King heave my heart into my mouth” The

King Lear Essay

Lack of Insight in ‘King Lear’

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In the play
‘King Lear’ by William Shakespeare, lack of insight parallels a lack of
physical sight. This amplifies the message that without insight, we are
effectively moving through life blind. The actions of two main characters are
used in conjunction in order to convey this, both characters displaying an
extraordinary lack of insight from the start of the play.  These two characters, King Lear and
Gloucester, both undergo significant character development as a result of this.

Although only Gloucester loses his physical sight in order to learn his lesson,
a lack of insight on the part of Lear culminates in his payment of the ultimate
price- death- for his short-sightedness.


spectacular lack of insight becomes apparent within his first few lines, when
he announces his plan to divide his kingdom.  Clearly his intention is to split the kingdom between his
three daughters (relieving himself of the responsibility while still retaining
the title and power) “only we shall retain the name, all th’additions to a
king.”.  Lear is unable to see
that this is impossible. By surrendering control of his kingdom, he will not be
able to keep his power- he effectively loses all authority.  A few lines later, Lear displays
further lack of insight- “Tell me my daughters, which of thee doth love us
most, that we our largest bounty may extend?” Lear sincerely believes that by
demanding a public display of affection from his daughters, he will truly
discover the daughter who is most devoted.  In his mind, appearance and image is more important than
true faithfulness, and this ultimately becomes his downfall.


As the scene
progresses, the eldest daughters proclaim undying devotion, “Sir I doth love
you more than words can wield the matter…”, a pretence which Lear is quick to
accept as truth.  However the
youngest and only honest daughter Cordelia is unable to put on a show of
adoration, despite her genuine love for her father. “Unhappy that I am, I
cannot heave my heart into my mouth” The dramatic irony is clear to the
audience, who can plainly tell the evil daughters from the pure.  However in a twist that is true to
Lear’s character, he is unable to see this and banishes Cordelia from the
kingdom.  With this, Lear is
effectively sealing his fate at the end of the play, although of course he is
completely blind to this fact.


Kent, who
unlike Lear displays a depth of insight into characters, tries to point out the
ignorance of these actions, “See better Lear, and let me still remain the true
blank of thine eye”. His attempts are no match for Lear’s foolishness, and in
yet another display of blindness the King also banishes one of his most loyal
servants. “Out of my sight!”


Shakespeare has convinced his audience of the metaphoric blindness of Lear, he
begins the process of giving him sight. In order for this to be achieved Lear
must endure incredible pain and loss- the loss of his home, belongings, loved
ones, his dignity and ultimately his sanity.  As Lear is methodically stripped of the trappings of
everyday humanity he gradually begins to gain more and more insight. No only
insight into other characters such as Cordelia, “Oh most small fault, how ugly
did thou in Cordelia show”, or Goneril and Regan, “How sharper than a serpents
tooth is it to have a thankless child?”, but also into himself as a character
and how far he has fallen, “Here I stand…a poor, inform, weak and despised old


Therefore we
can assume that to some extent, humans are blinded by the shallow material
things in life. Lear only gains full insight once these ‘trappings’ are
removed, reducing him to his basest human form.  By the end of the play Lear is still paying the price for
his earlier lack of judgment- regardless of his newfound insight he is powerless
to stop the events he set in motion. 
Thus Lear learns the ultimate lesson about how costly a lack of insight
can be.


In a very
similar series of events, the Earl of Gloucester learns the importance of
insight as well.  This parallel
storyline helps to reinforce the lesson learnt by Lear, while at the same time
adding an element of shock and gore to the play to capture the attention of
audiences.  Gloucester is also
metaphorically blind when it comes to distinguishing between his children.

Edgar is believed to be evil and intent on murdering his father, when in
reality it is Edmund framing him. Gloucester does not stop to take stock of the
characteristics of his children and simply takes Edmund’s accusations at face
value.  As with Lear, Gloucester is
forced to pay for his blindness repetitively throughout he play, most
noticeably when his eyes are torn out by Cornwall as a result of the
accumulation of his actions. “Upon these eyes of thine I’ll set my foot”
Ironically it is at this point in the play as his physical sight is taken from
him, Gloucester gains clarity of insight (as remarked on by Lear at a later
point “A man may see how the world goes with no eyes”)


With this line,
we see that Gloucester’s metaphoric blindness is removed, replaced by a physical
manifestation of the impediment. 
However this is portrayed positively, as though it is of greater
importance to have insight than actual sight. Shakespeare implies that one can
function without sight as long as insight is possessed, but that without this
insight, physical sight is hardly an advantage, “I stumbled when I saw”.  This idea, coupled with that thought
that perhaps this metaphoric blindness is due to the clutter of material
objects and their associated pride, reinforces the importance of insight. All
the pain and destruction in King Lear can be pinpointed to decisions made
without insight into actions and characters. With this knowledge we can see how
easily the destruction and death in King Lear could have been avoided.