Samuel Butler, an English novelist, said, “A blind man knows he cannot see, and is glad to be led, though it be by a dog; but he that is blind in his understanding, which is the worst blindness of all, believes he sees as the best, and scorns a guide. ” Blindness is a major theme that recurs throughout Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. Samuel Butler’s quote can be used to describe King Lear, who suffers, not from a lack of physical sight, but from a lack of insight and understanding. Blindness is a factor in his poor judgment. It plays a major role in the bad decisions he makes.
It leads to harsh treatment of those closest to him. It is the combination of these consequences of Lear’s failed sight that demonstrate how blindness is a major flaw that contributes to the chain of events that ultimately result in his tragic downfall. In order to “see” the truth, one must first be able to properly judge actions, words, and character. Lear’s blindness causes him to exercise poor judgment as he believes the professions of love of Goneril and Regan to be true. He wrongly judges Cordelia and believes her love for him is not as great as her sisters’ love for him.
In Kent’s pleas for Lear to reconsider his decision to award his kingdom to Goneril and Regan, “See better, Lear, and let me still remain / The true blank of thine eye. ” (Lr. I. i. 160-1), Lear has a closed mind to anything other than what he physically sees and hears on the surface from Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, and Kent as he refers to Kent as a rascal with the words, “O vassal! Miscreant! ” (Lr. I. i. 163). He lacks the insight to see beyond their words and therefore, cannot appropriately judge their words and actions to find the truth.
This contributes to the events that unfold and ultimately his tragic end. It is difficult to make good decisions in the absence of insight. Lear suffers from bad decision-making throughout the play. From the beginning of the play, Lear’s decision to divide his kingdom among his daughters based on the amount of love each has for him shows how rash and foolish he is to be only thinking of himself as he asks, “Tell me, my daughters/ … / …/ Which of you shall we say doth love us most, / That we our largest bounty may extend” (Lr.
I. i. 49-53). He lacks an understanding of what the people of his kingdom really need – a dedicated ruler with the best interests of the people in mind, not one who merely professes love for him. His desire for love blinds him from realizing the consequences of his hasty decision, including the loss of the one daughter who truly loves him, as well as his authority, power and control. Blindness leads to Lear’s first bad decision which starts the chain of events that contribute to his downfall.
Lear treats good people poorly because of his lack of perception and blindness to reality and the truth. He cannot decipher who is really close to him and who is putting on an act, which leads to poor treatment of the wrong people. Lear’s treatment of Kent, his most loyal follower, and the words he uses to banish him, “Out of my sight! ” (Lr. I. i. 159) is ironic as Lear does not have clear sight and punishes Kent without realizing Kent’s true concern. Similarly, his blindness to the truth results in his banishment of Cordelia, his most loving daughter.
Sending away the people closest to him, he is left on his own to defend and protect himself from the treacherous actions of those who have deceived him. If he had not been so blind and had not treated Cordelia and Kent so badly, events could have turned out more favourable for him and his suffering could have been avoided. Instead, his lack of vision caused him to mistreat those who loved him, which contributed to the unfortunate events that affected his life.
In the end, the consequences of Lear’s blindness are severe leading to his madness and subsequently, his downfall. His inability to see things as they truly are cost him his kingdom, the lives of his three daughters, the life of his most loyal follower, Kent, and his own life. As a result of poor judgment, bad decisions and poor treatment of others caused by his lack of insight and understanding, Lear’s life set out on its course of tragic decline.