How does blindness operate in Shakespeare's King Lear?

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As in Oedipus Rex, physical blindness, in this case the cruel blinding of Gloucester, leads to insight. As with Oedipus, blindness humbles Gloucester and allows him to see reality more clearly.

Otherwise, blindness in King Lear is metaphoric. Powerful characters in the play, most notably Lear himself and Gloucester, are blind to the evil machinations of their children. Both men are so used to being catered to and flattered that they have lost sight of the fact that people behave to them with kindness and deference not because they are inherently lovable, but because they are powerful. They have grown blind to the fact that the flattering words they hear might not reflect reality.

It is not until he is cast out into the storm that the elderly Lear realizes he is, after all, just another human being like anyone else. Power is a form of blindness, Shakespeare argues in this play.

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Blindness is a pervasive theme and device in Shakespeare's King Lear. Both Lear and Gloucester, for instance, are blind to the truth when it comes to their children (Gloucester wrongly believes the treacherous Edmund loves him, while Lear also wrongly believes the scheming Regan and Goneril love him more than Cordelia does). As such, both Lear and Gloucester are blind to the truth of things and fail to see reality as it actually is, a mistake that ultimately leads to both figures' downfalls. In Gloucester's case, metaphorical blindness leads to real, physical blindness, as his inability to recognize Edmund's scheming leads to his eyes being gouged out by Cornwall. Ironically, it is only when Gloucester is physically blind that he is able to understand the truth and recognize Edgar as his loyal child. This irony is one of the most important aspects of the play, as it highlights the ways in which trauma or misfortune can lead to sudden insights and epiphanies.

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