What is the relationship between madness and blindness in King Lear?

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The relationship between blindness and madness can also be seen in the abundant figurative language that links the two, often ironically.  When professing her love for her father, Goneril says her love for him is “dearer than eyesight” (1.1.56), and shortly afterwards, when Cordelia refuses to play this “love-game,” Lear...

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The relationship between blindness and madness can also be seen in the abundant figurative language that links the two, often ironically.  When professing her love for her father, Goneril says her love for him is “dearer than eyesight” (1.1.56), and shortly afterwards, when Cordelia refuses to play this “love-game,” Lear says to her, “Hence and avoid my sight” (1.1.125). Kent then tells Lear after the King banishes him, “See better, Lear, and let me still remain / The true blank of thine eye” (1.1.160).  Responding to Kent, Lear swears by “Apollo,” known as an archer for being clear-sighted (161).  Lear goes mad because he is “blind”—he does not see, understand (as the other responder clearly explains); Gloucester loses his sight literally because of his friendship for and loyalty toward the mad Lear, acting as a kind of doppelganger to him.  Studying the pattern of language in relation to blindness and madness shows the structure of the double plot that shapes the themes of the play.

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The madness of Lear and the confusion in his mind represents the chaos of Lear's kingdom and the hidden wisdom that Lear never learned as a king. England is in chaos because Lear misjudged the love and loyalty of his daughters. He then goes from being figuratively insane to being actually insane, and Lear learns humility when his madness strips him of his royal trappings, realizing he's been oblivious to the basic realities of mankind. It is only through his madness that he realizes how foolish he has been to betray Cordelia's love for him.

Gloucester's physical blindness symbolizes the figurative blindness of both Lear and Gloucester. Only when Gloucester goes blind and Lear goes mad do they realize how wrong they have been about their children. Both men have been blinded to the truth of their children's love and loyalty. They banish their loyal children and make the wicked children their heirs. 

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