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Parental Blindness in King Lear

As Shakespeare presents to us a tragic pattern of parental and filial love, in which a prosperous man is devested of power and finally recognises his “folly”, empathy is induced in the audience. In “King Lear”, it is noted from the beginning of the play that both Lear and Gloucester suffer from self-approbation and will consequently find revelation by enduring “the rack of this tough world”.

While Lear mistakenly entrusts the shallow professions of love from his “thankless” daughters – Goneril and Regan – instead of the selfless words of Cordelia, Gloucester shadows a similar ignorance by initially entrusting love in the evil Edmund, rather than Edgar, whom we consider to be a “truly” loyal “noble gentlemen”. Undeniably, both parents misjudge appearance for reality, as it is only in this way that they can “let the great gods that keep this dreadful pudder O’er [their] heads / Find out their enemies” where “all vengeance comes too short”.

When Lear is rejected by Goneril and Regan and stripped of his “hundred Knights and squires”, he is left with “nothing” in the wilderness, besides the loyal company of Kent and the Fool, and later on, Edgar and Gloucester. It appears that at this stage he senses his “folly”, that he “did [Cordelia] wrong”. But Lear has yet to gain full insight. Although, before entering the hovel, he realises that he has been a “man more sinned against sinning”, the process of self-discovery is not complete until all truth is unveiled.

As Lear realises his foolishness in bannishing Cordelia – his “joy” and the only daughter who truly loves him – we sense Lear’s increasing sorrow and despair. By revealling his “sin”, he is subjecting himself to punishment. Perhaps it is a deserving motion, since he had passed judgement and punished Kent and Cordelia for coming between “the dragon and his wrath”, that is, him and his power. Now the gods above rightfully control Lear’s destiny, abiding by the process that man has to suffer to gain peace.

At this particular moment, Lear is still unaware of Kent’s identity, disguised as Caius, ever since he bannished Kent for defending Cordeila’s thoughtful choice to “love and be silent”. We understand that the disguise is a way in which Kent can protect and continually serve the “poor, weak and infirm” Lear. Lear begins to accomplish understanding through the change in his contemptuous behaviour to a sympathetic learning man. Now he realises that his “wits begin to turn” and asks the Fool, “How dost my boy? Art cold? indicating a concern for other that has rarely been insinuated by Lear throughout the play.

In Lear’s statement, ” I am cold my self” feelings of Lear’s abandonement and lonliness emerge, although he is in the company of the “honourable” Kent and the ironically mad but the wise Fool. It can be agreed that one pities Lear, after all, he has succumbed “filial ingratitude” and oblivious kingship, resulting in self affliction which peaks during the storm scene. But indifferent to his anguish cries of “Blow winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow! he momentarily and calmly announces “Let the great gods… find out their enemies now. ”

It is also in this sane, “perfect frame of mind” we witness when Lear “redeems all sorrows” with Cordelia in prison. It is to out understanding that Lear’s rationality has finally allowed his won grasping “that art of our necessities is strange, and can make vile things precious”. The comment contradicts Lear’s begrudging feelings towards Goneril and Regan, who have been blatantly “vile” and ungrateful to him in removing his authority and taking advantage in the “infirmity of his age”.

But this statement may also be an advancement in his achievement of sight, for example, the realisation of “how ugly didst [they] in Cordeila show”. Cordelia, who Lear had seen to be “untender” instead of loving is actually the “most choice”. Like Lear’s mistake in demanding which of his children “doth love [him] most”, Gloucester is also embroiled in the authentic qualities of his sons. Described as a “credulous father” by Edmund, he somewhat resembles a ‘weaker Lear, in that his old age sets a gradual destruction in his power.

In the scene after Edmund stages a fight with Edgar, hence encourages Gloucester’s belief in Edgar’s betrayal, Shakespeare once again demonstrates parental blindness. Gloucester’s devestation is made clear as he cries “O madam, my heart is cracked; it’s cracked”. We also witness a similar depairing cry from Kent when Lear passes away: “Break heart; I prithee break”. But the difference in these despairs is that Kent is in grief out of respect and loyalty whereas Gloucester’s self sorrow results from his own perception of a lack of respect from his son.

At this point, we may not feel sympathetic toward’s Gloucester, until in latter events when his eyes are physically plucked out by Cornwall and is forced to see “feelingly”. Gloucester’s willingness to believe Edmund’s false accusation upon Edgar enforces his foolishness. Even when Regan asks “What, did my father’s godson seek your life?… “, Gloucester does not respond directly, for he replies self pityingly, “O lady, lady, shame would have it hid” and later, “tis too bad, too bad! , as if he as no sense of responsibility to properly answer her question, similarily in his parenting.

As “time … unfold(s) what plighted cunning hides” all truth is unravelled. When Gloucester discovers Edmund’s feigned “virtue and obedience”, his sorrow for himself returns and entices him to suicide. But in the steps of Shakespeare’s notion of love and loyalty, we see Gloucester’s good son Edgar remain by his side in disguise as Tom O Bedlam for a large porportion of the play. Gloucester’s peaceful death signifies an accomplishment, just as Lear’s “absolute power” is returned befor his own expiry following Cordelia’s death, and peace is restored in the kingdom.

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