King Lear "So, you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this. You with your precious eyes, you " re blind to the corruption of your life, to the house you live in, those you live with" (Aristotle, Oedipus Rex) Throughout the play King Lear by Shakespeare, there are many themes that can be seen. One theme that particularly stands out is blindness. Blindness plays an extremely important part throughout the play and is seen in many different instances.
The idea of blindness in the play is directly related to King Lear himself. If one views blindness as King Lear's tragic flaw it is apparent that he is the epitome of a tragic hero. What is a tragic hero? Aristotle defines a tragic hero as a character that contains the following elements: (1) Goodness (2) Appropriateness (3) Lifelike and (4) Consistency. By goodness, Aristotle means that the character shows through speech and action certain positive moralistic qualities.
By appropriateness he means that the tragic hero fits the characteristics of his / her role. For example, King Lear possesses many domineering and powerful characteristics, which are definitive of a male character in Shakespeare's time, as well as a King. By lifelike, Aristotle is referring to the fact that the character possesses believable qualities. By consistency Aristotle explains that the character should not stray from his / her original traits "quickly." Even though King Lear doesn't start off as a completely moralistic character the reader can see throughout the play that overall he posse's positive moralistic characteristics. When Lear realizes his poor and rash judgment from earlier in the play; he kneels over Cordelia's dead body and states, "I'll kneel down and ask of thee forgiveness: so we " ll live, and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh" (p 131). This quote shows that King Lear realizes his own blindness.
He begs for forgiveness from Cordelia for his own mistake, thus proving that King Lear realizes what goodness is and that Cordelia was in fact the pure daughter. Another quote that goes to show the goodness of King Lear is "Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia, the gods themselves throw incense. Have I caught thee? He that parts us shall bring a brand from heaven, and fire us hence like foxes" (p 132). By this King Lear means that he trusts Cordelia unconditionally and wants to be by her side eternally rather then with anyone else.
King Lear demonstrates appropriateness on different levels throughout the play. As King, King Lear demands a certain level of respect. He believes that since he is King he deserves more respect and service above anyone else. He even believes that he deserves these services from his own family. When certain people refuse to give him this type of service he goes to appropriate measures such as banishment no matter who the person is.
This is demonstrated when King Lear banishes his own daughter when she refuses to tell him what he wants to hear rather then the truth. The part in which King Lear banishes his daughter states, "Thou hast her, France: let her be thine, for we have no such daughter, nor shall ever see that face of hers again. Therefore be gone, without our grace, our love, our benison" (p 13). This is the point in the play where King Lear is disowning his daughter Cordelia and banishing her. Cordelia holds strong to her beliefs and refuses to lie to her father for the mere satisfaction of flattering him. King Lear's lifelike qualities are seen all throughout the play.
One lifelike quality that King Lear possesses is flattery. What person doesn't like to be flattered in some way? King Lear loved the fact that everyone used to tell him what he wanted to hear and catered to his needs. The one person that refused to do this out of love was his daughter Cordelia, and the result of that was her banishment. Another quality that was lifelike that King Lear possessed was anger. King Lear showed anger towards his daughters.
He realized that they were being false in the flattery that they were giving him. They claimed that he was a madman and had him kicked out of his own palace as a result of there selfishness. Another quality that is lifelike is that of realization. When King Lear realizes the mistake that he has made in banishing Cordelia and choosing Regan and Goneril over her he repents, which is also a lifelike quality. Consistency is another characteristic of a tragic hero. King Lear demonstrates this quality also.
His consistency is shown in his rash decisions on both Cordelia and Kent. He banishes them both thinking that they are disrespectful and untrue servants of his kingdom. Another part of this consistency is that he falls to flattery in the face of truth and makes these extreme decisions rashly instead of rationally. This can be seen in the following exchange between Kent and King Lear in Act 1 Scene 1. Think " st thou that duty shall have dread to speak when power to flattery bows? To plainness honor's bound when majesty falls to folly... check this hideous rashness...
thy youngest daughter does not love thee least, nor are those empty-hearted whose low sounds reverb no hollowness (p 9-10). In this quote Kent is explaining Cordelia's love for her father. He is trying to give King Lear insight on his decision to banish Cordelia. Cordelia and Kent were two of King Lear's most loyal servants, trying only to give him foresight, as to what his rash decision would lead to. Kent and Cordelia refused, unlike everyone else, to blind him with flattery and were both banished as a result. King Lear's consistency is proven in the fact that he remains rash and blinded by flattery up until the point he is thrown out of his home by those who "most loved him," Goneril and Regan.
Despite these consistencies, he does make much needed realizations and even comes to repent upon his initial actions. The reason he can still be seen as a consistent character, as defined by Aristotle, is that he makes these realizations and changes over the period of the whole play, and through much guidance from specific events and characters like Kent, his disguised and loyal servant. So far, King Lear has met all the criteria needed to be defined as a tragic character, but what about his tragic flaw. As was mentioned earlier, King Lear's blindness remains an important aspect throughout the play.
In Act I, his rash decisions come from emotions that blind his judgment. These emotions are clouded by the flattery he is receiving, at the same time proving that he is only human, despite his powerful position. Strong weather imagery, such as the storm Lear, Gloucester and others lose their way in, and recurring references to fog play an important role in portraying Shakespeare's intent of laying down the underlying theme of blindness. Characters such as Kent and Edgar also disguise themselves to keep their true identity hidden, and ironically guide Lear and Gloucester, respectively, through their many obstacles and troubles finding their way to the end of the play. Some more specific instances that directly deal with King Lear and display the blindness theme are as follows. When King Lear begins to uncover the deception he has been put to by Goneril, he states, "Th' untested wounding's of a father's curse/ Pierce every sense about thee! Old fond eyes, / Weep this cause again, I'll pluck ye out (pg.
35)." The consistency of his character holds, as he scorns her, and again makes rash statements such as plucking out his eyes. Beyond consistency, this passage makes direct and literal connections to the blindness theme. King Lear foresees Regan, his last loving and respectful daughter, greeting him with kindness and attacking Goneril for mistreating their father. Again, his blindness shows through brightly! Regan wants nothing to do with him, and even puts his messenger in stocks, showing just as much disrespect.
Her speech to him even shows a reneging of compassion as she tells him, "O, sir, you are old, / Nature in you stands on the very verge/ Of his confine. You should be ruled, and led... (pg. 60)." Finally, the flattery guise is tossed aside and King Lear is once again tossed back out into the wilderness, searching for a path to follow. Blindness is very important in this play. Through blindness King Lear ultimately discovers his tragic flaw.
When King Lear had his eyesight, he could not see the betrayal of his daughter, and could not see the pureness of Cordelia. It is finally when he is blinded that he can actually "see" the people that are true to him. This goes to show that King Lear's tragic flaw was his being blinded by flattery. In the end king Lear realizes his tragic flaw. Unfortunately by the time he realizes this it is too late and he has lost his only pure daughter.