Tragedy of King Lear
1) Edgar is forced to run for his life after he is betrayed by Edmund, his half-brother. Edgar meets up with his father in Act 4, sc Gloucester has been blinded by Cornwall. “Bless thy sweet eyes,” Edgar says, “they bleed”. Gloucester doesn’t know that his son is right in front of him. He asks Edgar to take him to Dover, where he will meet with the King and Cordelia. Edgar lets Gloucester believe he is standing at the cliff’s edge: “Why do I trifle thus with his despair Is done to cure it.” (Act 4, sc 6). He does this to prevent his father from committing suicide. Cordelia returns to Britain to help her father. Lear is ashamed of how he has treated her: “his own unkindness” Kent tells the Gentleman “That stripp’d her from his benediction…these things sting his mind so venomously that burning shame detains him from Cordelia” (Act 4, sc 3). Both Edgar and Cordelia have been betrayed by their fathers, yet they both keep loving them. Both come to their father’s rescue.
2) At the play’s start, Lear is arrogant and blind to the hidden motives of his daughters. He believes the speeches of Regan and Goneril. Cordelia, though, refuses to use empty flattery to get her third of the kingdom. In retaliation, Lear strips all inheritance from her and throws her out. Once in power, Regan and Goneril treat Lear like dirt, Eventually they drive him out of both houses. Lear is distraught: “In such a night as this? O Regan, Goneril! Your kind father, whose frank heart gave all” (Act 3, sc4). When he realizes Cordelia alone will help him, despite how he treated her, he is ashamed. He is finally able to see how his arrogance has hurt the daughter who actually loves him. He understands that real love is more important than wealth and power. He says to Cordelia after they are captured: “Come, let’s away to prison; We two alone shall sing like birds I’th’cage” (Act 5, sc3).
3) Edgar must win the duel with Edmund to avenge himself and their father, Gloucester. Edmund has plotted to seize power from everyone and become King of Britain, using slander, lies and betrayal against his half-brother and father. Edmund has a huge chip on his shoulder, due to his “bastard” status, and will stop at nothing to gain legitimacy and power. Edgar must win out over Edmund, and prove that he is a traitor: “Despite…Thy valour and thy heart, thou art a traitor, False to thy gods, thy brother and thy father…” (Act 5, sc3).
4) In the plot’s beginning Lear is blind to the true motives of Regan and Goneril. They tell him what he wants to hear, so they can get their inheritance. Cordelia is unable to play this game: “Sure I shall never marry like my sisters, To love my father all” Lear responds: “Better thou hads’t not been born at all than not t’have pleased me better ” (Act 1, sc1). In the middle of the play, Lear realizes his mistake only after both Regan and Goneril have thrown him out into the storm. In the end, Lear sees the truth. His monologue in Act 4 , scene 6 is a meditation on the injustices inflicted by those of wealth and privilege: “Plate sin with gold, And the strong lance of justice hurtles breaks…”
Gloucester is blind to Edmund’s treachery. He believes Edmund, but becomes increasingly doubtful as he watches what Regan and Goneril do to Lear. He warns Lear by telling Kent: “His daughters seek his death” (Act 3 sc4). Gloucester’s pity on the King has dire consequences. Regan, Goneril and Cornwall tear out his eyes. Lear’s blindness is that of arrogance in the beginning. Later, he goes mad, which cushions his mind from the reality of his daughters’ betrayal and is a kind of blindness. At the end, Lear is ashamed, and sees reality.
The theme of blindness appears throughout the play. It shows what can happen to rulers and fathers when they don’t stop to examine the motives of their children. Both Lear and Gloucester make assumptions about their children which turn out not only to be false, but to have deadly consequences. If they had not been blinded by their position and arrogance, they may have avoided all the disasters that followed.