. At the instant Edmund mentions that Edgar may be plotting against him, Gloucester calls Edgar an "Abhorred villain, unnatural, detested, brutish villain' (1.
2. 72) without even knowing the truth. Further into the play, Gloucester tells his servants to "Pursue him, ho! Go after' (2. 1. 42). On both occasions, he does not even stop to think whether Edgar would plan such an act.
Gloucester's immediate conclusion that Edgar is guilty is subject to Shakespeare's idea of blindness. He is unable to tell of Edgar's nature and because of this, he cannot decide if Edgar would commit such a treacherous act. Through Edmund's clandestine plan on Edgar, Gloucester now favours Edmund to be his loyal son. As the plot develops, Gloucester becomes more open to him. The level of trustworthiness between father and son is at the highest peak in the play.
Gloucester confides a secret in Edmund revealing to him about the secret invasion of France (3. 3. 11-12). From the point Gloucester started to trust Edmund, their relationship has slowly strengthened. Gloucester tells Edmund of the letter he received pertaining to the invasion of Britain from France.
Edmund deceives Gloucester by pretending to be affected by his father's disapproval of Lear's treatment, he replies to Gloucester, "Most savage and unnatural!' (3. 3. 6). Once again, Gloucester is blinded by Edmund's loyalty and continues to reveal more secrets to Edmund. Edmund determines to betray his father and tell his secrets to Cornwall. Gloucester is now a suitable victim of treason.
Gloucester, oblivious of his blurry vision, is leading a life that will guide himself to his own ruin. However, the plot of Gloucester takes a sudden change of course. Gloucester begins to see the real character of Edmund when he was arrested and brought in before Cornwall. He tells his son Edmund, "To quit this horrid act' (3. 7. 84).
Regan then tells Gloucester of Edmund's betrayal toward him. Gloucester finally realizes the real truth and learns of true sight. He makes a statement toward the gods stating, "Kind gods, forgive me that, and prosper [Edgar]' (3. 7. 89). In this, Gloucester learns that Edmund was not the loyal son he appeared to be, but just a two-faced individual.
He learns for himself that true vision only comes from within and not by having physical sight. Near the end of the play, Gloucester learns to use his heart instead of his eyes to see. It is evident when he is walking with the old man and says "I have no way, and therefore want no eyes; /I stumbled when I saw. Full oft 'tis seen, /Our means secure us, and our mere defects/Prove our commodities' (4. 1. 18-21).
In all this, he says that he has no need for eyes because when he had them, he could not see the truth. He finally recognizes the difference between seeing in reality and seeing by the heart and mind. Gloucester's vision can be contrasted to that of Lear's. Lear acquires the physical sight while Gloucester does not. Gloucester has true vision that Lear will never have. At the part where Lear meets Gloucester at the Dover cliffs, Lear asks Gloucester how he is able to see what is happening in the world and Gloucester answers, "I see it feelingly' (4.
5. 145). In this example, Lear wonders how Gloucester can see without eyes. Although Lear has seen his own judgement errors, he still believes that sight can only come from the eyes.
Gloucester tells Lear that true sight is more profound. It comes from within. It is the result of the cooperation of the mind, heart and soul. In King Lear, true vision is an attribute represented by the main characters of the two plots.
While Lear renders a lack of vision, Gloucester learns that true vision does not come from the eye rather from within. The eye is able to detect the physical qualities of the world but is unable to separate evil from the world. Hence, true vision does not merely come from the eye but from a more intricate understanding of people. The demise that Lear experienced was due to his misleading judgement of appearance and how it does not always signify the truth. Gloucester evaded a similar situation by understanding the connection between appearance and reality. If Lear looked with more than just his eyes, his tragedy may have been prevented.