The Theme of Sight in King Lear

Categories: King Lear

In Shakespeare's King Lear, psychological sight is not dependent on physical sight, for numerous characters are blinded by their own egos and ambitions to see the real reality. Shakespeare even reaches inserting an actual metaphor for sight by making Gloucester finally recognize the reality, only when his physical vision is eliminated. Although this example is most obvious, the theme reoccurs throughout the play. It is not till Lear's eminence is removed from him that he can really see.

Lear's oversight into sincere madness is the best storm to start rotting the walls of Lear's hubris and absence of insight.

Nevertheless, the King is not the only one blinded by his pride. His 2 haughty children, Goneril and Regan, are chasing a likewise snobby earl, Edmund. Each member of this power driven trio leads themselves to their own inescapable endings, all due to the fact that of their inability to interact honestly with one another due to their yielded aspiration to get ahead.

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King Lear's absence of insight can be viewed as his psychological state of "blindness".

Due to the fact that of Lear's high position in society, he is expected to be able to identify the great from the bad; regrettably, his lack of sight beyond himself avoids him from doing so. Lear's very first act of blindness came at the beginning of the play. Initially, he was quickly tricked by his 2 eldest daughters' lies, then, he was unable to see the reality of Cordelia's real love for him, and as a result, eradicated her from his kingdom along with his faithful servant Kent.

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He later can not even recognize Kent when Kent approaches him in a simple camouflage, showing his extensive absence of vision.

As the play progresses, King Lear lastly discovers his philosophical glasses and sees that his 2 beautiful daughters are nothing however manipulative liars taking benefit of his cluelessness. With his 20/20 vision of reality now undamaged, Lear plainly sees Cordelia's love for what it always was. Unfortunately for all, the timing is of his revelation is far too late, and the just recently enlightened King does not have a possibility to make his amends, redeem his nobility, and restore order amongst his pals.

Cordelia cannot be saved, and the King is left to wallow in his own grief, bringing him to his coffin of satin with nothing left of him but a royal prefix to his name in the history books. In a parallel subplot, Gloucester also suffers with blindness. Similarly to Lear, Gloucester was unable to see which of his children truly loved him. His blindness led him to believe that Edmund was the more loving of the two, and that Edgar was the evil son plotting to kill him, when in fact, it was the other way around. Edmund forges a letter, supposedly written by Edgar, saying that Edgar is attempting to kill their father.

Gloucester immediately is convinced that the letter was truly written by Edgar and never considered thinking if Edgar would really do such a thing. Unlike Lear, Gloucester’s vision clears up when the Duke of Cornwall plucks his eyes out. From that moment, Gloucester began to see more clearly. Using his heart, Gloucester realizes at the end of the play, that Edgar was in fact the good son and that he saved his life while disguised as Poor Tom.

“I have no way and therefore want no eyes;/I stumbled when I saw” (4. 1. 8-19) was the turning point of Gloucester’s life as his vision finally clears up. Gloucester realizes how blind he was and how he lacked insight when he was physically able to see. He then realizes that although he was physically able to see, he knew he couldn’t really see and that he doesn’t need his eyes to finally see and understand for he can see things more clearly through his mind. King Lear may have been a fool to not know where his daughter’s hearts truly lye, but he does undergo a transformation, and eventually rid himself of his former blindness.

Goneril, Regan, and Edmund, however, are in no position to do such a thing. With each of them plotting to show that they are, in fact, the best, they end up bringing their own endings upon themselves. With heated siblings rivalries between Edmund and Edgar as well as Goneril and Regan, the childish need for proof of superiority sends Edmund to die at his honest brother’s hands, and Goneril and Regan’s hubris brings them to an end of poison, blood, and death, without a wedding or a winner in sight.

In the end, Edgar is the only man left in good health, accompanied by Kent, who is alive but not quite well. These two men have sacrificed their identity to protect their foolish heroes. Kent is attempting to help Lear, while Edgar is doing the same for his father. Both have been “banished” by the very men they protect, yet still, they have always seen the truth for what it is and guide these lost wanderers through the blindness of their pride.

Shakespeare is providing an unforgettable lesson to remember with this work, and that is that those who truly see and understand are left to bear the burden of the fools around them, but in the end, they are the survivors. Therefore, the concept of emotional sight is of much greater importance than simple physical sight, for it is the lack of perspective that leads one to their doom. Those who can still see clearly amongst the cloud of lies and blackened intentions will last, but those that are the producers of this mental and emotional pollution will not prevail.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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The Theme of Sight in King Lear. (2017, Jan 07). Retrieved from

The Theme of Sight in King Lear essay
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