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Clear Vision in King Lear

        In Shakespeare's classic tragedy, King Lear, the issue of 

sight and its relevance to clear vision is a recurring theme. 

Shakespeare's principal means of portraying this theme is through the 

characters of Lear and Gloucester. Although Lear can physically see, 

he is blind in the sense that he lacks insight, understanding, and 

direction. In contrast, Gloucester becomes physically blind but gains 

the type of vision that Lear lacks. It is evident from these two 

characters that clear vision is not derived solely from physical 

sight. Lear's failure to understand this is the principal cause of his 

demise, while Gloucester learns to achieve clear vision, and 

consequently avoids a fate similar to Lear's.

        Throughout most of King Lear, Lear's vision is clouded by his 

lack of insight. Since he cannot see into other people's characters, 

he can never identify them for who they truly are. When Lear is 

angered by Cordelia, Kent tries to reason with Lear, who is too 

stubborn to remain open-minded. Lear responds to Kent's opposition 

with, "Out of my sight!," to which Kent responds, "See better, Lear, 

and let me still remain" (I.i.160). Here, Lear is saying he never 

wants to see Kent again, but he could never truly see him for who he 

was. Kent was only trying to do what was best for Lear, but Lear could 

not see that. Kent's vision is not clouded, as is Lear's, and he knows 

that he can remain near Lear as long as he is in disguise. Later, 

Lear's vision is so superficial that he is easily duped by the 

physical garments and simple disguise that Kent wears. Lear cannot see 

who Kent really. He only learns of Kent's noble and honest character 

just prior to his death, when his vision is cleared. By this time, 

however, it is too late for an honest relationship to be salvaged.

        Lear's vision is also marred by his lack of direction in life, 

and his poor foresight, his inability to predict the consequences of 

his actions. He cannot look far enough into the future to see the 

consequences of his actions. This, in addition to his lack of insight 

into other people, condemns his relationship with his most beloved 

daughter, Cordelia. When Lear asks his daughters who loves him most, 

he already thinks that Cordelia has the most love for him. However, 

when Cordelia says, "I love your Majesty/According to my bond, no more 

nor less" (I.i.94-95), Lear cannot see what these words really mean. 

Goneril and Regan are only putting on an act. They do not truly love 

Lear as much as they should. When Cordelia says these words, she has 

seen her sisters' facade, and she does not want to associate her true 

love with their false love. Lear, however, is fooled by Goneril and 

Regan into thinking that they love him, while Cordelia does not. Kent, 

who has sufficient insight, is able to see through the dialogue and 

knows that Cordelia is the only daughter who actually loves Lear. He 

tries to convince Lear of this, saying, "Answer my life my 

judgment,/Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least" 

(I.i.153-154). Lear, however, lacks the insight that Kent has. He only 

sees what is on the surface, and cannot understand the deeper 

intentions of the daughters' speeches. As his anger grows from the 

argument, his foresight diminishes as he becomes increasingly rash and 

narrow minded . When Lear disowns Cordelia, he says, "we/Have no such 

daughter, nor shall ever see/That face of hers again" (I.i.264-266). 

He cannot see far enough into the future to understand the 

consequences of this action. Ironically, he later discovers that 

Cordelia is the only daughter he wants to see, asking her to "forget 

and forgive" (IV.vii.85). By this time, he has finally started to gain 

some direction, and his vision is cleared, but it is too late for his 

life to be saved. His lack of precognition had condemned him from the 


        Lear depicts Shakespeare's theme of clear vision by 

demonstrating that physical sight does not guarantee clear sight. 

Gloucester depicts this theme by demonstrating clear vision, despite 

the total lack of physical sight. Prior to the loss of his eyes, 

Gloucester's vision was much like Lear's. He could not see what was 

truly going on around him. Instead, he only saw what was presented to 

him on the surface. When Edmund shows him the letter that is 

supposedly from Edgar, it takes very little convincing for Gloucester 

to believe it. As soon as Edmund mentions that Edgar could be plotting 

against him, Gloucester calls him an "Abhorred villain, unnatural, 

detested, brutish villain" (I.ii.81-82). He does not even stop to 

consider whether Edgar would do such a thing because he cannot see 

into Edgar's character. At this point, Gloucester's life is headed 

down a path of damnation similar to Lear's because of a similar lack 

of sight.

        When Gloucester loses his physical sight, his vision actually 

clears, in that he can see what is going on around him. When 

Gloucester is captured by Cornwall, Gloucester provokes him to pluck 

out his eyes:


        But I shall see

        The wing�d vengeance overtake such children.

        Cornwall. See't shalt thou never. Fellows, hold the chair.

        Upon these eyes of thine I'll set my foot. (III.vii.66-69)

When Gloucester is saying this, he still lacks clear vision, and would 

never have seen vengeance taken upon Cornwall. When Cornwall puts out 

his eyes, Gloucester's vision becomes clear from this point on, and he 

later discovers that Cornwall was killed. Ironically, Gloucester does 

not see vengeance until after he is blinded. In this sense, Cornwall 

also suffers from clouded vision because his death is a direct result 

of his blinding of Gloucester, when a servant kills him. As a result, 

Gloucester is spared and his vision is cleared, while Cornwall is left 

a victim of his own faulty vision.

        From this point onwards, Gloucester learns to see clearly by 

using his heart to see instead of his eyes. It is evident that he 

realizes this when he says:

        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. (IV.i.18-21)

In this, he is saying that he has no need for eyes because when he had 

them, he could not see clearly. He realizes that when he had eyes, he 

was confident that he could see, while in reality, he could not see 

until his eyes were removed. Afterwards, he sees with his mind instead 

of his eyes.

        Gloucester's vision can be contrasted with that of Lear. While 

Lear has the physical sight that Gloucester lost, Gloucester has the 

clearer vision that Lear will never gain. When Lear and Gloucester 

meet near the cliffs of Dover, Lear questions Gloucester's state:

        No eyes in your

        head, nor no money in your purse? Your eyes are

        in a heavy case, your purse in a light, yet you

        see how this world goes.

        Gloucester. I see it feelingly. (

Here, Lear cannot relate to Gloucester because his vision is not 

clear, and he wonders how Gloucester can see without eyes. Although 

Lear has seen his mistakes, he still believes that sight comes only 

from the eyes. Gloucester tells him that sight comes from within. 

Vision is the result of the mind, heart, and emotions put together, 

not just physical sight. This is a concept that Lear will never 


        In King Lear, clear vision is an attribute portrayed by the 

main characters of the two plots. While Lear portrays a lack of 

vision, Gloucester learns that clear vision does not emanate from the 

eye. Throughout this play, Shakespeare is saying that the world cannot 

truly be seen with the eye, but with the heart. The physical world 

that the eye can detect can accordingly hide its evils with physical 

attributes, and thus clear vision cannot result from the eye alone. 

Lear's downfall was a result of his failure to understand that 

appearance does not always represent reality. Gloucester avoided a 

similar demise by learning the relationship between appearance and 

reality. If Lear had learned to look with more than just his eyes, he 

might have avoided this tragedy. 

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