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King Lear Moral Blindness

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"Is stumbled when I saw", says Gloucester after his blinding. Use Gloucester's remark as the starting point for an essay on the theme of blindness and insight in King Lear. Illustrate your points with evidence from the play.

The parallel plot of King Lear and Gloucester clearly demonstrates to us the idea that insight can only be gained through suffering as both characters have similar experiences that lead them to discovering insight. At the beginning of the play King Lear, by William Shakespeare, both King Lear and Gloucester are morally blind, as the play progresses we see both characters suffer and finally we see both characters achieve insight. Through the similarity of their situation we see that moral blindness is not restricted to one class.

King Lear's moral blindness is first made known to us by his ignorance in dividing his kingdom between his daughters and thinking that he will still be able to "retain the name and all the addition to the king". He wants all the power and none of the responsibility and does not realise that "if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand." Mark 3:24. By trying to "prevent future strife" he is inevitably going to create chaos. The second mistake Lear makes is in thinking that he can measure love, "tell me my daughters, which of you shall say thou dost love us most?" This shows us that Lear is unable to distinguish between true love which is immeasurable and the falsehood of flattery. King Lear is completely fooled by the false and meaningless declarations of love of his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan who claim to "love him more that words can wield the matter". He does not recognise the fallacious nature of the daughter's declarations but instead his ego is flattered by their praise. His next folly is when he banishes Cordelia and Kent, two of the only people who truly love him. Kent, Lear's servant, tries to alert Lear to his lack of moral insight telling him "see better Lear and let me still remain the true blank of thine eye." Lear's moral blindness prevents him from being able to distinguish between false, selfish flattery and true worth, Kent attempts to convince Lear to rethink his decision and realise that he has made a mistake. Lear, however, arrogant and egotistical says "Out of my sight!" in an attempt to avoid reality and preventing himself from acquiring insight.

Gloucester, like Lear is unable to distinguish between the love of his loyal child and the self-serving false affection of the other. Gloucester's bastard son Edmund has been repeatedly humiliated by his father's jeers and bawdy comments about Edmunds illegitimacy and Edmund has now begun to seek his revenge. Edmunds reluctance to show Gloucester the letter is a clever ruse to spark Gloucester interest. Gloucester is tricked by the cunning Edmund into thinking that the letter is from his other son Edgar and that he is plotting to kill him. Gloucester's inability to see through Edmund's lies and then proceeding to accuse Edgar of being "unnatural" after we have just witnessed Edmund plotting to kill his brother and his father emphasises his lack of insight by showing us that he cannot see people for who they really are. From Edmunds previous soliloquy we know that Edgar is intelligent, handsome and is of honest birth and therefore has no reason to feel as though he needs to prove himself. Edmund on the other hand is of questionable birth and has been insulted frequently by Gloucester. Gloucester fails to recognise the difference between the two and in doing so condemns his only loyal son to death.

Before Lear can gain insight he must first suffer to understand the suffering of other people. Lear's suffering is predominantly mental as opposed to physical. We are shown the depth of his suffering when he storms out of Gloucester's castle after an argument with Regan and Goneril into the wild weather that is raging outside. He shouts at the wind "Blow winds...rage! blow!" this a desperate attempt by Lear to regain some form of control over his mind as the storm is a symbol of the turmoil and chaos within Lear. King Lear feels he is more "sinned against than sinning," as he has been betrayed, dethroned and destroyed by the cruelty of his two daughters. It is the "filial ingratitude" of his two daughters that is the main culprit of his suffering; he cannot comprehend the savage cruelty they have thrust upon him and the horror of their cruelty has led to him completely losing his mind. It is in his state of suffering induced madness that he finally gains insight.

Gloucester's suffering contrasts to that of Lear's



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