Please discuss the theme of blindness and seeing in King Lear.

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is important to identify the way in which blindness in this brilliant tragedy symbolises far more than the ability to be able to use your eyes. It also points towards the inability to see things the way they are, particularly when it comes to understanding yourself and the motivations of characters around you.

Bearing this in mind, if we consider the blindness of Gloucester, we can see that this stands as a symbol for the metaphorical blindness that both Gloucester and Lear suffer from. The blindness therefore functions as something that reinforces the similarities between these two characters. Both, after all, have children that are loyal and devoted to them and children that are definitely not, and both, tragically, show blindness in their inability to discern which children are loyal and which are not, and demonstrate this blindness by banishing the loyal children and choosing the disloyal ones to be their heirs.

There is tremendous irony in this play that it is only after Gloucester has been blinded that Lear has descended into lunacy, two things that should prevent clear vision and insight, that these characters begin to truly "see" the massive mistakes that they have made. Note the way that these two characters meet in Act IV and talk about their blindness and how their mistakes have resulted in such tragedy.

kopatim13 | Student
Lear and Gloucester are "blind" in similar ways: neither is able to see the true motivations of his children. Lear is, for lack of a better term, blinded by his rage when Cordelia chooses not to answer his question in I,i. Gloucester is blind to his son Edmund's jealously and envy of his brother. Both, in a way, are simultaneously blinded by the love of their offspring as well as their rage when their expectations of them are not met. In accord with traditional themes of blindness (cf Tiresias not being able to see physically but being able to see the future) neither man is able to see the truth of their failings until they enter into their own respective states of blindness (for Lear it is his madness, for Gloucester it is his physical blindness). In this way Shakespeare is operating on a very traditional level, i.e. the paradox of physical sight as preventing insight, and of the lack of physical sight as inducing insight. Shakespeare takes this to another level, however, by creating these characters as older men where this blindness and lack of insight has (though the term is not 100% applicable as it hadn't been "invented" yet) existential effects on the two characters' lives and self perceptions as they near the end of their own lives and begin to consider just what it is their lives were composed of and just what it is that they are leaving behind; but the important factor in this is that only through entering into blindness, an otherworldliness of sorts, are they able to "see" the truth of their respective existences.