Sometimes a man needs to be blinded in order to see. In this lesson, we will learn about the Earl of Gloucester from William Shakespeare’s play ‘King Lear.’
The Beginning of the End
The Earl of Gloucester is old school. He is a powerful lord in King Lear’s court.
Then the old mad king decides that he wants to retire. In order to split up his wealth, he plays a silly game where each daughter has to flatter their father and tell him how much she loves him.
Unfortunately for Lear and Gloucester, the two evil daughters, Regan and Goneril, lie to their father and tell him how amazing they think he is. While the one daughter who actually loves Lear, Cordelia, refuses to put into words how much she adores her dad.Lear gives his riches to Goneril who marries the Duke of Albany and to Regan who marries the Duke of Cornwall. The evil sisters immediately begin their plot to ruin Lear.
Meanwhile, Cordelia is banished from the kingdom and winds up marrying the King of France.
Believes the Lies
Gloucester is similar to King Lear in that he also has issues realizing which one of his children is honorable and which one is a scheming, power-hungry liar. Gloucester is far from perfect. He’s a womanizer and had a son, Edmund, out of wedlock. But even though Edmund is considered an illegitimate child, Gloucester always treated him equally to his legitimate son Edgar.But that’s not enough for Edmund, a greedy man who wants all the power.
Edmund tells his father a story, a made up tale about how Edgar is planning to kill his dad. And because Gloucester seems to be totally blind to Edmund’s true nature, he believes his story without even letting Edgar refute his brother’s claims.Edgar flees the castle and Gloucester puts a price on his head. The Earl vows to Edmund that with Edgar disowned, he will receive all of his brother’s wealth.
The Young Versus the Old
There is a definite power struggle going on in King Lear between the young generation and the old generation. Goneril, Albany, Regan and Cornwall now rule the kingdom. The daughters have pushed Lear to the brink of insanity and treat him with absolutely zero respect.
One night Cornwall and Regan show up at Gloucester’s castle to discuss their plans for Lear. The couple is beyond cruel. When one of Lear’s messengers arrives, they shackle him for 24 hours. Gloucester tells them that Lear will be angry, but they don’t care. When Lear arrives at the castle, he’s beyond livid that his messenger is being treated like a criminal.Regan and Cornwall order Lear out of the castle and into the inclement weather.
Then they make sure that Gloucester locks him out, essentially willing the king to die in the stormy elements.
Poor Gloucester totally confides in Edmund. He tells his son that he’s worried about Lear and plans to help him. He also tells him that he received word that Cordelia is coming with her French army to help her father. When Gloucester finds Lear, he discovers that the former king is being assisted by a stinky homeless man.
Once again, Gloucester is totally blind. The homeless man is his son Edgar in disguise. He is helping Lear survive.Edmund betrays his father by telling Cornwall and Regan that Gloucester is keeping it a secret that the French army is coming to attack. When Gloucester returns to his castle after helping Lear, he’s arrested.Cornwall and Regan tie up Gloucester.
The violent Cornwall then removes both of his eyes with his sword and steps on them. When Gloucester screams for Edmund to help him, it’s then that Regan informs Gloucester that it was his own son who betrayed him.Gloucester is booted out of his castle, labeled a traitor and left to die. He wants to commit suicide but is initially saved by Edgar who remains in disguise. Edgar goes off to battle on the French side with Cordelia in the name of Lear.
However, the British army wins. When Edgar returns to his father, he reveals his true identity. It’s all too much for Gloucester to handle. Edgar later reveals that his father died of both shock and joy when he found out that one of his sons actually did love him.
Sees Only When Blind
Often times actual blindness is used in literature to symbolize the blindness of a character’s way of thinking.
When Gloucester has his eyes, he doesn’t see that Edmund is an evil and greedy man who is willing to lie and scheme for power and wealth. Meanwhile, Edgar is a kind man who is willing to sacrifice his life to help his father and King Lear.
It’s only after Gloucester is blinded that he ‘sees’ the truth. He gains wisdom into the true nature of his sons. He is no longer emotionally blind, he can see that Edgar loves him and that Edmund is evil.
Earl of Gloucester: Summary and Analysis
Gloucester was an old lord in King Lear’s court. When the foolish mad king gave his wealth away to his evil daughters, Gloucester lost his power. Just like Lear, Gloucester doesn’t realize which of his children is kind and which one is cruel.
However, after Gloucester is blinded, he gains wisdom and insight and is no longer emotionally blind.
After they are done with this lesson, students should have the ability to:
- Describe the character of Gloucester in Shakespeare’s King Lear
- Analyze Gloucester’s character based on his actions in the play
- Discuss the symbolism of blindness in Gloucester’s characterization