The horror of his drama makes us understand Lear’s; helps us to conceive its magnitude.
He is in the beginning a man of the world; self indulgent; prone to superstition. (The only character who is superstitious.); he is unprepared for calamity. When it comes he staggers blindly. he is ready to sink into darkness and unbelief; confused in spirit. In the end, he identifies his own will with the gods, accepts life or death at their will.
He embodies the basic paradox of the play: to find life is to lose it. Physical and material loss is his gain.
Ultimate meaning of Gloucester’s fall is a symbolic gesture of explanation: the fall of man and the consequent progression towards knowledge.
He has a characteristic failure; a failure to see what is involved, a failure to see essential things. “Let’s see,” he says to Edmund three times and he does not see. Only at the moment when his eyes are put out does he see Edgar -- a symbol of understanding.
Gloucester aids Lear in the dark: he find himself there; finds what he is looking for.
He begins in superstition: when the brutality of the world comes to him, he forgets astrology. He prophecies divine justice for Goneril and Regan. He moves from oath and prophesy to prayer. Reaches the turning point on “Kind gods, forgive me.” His earlier tendency to think of moral phenomena as products of non-moral moral causes (eclipses) moves to the theistic: man is not the victim of eclipses but of the gods. “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.” Even in the depths he achieves an insight which can save him. He progresses from a worldly jauntiness to a man who finds it essential to be in harmony with the will of the gods.
He personifies the sight theme: sight, insight; to see is to know. His blinding could be melodrama if it were not involved with the concept of seeing. What the slght theme never lets us forget is the importance of man’s way of looking at the world.
He is the average sensual man: elderly, but handsome; mice of speech, a little pompous; accomplished courtier; Lear’s master of ceremonies; vain with mock modesty; egotistical and blind; knowing least of what he should know most -- his sons. Good nature itself if things go right, rattles when things go wrong; taken in by any sort of tale; nervous, puzzled, opinionated. Does not stand up resolutely against blows; disillusion leaves him wax in Edmund’s hands. Blinded he comes to see himself clearly and to find the world a moral chaos. The one thing the average sensual man cannot endure is knowledge of the truth.
When Gloucester’s castle becomes the battleground, his worst fault was to play for safety. His worst blunder to think ill of a man without question; to believe in a lie. After the blinding he is guided by a kind of ethical illumination.