Clear Vision in King Lear
Clear Vision in
In Shakespeare's classic tragedy, King
Lear, the issue of sight and its relevance to clear vision is a recurring
theme. Shakespeare's principal means of portraying this theme is through
the characters of Lear and Gloucester. 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 consequently avoids a fate similar to Lear's.
Throughout most of King Lear, Lear's vision
is clouded by his lack of insight. Since he cannot see into other people's
characters, 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 is in disguise. Later, Lear's vision is so superficial that
he is easily duped by the physical garments and simple disguise that Kent
wears. Lear cannot see who Kent really. 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
Lear's vision is also marred 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' facade, 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. Prior to the loss of his eyes, Gloucester's
vision was much like Lear's. He could not see what was truly 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