The theme of seeing and blindness is a key theme in dramatic tragedy as it provides an excellent motif for knowledge – or the lack of it. Failure to ‘see’ the truth until it is too late is a common thread which drives tragic plots and leads to the downfall of tragic heroes.
Starting with the Greeks we have the importance of literal and metaphorical blindness in ‘Oedipus Rex’ The prophet or ‘seer’ Teiresias is literally blind, but he can see clearly the horror that is Oedipus’s past, present, and future. Oedipus’s eyes work just fine, but unfortunately he’s completely blind to the dreadful fate the gods have placed upon him. When Oedipus finally sees the truth of his dreadful situation – he blinds himself.
In Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ the Earl of Gloucester is tortured and blinded. Up until this point he has been emotionally blind to his children – Edmund and Edgar. It is only when he actually loses his sight that he finally has a clear vision about which of his children is genuinely good ‘”I have no way, and there want no eyes;I stumbled when I saw.’.
The importance of sight is also a key theme in ‘Othello’. Our hero demands ‘Ocular proof’ that his wife has been unfaithful – however he does not ‘see’ the truth. Iago deliberately leads him into moral blindness .This links directly to the key tragic concept of appearance versus reality. Consider how many times characters in Othello are deceived in what they think they are seeing. Find other quotes in the play which make reference to sight. Can you relate this concept to the modern tragedy in ‘Death of a Salesman’ ?
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