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Better No Eyes Than Four Eyes

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There are many similarities between Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s King Lear; the most popular being the theme of literal and figurative blindness. Within the two plays, those who blind themselves through their own faults see less than those who are born without sight. Those who cannot see the tangible world often have more insight as to what is happening to those around them.
Blindness is perhaps the most prominent theme in King Lear. The first character to show figurative blindness is none other than Lear himself. In the opening of Act One, Lear approaches his daughters, “Which of you shall we say doth love us most, that we our largest bounty may extend,” (1.1.53). He essentially tells them that whoever loves him the most will receive the most land from him. Lear, who often lacks insight, is completely blind to the fact that his eldest two daughters are only saying what he wants to hear and do not actually love him nearly as much as they profess. . Lear is unable to see the true motives of his daughters and only sees what is on the surface. When it is his youngest and most prized daughter, Cordelia’s turn to speak she says, “Nothing, my Lord” (1.1.89). Her response is nearly as affectionate as her sycophantic sisters and this disappoints Lear greatly and lashes out at her in anger and doesn’t grant her any land, “Nothing will come of nothing.” (1.1.92) he tells her. In this scene the only one who dares speak against Lear’s blindness is Kent, who uses his own insight to determine that Cordelia is only daughter worthy of any of Lear’s land.
Gloucester is the second blindest character in the play. He has two sons that he has radically different relationships with. His relationship with his illegitimate son, Edmund, is not very good. Gloucester feels ashamed of having Edmund as a son and Edmund cannot receive any inheritance from Gloucester due to his illegitimacy and will lose all of it to his half brother, Edgar. Jealous of his brother’s good relationship with their father, Edmund tricks Gloucester into believing that Edgar has plans to overthrow his father and take all his money from him. Gloucester is easily convinced when Edmund shows him a letter that is supposedly from Edgar, showing that Edgar is plotting against his father. Unable to see his sons true characters and therefore is blind to the fact that Edgar is his good son and would never plot against him. When Gloucester loses his actual sight, he then grows true insight; which reinforces the idea that those who are physically blind see more than those who are figuratively blind. Gloucester recognizes the change in the way he sees things when he says,
“I have no way and therefore want no eyes;
I stumbled when I saw. Full oft 'tis seen,
Our means secure us, and our mere defects
Prove our commodities (4.1.18-21).”
By saying this he acknowledges that he couldn’t see when he had eyes and now he has lost his sight, he sees more clearly. By the end of the story, Gloucester gains insight, but Lear is still blinded. It should also be noted that one of the great ironies of the play is that the character with the most insight and wisdom is the Fool, while the blindest character is the king.
Oedipus Rex was also a king so blinded by pride, politics and denial that he cannot see what was truly going on. In Oedipus Rex, the prophet Tiresias is blind. Oedipus fears that something is causing the tribulations in his nation, so he goes to Tiresias for guidance. Tiresias knows that Oedipus has fulfilled his prophecy and has slain his father and married his mother. He alludes that this is the case and Oedipus, blinded by pride, refuses to believe him. Throughout the play Oedipus is blind to very obvious signs that he has, in fact, fulfilled his prophecy. One of the most noticeable instances is when Jocasta tells him of her only son that she had to leave in the woods to die because the exact same prophecy had been made about him and yet he still doesn’t make the connection. Later when it is revealed that Oedipus was truly Jocasta’s son, Jocasta commits suicide. Upon witnessing this, Oedipus blinds himself with a pin from her dress. “What was there left for sight? What, that could give delight? Or whose address, O Friends, could I still hear with happiness?” (49). Oedipus feels as though he were not worthy of sight after the horrendous acts he committed. He didn’t feel he could bear to face those who knew what he had done. “…do you think that children were a sight Delectable for me to gaze at, born As they were born? Never with eyes of mine!” (51).
Oedipus and Jocasta’s incestuous relationship produced four children, two sons and two daughters. Sophocles’ third play revolves around Oedipus’ children, mainly his daughter, Antigone. The theme of blindness isn’t has strong throughout Antigone as it was with Oedipus Rex. Antigone is blinded by her strong sense of morality and ends up losing her life because of it.





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