True sight can often be mistaken for literally having sight, which in Shakespeare’s mind is not the case in King Lear. Introducing the meaning of sight first: having the ability to see through eyes and comprehending the figure viewed. Throughout the story although, sight does not mean seeing, sight means perceiving.
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Due to Gloucester’s lack of perceiving, he was completely ignorant until he lost his sight, having to rely on different senses to see’ the reality. Even Lear, without being physically blind, was mentally blind for a large portion of the story. Progressing through King Lear by Shakespeare, Shakespeare proclaims true sight through his use of symbolism and allegories utilizing Gloucester, Lear, and Albany, emphasizing the fact that seeing is not limited to just physical sight but also perceiving.
Shakespeare portrays true sight very clearly with Gloucester, who is just a symbol or extended metaphor through the story, him having sight throughout the story while being completely blind to the issues but, when becoming physically blind no longer being ignorant of these issues. Shakespeare clearly expresses this when Gloucester exclaims, 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.
O dear son Edgar, the food of thy abus d father’s wrath, Might I but live to see thee in my touch, I’d say I had eyes again! (Act 4, Scene 1, 19-25) Gloucester can symbolize ignorance in the story or can be represented as ignorance until he is blind and finally obtains comprehension. Shakespeare wanted to use Gloucester as a metaphor in showing what blindness can do to someone, and that it should not be limited to just plain eyesight to see. So, to show what blindness can do to someone, he gouged out his eyes and from that point on, had a miserable end. This likely shows Shakespeare’s view on blindness, as the saying goes, The only thing worse than being blind is sight without vision.’ Although Gloucester was the only one who had his sight taken, he was one of the most obvious symbols/metaphor of true sight in King Lear.
Another case where Shakespeare utilizes Gloucester to reveal true sight is when Lear states to Gloucester, A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears… (Act 4, Scene 6, 166-168) At this point, Gloucester has no other choice but to use his other senses to feel and understand. This is Shakespeare expressing how blindness is more of a mental issue, and that there are so many other senses Gloucester could use to comprehend his issue with Edmund and Edgar. Seeing shouldn’t be limited to physical eyesight according the Shakespeare. With this, Shakespeare also expresses the horror that can come from being said blind’ and how not utilizing other senses for comprehension can lead to a rather dramatic and horrific end.
Shakespeare also portrays true sight using King Lear and his daughters, who throughout the story becomes mad all due to the fact of being blind of his daughters at the beginning. Shakespeare seems to be utilizing symbolism in all of this, the whole story basically being an allegory. Shakespeare utilizes Lear to symbolize blindness due to wealth and power, which many Kings of his time were. Starting all from the beginning once Lear banishes Cordelia Kent states, See better, Lear; and let me still remain the true blank of thine eye (Act 1, Scene 1, 180-181) Kent states this because Lear is obviously not seeing straight, he is blind by the fact that Cordelia truly does love him.
Kent wants Lear to understand that what he is doing is a mistake and shouldn’t be don’t; yet Lear then goes on to banish Kent as well. Kent pretty much states that he is the only reason Lear can still understand, Kent was the last person who Lear could go to for vision’, yet Lear gets rid of his last sight. As time goes on, towards the end of the story Lear has gone mad, beginning to see further and further his own mistakes, his madness corrupting him due to his blindness. To express this, Lear had stated, Doth any here know me? This is not Lear: doth Lear walk thus? Speak thus? Where are his eyes? (Act 1, Scene 4, 231-233) At this point, even Lear understands that he is blind that he doesn’t even understand who he is anymore. Shakespeare’s symbolism in the quote is this: that blindness can lead to blindness of not only others, but yourself. Lear never truly understood himself because he was blind the entire time, which he then begins to state out of madness. Lear and Gloucester are the two characters that symbolize blindness of true sight, and that because of this it led to their horrific end.
The only character that was blind for a while but survived the blindness of true sight was Albany. For some background, Albany and Goneril are in love’ but Goneril just wants to get rid of him and get to Edmund. She is completely unfaithful, and horrible. Due to Albany’s love for Goneril, he was blind to the fact she was just using him. Albany expresses his unfathomable love to Goneril by stating, I cannot be so partial, Goneril, To the great love I bear you??” (Act 1 Scene 4, 329-330) Shakespeare utilizes Albany’s love for Goneril to symbolize his blindness, this can be interpreted as blindness can also be due to love of the wrong person.
There have been many cases in stories where love distracted one from the main goals and reality. Shakespeare likely wants to express that in a kingdom, true sight must be achieved by not being blinded by love. Eventually, as Albany learns more and more about the situation and begins to start to mentally see the truth, which saves him from death, unlike Gloucester and Lear who died due to their blindness.
Albany states to Goneril, You are not worth the dust which the rude wind Blows in your face! (Act 4 Scene 2, 38-40) which indicates Albany’s understanding and he expresses that he truly sees who Goneril really is, someone who isn’t worth anything. Shakespeare likely wanted to express what no longer being blind would be like: having the ability to survive. Love particularly could symbolize blindness in this quote as well, Shakespeare now showing three different ways of being blind: love, wealth and power, and just a plain mental flaw.
Overall, Shakespeare expresses the theme of appearance and sight throughout King Lear with Gloucester and King Lear mostly, being the most prominent characters. Shakespeare explains that true sight can be revealed once mental blindness is removed; Gloucester having his physical sight removed and mental sight enhanced being one of Shakespeare’s clearest allegory/symbol of true sight. So, throughout King Lear by Shakespeare, with the wielding of symbolism and allegories, Shakespeare conveys the idea that true sight is the removal of mental flaws utilizing Gloucester, Lear, and Albany to reveal this.
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