“The Eyes are Useless when the Mind is Blind”. – Unknown
Have you ever been blinded to the truth? Sometimes there is more to reality then meets the eye and our own ignorance can lead us down a path that can lead to tragedy. Physical blindness is considered a disability, although blindness to the truth can be much worse. The demise of a person can be as simple as a lack of insight and the blindness to the truth. In both tragedies, King Lear and Oedipus Rex, blindness is symbolic throughout the story. This is a tragic flaw that when unrecognized can have deadly and long term effects. In the Shakespeare play The Tragedy of King Lear you could say he is a foolish old man who is blind to all of the traitors around him as his two oldest daughters have a deceitful love for their father to avoid conflict the King decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. In Sophocles play Oedipus Rex it tells the story of Oedipus, a man who becomes the King of Thebes, who unknowingly has killed his father and has married his mother, and is trying to understand why the city has been struck with a plague. In this paper, I will explore how in both King Lear and Oedipus Rex metaphoric blindness is shown throughout both and the destruction which can be caused by such. Both characters suffer from the repercussions of poor judgement, and only through their poor judgment do they gain sight of their own situation.
In both plays King Lear and Oedipus Rex are initially blind to their situation’s which leads them to make negligent decisions and ignore the warnings of others who are trying to show them the truth. In Act 1, Scene 1, King Lear decides to split his kingdom between his daughters proclaiming that the daughter that loves him the most will receive the biggest portion of the kingdom. This shows that King Lear is hungry for love whether fake or real, all while his two eldest daughters begin to plot to overthrow their father and he cannot see this. He goes on to banish his younger daughter who is the only one who truly loves her father. This is shown by Shakespeare as King Lear says “Here I disclaim all my paternal care, Propinquity and property of blood, And as a stranger to my heart and me…” (Act 1, Scene 1, 115-120) as he is speaking to his youngest daughter. King Lear also goes on to banish his advisor, this is explained when King Lear says, “O vassal! Miscreant!” (Act 1, Scene 1. 172).
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As you can see, King Lear’s voice is aggressive towards Kent. This was just the beginning of the tragic downfall of King Lear. In Oedipus Rex you are quick to gather that he believes that everyone around him is blind and he is the only one who can see, as well as, a sense of arrogance. Wherein, he states “I, Oedipus, who bear the famous name”. (Page 960, Line 9) His burning desire to find the truth about Laius’ murder and the mystery of his own birth, brings him to the tragic realization of his horrendous acts. Throughout the story, slowly pieces of the truth are revealed for instance when the messenger comes to tell Oedipus “No more your father than the man speaking to you”.
Now Oedipus is discovering his true identity and things are happening quickly. As this revelation is coming to light Oedipus proclaims “God. God. Is there a sorrow greater? Where shall I find harbor in this world? My voice is hurled far on a dark wind. What has God done to me?” (Page 992, Line 84-89). As the truth continues to unfold and the hurt he is feeling, Oedipus is still unable to stop making rash decisions showing that he will not learn from his mistakes. Throughout, Oedipus did not know that the people he thought where his parents and that he ran away from where his adoptive parents. As we can see, there are different ways in which a person can be blinded and their life can be altered forever most of the time the person is not ready for such a moment.
In both tragedies, we are shown that there is a real danger in being blind to the happenings around us and how being unaware of certain situations, such as easily being deceived can cause destruction. Lear’s indiscretion and irrational decision is the cause of his downfall. Although Lear did have the best intentions, he does not think logically when he decides to hand over his power to his daughters before he dies as he did not realize the power struggle that would incur. Oedipus’ flaws led to his demise. “His temper, his egotistical pride, and impulsive need for the truth” (“The Best Notes” 2017) drove him to destruction. As his search leads to the truth, the truth was unimaginable to him. It was too much for him to bear and there was no way he could break free from the pain and agony of his mistakes. In both the intentions, beliefs and personal desire cause King Lear and Oedipus to make their decisions even if biased. The lack of sight is shown throughout both by Shakespeare and Sophocles as it is shown metaphorically through the blindness of King Lear and Oedipus which is symbolic in the plays. King Lear and Oedipus are ignorant to the fact of what is truly occurring around them and the motif of sight vs. blindness is used throughout the play as they are on their quest for knowledge.
In closing, we can all learn a lesson from both of these tragedies. As sad as it may seem, sometimes the people we trust most could possibly have their own agenda and if we remain unaware and not willing to remain open to listening to all sides we could wind up making a huge mistake which could negatively impact us. We must be willing to keep our emotions under control, take a step back and analyze the situation so we do not wind up in a situation that could have a negative impact on our lives.