The Fate of The Blind


"There\'s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will." These words from Hamlet are echoed, even more pessimistically, in Shakespeare\'s later play, The Tragedy of King Lear where Gloucester says: "Like flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport". In Lear, the characters are subjected to the various tragedies of life over and over again.

An abundance of cyclic imagery in Lear shows that good people are abused and wronged regardless of their own noble deeds or intentions. Strapped to a wheel of fire, humans suffer and endure, prosper and decline, their very existence imaged as a voyage out and a return. The movement from childhood to age and back again, the many references to fortune whose wheel spins humans downward even as it lifts, the abundance of natural cycles which are seen as controlling experience, even perhaps the movement of play itself from order to chaos to restoration of order to division again.

Throughout the text, the movements of celestial bodies are used to account for human action and misfortune. Just as the stars in their courses are fixed in the skies, so do the characters view their lives as caught in a pattern they have no power to change. Lear sets the play in motion in banishing Cordelia when he swears "by all the operation of the orbs from whom we exist and cease to be" that his decision "shall not be revoked". How like the scene in Julius Caesar wherein Caesar says "For I am constant as the Northern star" Lear vows to be resolute but dies regretting his decision at the hands of his daughters who claim love him "more than word can wield" and are "alone felicitate" in his presence.

That Edmund disbelieves in the influence of the stars adds to the play\'s recurring theme that part of our fate is our character; that we choose our lot in life by how we choose to act. Similarly, in Lear Gloucester\'s feelings predict what is to come when he says "These late eclipses of the sun and moon portend no good..." And because of this Gloucester begins to envision a world where "Love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide..." While his father misunderstands the importance of the celestial bodies, his bastard son, Edmund denies the importance of the movements of the heavenly bodies. He calls it "an excellent foppery" to "make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and stars." (Just as in Julius Caesar we learn that "... The fault ... lies not in our stars, but in ourselves "), Edmund in Lear echoes this sentiment when he says "as if we were villains by necessity, fools by compulsion." But what he does not seem to see is that by enacting his plot against his brother Edgar he fulfills Gloucester\'s prediction and that "Machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders" must be soon to come. And we see in the play that these things do come to pass, not because of the movements of the planets, but because of the flaws in human nature.


The stars are not the only things by which the characters believe their lives to be governed. Characters throughout the play talk of the influence of fortune on their lives. When Cordelia is banished, she has no "fortune", but is accepted by France. Cordelia, with no wealth of her own suddenly in France\'s eyes she is "Most rich being poor, most choice forsaken, most loved, despised" .

Edmund too, seems to have no fortune of his own. But this he attributes to mere luck, and says that if all goes as he plans "The base shall top the legitimate, I grow, I prosper" . After Gloucester\'s speech about the eclipses foretelling discord, Edmund twists his father\'s words against Edgar when the bastard tells his brother "These eclipses portend ... unnaturalness between child and parent, ...divisions in state...banishment of friends ...and I know not what."


The first rise of fortune in the play is when Lear prepares to divide his kingdom among his daughters. He puts them to the test, asking them how much they love him. The first two daughters flatter the old king but Cordelia whose