Eye/ Blindness Motif Is what is said understood? Is what is said true? (flattery, lies, etc.) Is what is seen or (otherwise sensed: touched, smelled) understood? Is it true? (Eyesare very important!) What is natural? What is unnatural (or monstrous)? What is sane? What is mad? What is wisdom? (What is reasonable?) What is foolishness? (What is excessive?) What is loyalty and faithfulness? What is betrayal and unfaithfulness? What is kindness? What is cruelty? How are these related to age and youth? How are these related to parents and children? How are these related to rank and status? How are these related to property and wealth? How are these related to the line between animals and humans? How are these related to storms and calms? How are these related to planets, stars, fates? What is the significance of nothingness, emptiness, hollowness, loss, and nakedness in the play? What is the significance of eating, appetites, consuming in the play? What is the significance of sex and lust in the play? What is the significance of blood (both as a signifier of family and of violence)?
Let it be so; thy truth, then, be thy dower: For, by the sacred radiance of the sun, The mysteries of Hecate, and the night; By all the operation of the orbs From whom we do exist, and cease to be; Here I disclaim all my paternal care, Propinquity and property of blood, And as a stranger to my heart and me Hold thee, from this, for ever. The barbarous Scythian, Or he that makes his generation messes To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom Be as well neighbour'd, pitied, and relieved, As thou my sometime daughter. Recall the disowning from 1.1: All of the aforementioned motifs interact, weaving in and out of each other to form a matrix of association. So when Lear denies Cordelia her inheritance, he doesn't say "get away from me; you're no longer my daughter" (in Elizabethan English and iambic pentameter). He evokes several motifs and images that are echoed in other parts of the play: "Thy truth, then, be thy dower" "For by the sacred radiance of the sun... by all the operation of the orbs" "paternal care" "property of blood" "gorge his appetite" "avoid my sight" (1.1.120-139).
In this scene where Gloucester is tortured and blinded Shakespeare subtly reveals the social tensions among the characters. For example, Cornwall is very concerned about being perceived in power. It is he who orders Goneril to return home and show her husband the letter Gloucester had received revealing that the French army has landed. He then sends word that Gloucester is to be seized. At line 5 Regan, whom we have seen excited by the prospect of inflicting pain on Kent, demands “Hang him instantly!” but it is her sister, Goneril, the Ice Queen, who comes up with the even more painful punishment, “Pluck out his eyes.” Regan may be cruel, but she is impulsive. Leave it to Goneril to be more cold and fiendish, prolonging the old man’s suffering. Cornwall is not going to let any woman run the show, and at line 7 he declares, “Leave him to my displeasure.” He will make the final decision, swayed by the suggestions of the strong-willed women around him.
In a gesture of hypocritical concern Cornwall now says to Edmund, who has betrayed his father and put him in danger, “The revenges we are/ bound to take upon your traitorous father are not/ fit for your beholding.” Isn’t that thoughtful? Having ratted old Dad out, Edmund doesn’t have to watch the consequences of his actions. Instead he is sent to accompany Goneril to her castle and to urge Albany to make swift preparations to meet the French threat. Tuck this info away; the next time we see Edmund and Goneril... some ‘developments’ have occurred Slimy Oswald comes in with word that Lear has escaped with some of his knights and is headed for Dover where he has support. Leading up to the blinding...
FilmReganCornwallGloucesterBlockingLighting Overall Effectiven ess Peter Brook (1971) Jonathan Miller (1982) Trevor Nunn (2008) Film Comparison
Stage history of Gloucester’s blinding Horrific in nature, cruel beyond the usual standards of theatrical violence, of the most brutal acts that Shakespeare wrote for the stage, the blinding of Gloucester constitues a notorious moment of stage history. Indead the play is known by many as “the one with the blinding by the tormenter who viciously, cries ‘Out vile jelly!’ as he savagely enacts the crime.
Stage history of Gloucester’s blinding It is exactly this malevolence that is part of what makes Lear relevant to 20 th and 21 st century audiences, for historical developments led to “ a new ethical awareness of the importance of not averting one’s eyes from human cruelty following the Holocaust,” suggesting that “theater practitioners have mostly concentrated on how to stage the blinding in such a way as to provoke... revolt and shock” (Aebischer 162).
Stage history of Gloucester’s blinding In both theater and film, audience members watching King Lear have been forced to confront man’s inhumanity to man in all of its gory brutality, and in witnessing the horror, become complicit in the deed:
Stage history of Gloucester’s blinding What is ‘properly’ tragic on the page is ‘revolting’ or ‘shocking’ on the stage because of the theater’s collapse of semantic and somatic violence. It is one thing to know that Gloucester is blinded, but quite another to listen to and, especially, to watch the mutilation, to use our own eyes to witness the removal of somebody else’s eyes in a space (the theater) that is so contained that the audience, if it does not intervene, is made to feel complicit in the violence perpetrated. The whole thing is made worse, of course, by the fact that the blinding is represented as a punishment for Gloucester’s desire to see, that is, to do exactly what the audience is doing (Aebischer 159).
Stage history of Gloucester’s blinding While Shakespeare’s use of the blindness motif in Lear is renowned, and the audience probably recognizes the inversion of sight, allowing characters who can ‘see’ to lack understanding and vice versa, theatergoers may or may not be aware of the irony inherent in the particular means of punishing of Gloucester who only ‘sees’ after being blinded; nevertheless, the multi- layering of irony heightens the tension for the audience.
Stage history of Gloucester’s blinding For a theatrical production, the challenge is to make the scene realistic and brutal, which may involve blocking, stage props, lighting and make up
Gloucester’s blinding 1971- Peter Brook http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOVQGoARpqE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOVQGoARpqE (1:23) 1982- Jonathan Miller (BBC) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7uZsu8k3mA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7uZsu8k3mA (1:44) 2008- Trevor Nunn (PBS)