How does sight and blindness contribute to unity, theme and character in King Lear?

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In King Lear , there is a recurring theme of blindness and sight. This creates a unity in the text because it is a recurring subject that thematically connects a number of characters to one another. The Earl of Gloucester literally goes blind when his eyes are violently gouged out....

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In King Lear, there is a recurring theme of blindness and sight. This creates a unity in the text because it is a recurring subject that thematically connects a number of characters to one another. The Earl of Gloucester literally goes blind when his eyes are violently gouged out. He describes this blindness as a kind of sight:

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.

Gloucester is referring to being deceived by his illegitimate son Edmund into believing that his son Edgar was out to kill him. Gloucester was blind to these deceptions, and he saw neither Edmund nor Edgar for who they really were. Edmund’s scheming lead to Gloucester’s horrible assault, so he finally “sees” Edmund’s true nature and Edgar’s innocence.

Gloucester also states, “'Tis the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind.” He believes that mad Tom is leading him, but it is really a disguised Edgar. This quote is significant because another major theme is madness, for the titular Lear becomes insane and demonstrates poor judgment. On top of that, the kingdom experiences a kind of insanity, for it is consumed in a violent power struggle.

This sense of blindness also refers metaphorically to King Lear. Like Gloucester, he misjudges his children, banishing the faithful Cordelia and giving his kingdom away to the flattering Goneril and Regan. The loyal Earl of Kent tells the king to “see better.” Lear sees better when he recognizes Cordelia for who she is, a kind daughter.

In the play, sight mainly refers to clarity and wisdom. A number of characters are blinded by ambition, madness, and naivete. Both Lear and Gloucester eventually see the truth and come to their senses, but they pay a horrible price for their misjudgments.

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