Essay, Research Paper: King Lear Vision

Shakespeare: King Lear

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In Shakespeare's tragedy, King Lear, a prominent reoccuring theme is vision and
it’s relovence. The characters, Lear and Gloucester are Shakespeare's
principal means of portraying this theme. Although Lear can physically see, he
is blind in the sense that he lacks insight, understanding, and direction. In
contrast, Gloucester becomes physically blind but gains the type of vision that
Lear lacks. It is evident from these two characters that clear vision is not
derived solely from physical sight. Lear's failure to understand this is the
principal cause of his demise, while Gloucester learns to achieve clear vision,
and avoids a fate similar to Lear's. Throughout most of the play, Lear's vision
is clouded by his lack of insight. Since he cannot see into other people's
personalities, he can never identify them for who they truly are. When Lear is
angered by Cordelia, Kent tries to reason with Lear, who is too stubborn to
remain open-minded. Lear responds to Kent's opposition with, "Out of my
sight!" to which Kent responds, "See better, Lear, and let me still
remain" (I.i.160). Here, Lear is saying he never wants to see Kent again,
but he could never truly see him for who he was. Kent was only trying to do what
was best for Lear, but Lear could not see that. Kent's vision is not clouded, as
is Lear's, and he knows that he can remain near Lear as long as he hides behind
his mask. Lear's visual perception is so superficial that the merely the
garments and simple disguise that Kent wears easily dupe him. Lear cannot really
see Kent. He only learns of Kent's noble and honest character just prior to his
death, when his vision is cleared. By this time, however, it is too late for an
honest relationship to be saved. Lear's vision is also worsened by his lack of
direction in life, and his poor foresight, 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 sisters' facades, 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. 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,
saying, "Answer my life my judgment, / Thy youngest daughter does not love
thee least" (I.i.153-154). Lear, however, lacks the insight that Kent has.
He only sees what is on the surface, and cannot understand the deeper intentions
of the daughters' speeches. As his anger grows from the argument, his foresight
diminishes, as he becomes increasingly rash and narrow-minded. When Lear disowns
Cordelia, he says, "we/Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see/That face
of hers again" (I.i.264-266). He cannot see far enough into the future to
understand the consequences of this action. 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 precognition had condemned him from the beginning. Lear
depicts Shakespeare's theme of clear vision by demonstrating that physical sight
does not guarantee clear sight. Gloucester depicts this theme by demonstrating
clear vision, despite the total lack of physical sight. Before scratching his
eyes out, Gloucester's vision was much like Lear's. He could not see what was
really going on around him. Instead, he only saw what was presented to him on
the surface. When Edmund shows him the letter that is supposedly from Edgar, it
takes very little convincing for Gloucester to believe it. As soon as Edmund
mentions that Edgar could be plotting against him, Gloucester calls him an
"Abhorred villain, unnatural, detested, brutish villain" (I.ii.81-82).
He does not even stop to consider whether Edgar would do such a thing because he
cannot see into Edgar's character. At this point, Gloucester's life is headed
down a path of damnation similar to Lear's because of a similar lack of sight.
When Gloucester loses his physical sight, his vision actually clears, in that he
can see what is going on around him. When Cornwall captures Gloucester,
Gloucester provokes him to pluck out his eyes: But I shall see The wingèd
vengeance overtake such children. Cornwall. See't shalt thou never. Fellows,
hold the chair. Upon these eyes of thine I'll set my foot. (III.vii.66-69) 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 suffers from clouded vision because
his death is a direct result of his blinding of Gloucester, when a servant kills
him. As a result, Gloucester is spared and his vision is cleared, while Cornwall
is left a victim of his own faulty vision. From this point onwards, Gloucester
learns to see clearly by using his heart to see instead of his eyes. It is
evident that he realizes this when he 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. (IV.i.18-21) In this, he is saying that he
has no need for eyes because when he had them, he could not see clearly. He
realizes that when he had eyes, he was confident that he could see, while in
reality, he could not see until his eyes were removed. Afterwards, he sees with
his mind instead of his eyes. Gloucester's vision can be contrasted with that of
Lear. While Lear has the physical sight that Gloucester lost, Gloucester has the
clearer vision that Lear will never gain. When Lear and Gloucester meet near the
cliffs of Dover, 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. Gloucester. I see it feelingly. (IV.vi.147-151)
Here, Lear cannot relate to Gloucester because his vision is not clear, and he
wonders how Gloucester can see without eyes. Although Lear has seen his
mistakes, he still believes that sight comes only from the eyes. Gloucester
tells him that sight comes from within. Vision is the result of the mind, heart,
and emotions put together, not just physical sight. This is a concept that Lear
will never understand. In King Lear, clear vision is an attribute portrayed by
the main characters of the two plots. While Lear portrays a lack of vision,
Gloucester learns that clear vision does not emanate from the eye. 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
understand that appearance does 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, he might have avoided
this tragedy.
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