The theme of a person's perceptions versus how the world actually is, is a common theme in literature across the ages. Shakespeare was particularly fond of playing with his audience and making them question if all his characters see is an illusion. In Shakespearean plays two types of illusion are manifest: the active deception of one character by others; and the inherent flaws in the perception of the viewer. The audience in King Lear bears witness to how characters can fail to perceive the world as it exists and instead only see an illusion; this idea is demonstrated in three different ways. The first is the relationship that exists between Lear and his three daughters, and his inability to perceive their true intentions; second, the parallel story of Gloucester and his two boys, where he is unable to see the slimy nature of Edmund only seeing the illusion Edmund creates for him; finally, the deception and false pretences the exist around the characters of Kent and Edgar, who for most of the play creep about in disguise. Essentially, Lear and Gloucester view the world and the people around them through a flawed lens.
The tragedy of King Lear is at its heart the story of two men who do not understand their children. Lear is the best example of this, and in the opening scene the audience witnesses the disconnect from true nature of his daughters and his perception of them. Lear rewards the first two for having tongues of serpents and offering praise to him, essentially being a pair of brown-nosers. He proceeds to punish his youngest daughter for speaking honestly in her evaluation of him, concluding incorrectly that she cannot love him as she “loves him according to her bond no more no less.” and promptly banishes her. This belief that his first two daughters love him while the third does not, due to her praise lacking eloquence shows Lear's focus on his perception of the situation. So drawn in is he with the illusion he fails to consider the reality of the situation, and ignores the love his third daughter expresses for him. This perception of her holding no love in her heart for her father continues late into the play when, even after she rescues him from the wild he tells her, “I know do not love me for your sisters have, as I remember done me wrong. You have some cause they have not.”. This continued belief that she does not love him, is just more proof of his fascination with the idea that his daughters are all against him; this line also shows that he cannot comprehend why Gonerill and Reagan have turned on him. Which is just more proof of his hold on the illusion presented at the start of the play that his daughters loved him, but are cruel despite their professed love.
Reagan and Gonerill both forbid Gloucester from going to the king's aid, which sets him up to be betrayed by Edmund. Edmund, who has set himself up early in the play to be his father's trusted son an illusion he has set up to further his position in court,...