“‘Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind” King Lear, Act IV, Scene i
I went in search of my copy of King Lear today to be sure I was quoting correctly the famous line
“I . . . want no eyes; I stumbled when I saw.”
I found it easily, and was reminded of the words I had left out. The passage is part of a dialogue between the main character, who is blind, and an old man who is leading him.
Old Man: Alack, Sir, you cannot see your way. Gloucester: I have no way, and therefore want no eyes
I stumbled when I saw
And in the same Act and Scene of King Lear are the words I have quoted in the title. Sad words, not about physical blindness but about moral blindness, not about an inability to see but about the failure to understand. Frightening words about madness and blindness and losing our way. And , in the world that Donald Trump has nurtured, it is nearly impossible to understand.
Even those of us who believe we know the way have been driven half mad by the sounds of children crying for their mothers.
If we believe William Shakespeare, and some of the best minds of our own time, things are worse even than losing our way. Gloucester doesn’t say that he once knew the way, but lost it (and so suggesting the possibility of finding it again). No. Gloucester only says, as a full and unconditional statement that he has no way.
Have we wandered so far that we not only have no way but have become blind to the simplest truths?
During the Watergate era, I went back to graduate school. The first class I took was Shakespeare, and one day the professor said something that seemed startling, but accurate, at the time. I wonder what on earth he would make of this world today.
What he said, as the Nixon administration was crumbling under the weight of its own deceptions, was,
“The problem with Richard Nixon is that he hasn’t read enough Shakespeare.”