King Lear

Sight and Consciousness: An Interpretive Study in King Lear

The images of sight given, taken, or abused resonate deeply in King Lear from Kent's first imperative, "See better, Lear" (I.i.158), to the painful images of a stumbling, eyeless Gloucester. Such imagery, drawn both dramatically and verbally, illustrates well the theme of consciousness. Consciousness in this play refers to seeing the world without through the lens of the world within. The success of King Lear as a satisfying tragedy relies on this issue of consciousness. This theme is most potently manifest in the play through the classic inversion of sight and blindness: paradoxically, those with healthy and normal eyes see both a self and world distorted while only those who have been robbed of their sight physically, like Gloucester, or metaphorically, like Lear, can apprehend their truer nature.

In the play's initial scenes we behold Lear as a vain old man, motivated by a desire for necessary dependents while refusing to yield his own independence. Two of his daughters, keenly aware of their father's desires, acquiesce to his designs and play up to his increasing insecurity. Cordelia, the third, youngest, and favorite daughter, refuses to make her love a show and denies her father the cruel pleasure of...

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