The Dynamics in Relationship Between Lear and Gloucester
Through experience and suffering, one tightens one’s grasp on reality. In William Shakespeare’s King Lear, the characters’ impressions of their society change as their status changes. Lear’s and Gloucester’s views of their once perfect society is forever tainted when they see the corruption and deception that is going on around them. King Lear becomes a victim of corruption when all of his power and status is slowly stripped away from him by his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan. Gloucester also witnesses the deceptiveness of his world when his bastard son, Edmund, betrays him and robs him of his possessions. It is only after their downfall that they discover how corrupt and deceptive the social structure is.
Lear realizes that he is flawed by the corrupted society. He answers, “Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality” (IV.vi.132) when Gloucester asks to kiss his hand and show him respect. Lear acknowledges that his hand smells, and cleans it. The fact that he “wipe[s]” it shows that the smell is a bad thing and it is not something that he is proud of having. The “smell” might be an appalling odor that he has acquired on the outside, or it might be something intrinsic; Lear is decomposing from within because he is emotionally distressed from the disrespect shown to him by Goneril and Regan. The “smell” is a physical indication of his spiritual corruption, which is caused by the deception. Lear is ashamed of his “mortality” because it shows his weakness. “[M]ortality” can mean that Lear is no longer a powerful king, and has been brought down to the level of just another human being. He, as a mortal, is subject to death like everyone else; death as a betrayal of the body is similar to Goneril’s and Regan’s betrayal of Lear. The fact that his own daughters turn against him shows the corruption in the society. Lear wipes off the smell of mortality because he realizes this, and is ashamed of it.
Even love is a part of the deceptiveness in Lear’s world. Lear, in his madness, tells Gloucester “No, do thy worst, blind Cupid I’ll not love” (IV.vi.136). Out of Lear’s madness comes reason: in this line, Lear thinks that love is “blind” because his love for his daughters prevented him from seeing their true intentions. He is also so flattered by the false love of Goneril and Regan that he cannot see how true and dear Cordelia is. When Lear says he’ll “not love,” he is implying that he has learned from his mistake and will not be deceived so easily again. Insanity thus increases his awareness of the truth. Love is perceived as a pure and genuine thing, but Lear finds out how deceptive it is in his world.
Gloucester notices how Lear is devastated by the corrupted society. He calls Lear a “ruined piece of nature” (IV.vi.133). According to the footnote, “piece” can mean either a “fragment” or a “masterpiece”. Lear was a masterpiece when he was a powerful and respected king, but now he is ruined by his blindness to his daughters’ deception. Now that he has become a victim of the corruption, he is a mere fragment of what he used to be. Lear is “ruined” when he loses Cordelia, his status, his kingdom, and everything else that was once his. He is both physically and emotionally destroyed by the injustice that was brought upon him by his own flesh and blood. Here, “nature” can refer to his society, or to the natural world. He was once the ruler of his own kingdom, but now he is only a part of it, and is subjected to others like Goneril and Regan, who are higher than him. If he is a part of the natural world, he is vulnerable to the chaos that may occur from the absence of regulatory laws or lack of authority. Either way, Lear is living in a world that is spoiled by the corrupted ways of its people. Gloucester realizes that Lear is a victim of corruption.
In the passage, the senses are disordered, suggesting that the social structure is damaged. The physically blind Gloucester answers Lear, “I see it feelingly” (IV.vi.146). Since Gloucester is physically blind, he has to “see” things by some other means. Now that he cannot “see” anything, he is not able to make quick judgments, and thus becomes wiser. According to the footnote, “feelingly” can mean “by touch” or “painfully”. Gloucester saying that he sees things by touch indicates that he has discovered how to use his other senses. His statement can also mean that he has come to a painful conclusion about what is going on in the society. Being blind helps him “see” things in a new perspective. He is able to observe who people are beyond the surface and gain deeper insight into the deceptiveness and corruption around him. With this new insight, Gloucester becomes aware of the false deference that Edmund showed him. Gloucester’s physical blindness symbolizes his and Lear’s emotional blindness to their children. They finally notice the corrupted social structure only once they lose everything.
Lear and Gloucester are no longer blinded by the corruption and deception going on in their society. Lear, pointing out the fact that Gloucester has no eyes or money says, “Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a light, yet you see how this world goes” (IV.vi.144-5). Here “purse” refers to their wealth and eminence. Not having the money and status that they used to possess allows them to “see” how the “world goes” from a different perspective; they discover that their social structure is corrupted and deceiving and no longer see it as a perfect place they once lived in. Now that they are poor, powerless men, they witness how people treat those who are higher in status and those who are lower in status; Lear and Gloucester eventually notice how deceiving people really are and how differently their society treats them based on their status. The passage after this one shows that people’s wealth shields them from all the unpleasant things. If they have money and status, they are immune to punishment, and if they are poor, they are severely chastised for everything. When Lear and Gloucester were wealthy, they did not notice the corruption going on because they were protected from it by their high status. After Lear and Gloucester lose all their power and money, they see the reality of life. Gloucester and Lear must pay a heavy price to gain a different perspective and better insight into the social structure.
Lear and Gloucester are able to see the truth about their society only after they have been ruined. From their children’s false deference they learn how deceptive the social structure is. The anger that Lear felt when he was deceived led to his insanity, and from that he was able to see things much more clearly. Gloucester had to pay a heavy price for that deeper insight; he was physically blinded as a result of Edmund’s betrayal. When they had high status and wealth, they were shown false deference and were blinded from the truth, but as the two men lose everything, they gain a better understanding of what society is really like.
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