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King Lear

Comments on Act 4 Scene 1

Gloucester tells Edgar, whom he takes for a beggar:

Here, take this purse, thou whom the heavens’ plagues
Have humbled to all strokes: that I am wretched
Makes thee the happier: heavens, deal so still!
Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man,
That slaves your ordinance, that will not see
Because he doth not feel, feel your power quickly;
So distribution should undo excess,
And each man have enough.

Both Gloucester and Lear are “superfluous and lust-dieted” men who could not see because they did not feel, until they came to share the sufferings of others (see comments on Lear in 3.2). In the opening scene of the play Gloucester, bragging about his lustful appetite to Kent, feels no shame at pointing out Edmund’s illegitimacy in his presence, totally unaware of the resentment Edmund has for him.

Sight as a metaphor of perception runs through the play. In 1.2 Gloucester insists on reading the letter that Edmund hastily hides from him: “Let’s see: come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles.” The problem is that Gloucester does not see, even when he reads the letter; he remains in the dark about Edmund’s treachery. Later, his physical blindness serves as a symbol of his unperceptive life. Gloucester tells the old man helping him, “I stumbled when I saw” (4.1).

Seeing clearly is Lear’s problem as well. When Lear refuses to listen to Kent’s admonition, shouting “Out of my sight!” Kent responds in kind, “See better, Lear, and let me still remain the true blank of thine eye” (1.1). In the final scene of the play, the Folio version has Lear saying, “Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips, look there, look there,” which suggests to some that Lear dies in a delusional state, thinking that his daughter still lives.

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