Darkness, desolation, loneliness. Each of these concepts is prominently featured over the course of King Lear, and each of these concepts also directly relates to another theme that is incredibly relevant in one of the Bard’s most famous tragedies¾ blindness.
Blindness is a theme that has multiple meanings. From not being able to see what is directly in front of oneself, to being quite literally blinded, King Lear features multiple types of blindness over the course of the play. At the beginning of the play, after Lear banishes his only truthful daughter Cordelia, Kent attempts to reason with Lear when he asks him to “see better, Lear, and let me still remain/the true blank of thine eye” (I. i. 180-181). This line foreshadows two key plot points that occur later in the play. The first, and arguably more crucial to the story line, encompasses the breakdown of Lear’s relationships with each of his daughters. Because he fails to “see better,” Goneril and Regan slowly undermine Lear’s power as king, an act which only serves to drive Lear closer and closer to insanity. The second plot point the lines foreshadow is one that is most commonly referred to as one of the most brutal and gruesome acts performed on the Shakespearean stage¾ Gloucester’s torture and subsequent blinding. Additionally, because Gloucester, much like Lear, is initially unable to see the cruel intentions of one of his children and the true love felt by his more virtuous child, he is sent on a downward spiral, also much like Lear, which results in his death. The foreshadowing throughout the play makes the eventual fates of the characters even more tragic.
While nearly every Shakespearean tragedy ends with all, if not most, of the main characters meeting their demise in a spectacular blood-bath, the ending of King Lear is even more grievous when the reader realizes the subtle hints Shakespeare had been dropping throughout the play. Near the middle of the play, Lear’s fool recites, “fathers that wear rags/do make their children blind,/but fathers that bear bags/shall see their children kind” (II. iv. 54-57). Perhaps this line is just meant to be a silly anecdote from the fool, but knowing Shakespeare, it was most likely intended to be a commentary of sorts on the relationships of fathers and their children¾ a theme that is all too prevalent in King Lear. Even though Lear and Gloucester provided their children with everything they could desire monetarily, it was not enough to keep their children from metaphorically becoming blinded by hatred, ambition, and power.