Several years ago, I had a student in my English class who was blind from birth—Charlie had lost his eyesight due to oxygenation at his premature delivery, weighing less than two pounds when he came into the world. We were reading Shakespeare’s King Lear that day. Not an easy thing to do with a class of twenty high school juniors, but there I was, looking for meaning, for some insight that would pull the Elizabethan syntax and vocabulary into focus for my students.
We discussed Gloucester’s vicious blinding by one of Lear’s unfaithful daughters, and his later puzzling statement upon finding out that he had mistaken his innocent son for a betrayer, that it was his son Edmund, previously thought innocent, who had delivered him into the hands of the harpy-like daughters of the king. Gloucester says, with rueful intensity, a bloodied rag covering his wounds, “I stumbled when I saw.”
After asking a few questions, I could see my students were having trouble with the text, and we only had a few minutes of class left. I said, “Well, I think Gloucester is telling us that there are worse types of blindness than lack of physical eyesight.” Suddenly, Charlie’s face lit up, he smiled, and gently rocking his head back and forth, said in a soft voice, “Yes, that’s right, that’s very right.”
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