Every situation in life has an appearance, and a reality. The appearance of a situation is usually what we want to see. The reality, what is really going on, is not always as obvious to the observer. People who cannot penetrate through the superficial appearance of a situation will see only what they want to believe is true; often, the reality of a situation is unappealing to the perceiver. These are the circumstances surrounding the conflict that occurs in William Shakespeare's King Lear. As an audience, you find that there is a major character flaw in the characters King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester. In the story, neither of these two men are able to establish the difference, in their minds, between what people are saying and doing, and what these people's true motives are behind their actions. This enables Lear and Gloucester to be betrayed by their own blood, and become isolated from those who have their interests at heart. It is the inability to differentiate between appearance and reality that causes Lear and Gloucester to fall.
It seems, that in King Lear, appearance, or reputation defines character. Edgar says as much in soliliquy, when he disguises himself as Poor Tom. As soon as he changes out of his expensive clothing, and into his beggar drab he decides "Edgar I nothing
am."(II.iii.21). Although he is still Edgar beneath his disguise, when he is encountered by his own father Gloucester and his godfather Lear, neither of the two recognise him. It becomes apparent that as soon as Edgar's costume changed, all perceptions of his character did as well. This same situation is paralleled when Kent, also banished, returns in disguise as Lear's servant Caius. When Lear first sees his long time confident he asks "How Now? What art thou?"(I.iv.9). One wonders how, after forty years of service, Lear would not recognize his good servant Kent, even in disguise. With this in mind, we can conclude that Lear and Gloucester are both very quick to accept people at face value, without any attempt to gain a deeper understanding of them. Similarly, we learn in King Lear, that how we perceive ourselves, may not be how we are perceived by
others. Lear, for example, believes himself to be a great and respected King, who is wealthy and powerful. Nevertheless, he is constantly reminded by the actions of Goneril, and Regan, that he is an old man who has lost his kingdom, his only faithful daughter, and his wits. "O, sir, you are very old! Nature in you stands on the very verge of her confine. You should be ruled, and led by some discretion that discerns your state" (II.iv.146-148.) this is reason and way that Regan feels her father should be removed from power. Lear, ever blinded, doesn't see that his two daughters are trying to steal his kingdom. Consequently, when Goneril and Regan are cutting down his train, he still believes that their love can be measured in words and numbers "Thy fifty yet doth double five and twenty, and...