King Lear

In King Lear, by William Shakespeare, Lear retires from the monarchy and gives all power to his three daughters, resulting in a dramatic shift in his relationships and feelings of authority. This guide provides questions, themes, and synopses that are applicable before, during, and after reading the play.
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BEFORE READING THE PLAY
Shakespeare's King Lear
Before reading the play, students would benefit to know the basic story of King Lear, just as did Shakespeare's audience. Selections from Holinshed's The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Sidney's Arcadia, and the True Chronicle History of King Leir are in the Signet Classic edition (pp. 193-211). Shakespeare's audience would have been familiar with these versions of the story. Average students may benefit from viewing a film version of the play (1969, directed by Peter Brook, starring Paul Scofield and Irene Worth, b/w, 134 min.); however, the director's interpretation of the play may influence students' perceptions of character, plot, and theme. Another option would be to read a story version of the play. Charles and Mary Lamb authored Tales from Shakespeare, available in a Signet Classic paperback, a book that retells Shakespeare's major plays into short stories.

Journal Topics

Students should be more comfortable discussing difficult themes found in the play by writing about them in response journals. Take every opportunity to help students make connections between the play and the journals and invite students to relate their own experiences to that of the characters. Such comparisons between personal and fictional accounts make the play more accessible to students. The following topics can be used for journal writing and/or small group discussion:

1. Most people identify themselves by what they do-athlete, scholar, entrepreneur, accountant, doctor, waiter, etc. Does your vocation-a regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified-define you? Is that who you are? How do you decide who you are?

2. During your life you have either heard (or have said), "My parents/teachers just don't understand." What does this really mean? Explain how this type of "generation gap" affects or has affected you.

3. One of the more recent concerns of our nation is how to accommodate a growing senior citizen population, yet as individuals we tend to ignore the concerns of the elderly until we are counted among them. We seem to be overwhelmingly interested in being and staying young. When the time comes, how will you take care of the senior citizens in your family? What are your concerns about growing older?

4. Part of the fun of acting is dressing up and for a time being someone other than yourself. You experience the same type of fun if you dress up at Halloween, go to a costume party, or maybe even attend a prom or other formal occasion. However, clothes do not necessarily change who you are. How may appearances be deceiving?

5. In a nation that demands that promises be in writing before they are honored, the spoken word and its meaning is devalued. How are spoken words deceptive? Describe a time when you have been deceived-or you have deceived someone-by spoken words.

6. In the check-out line at your local grocery you are assaulted by tabloid headlines blaring alien dogs, four-feet tall walking frogs, and a host of other oddities. You give these little credence, but most of us are influenced by advertising claims. How deceptive is the written word? How do you protect yourself from such deceptions? Describe a time that you have been deceived by written words.

7. "Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land" (Exodus 20:12). Most have heard this Old Testament commandment, but what does it mean? How do you honor your parents? How important is it?

8. Find an article in a newspaper or a magazine that details an injustice. Respond to that injustice. How should the injustice be righted?

9. Think back to when you did something wrong and another person was hurt, emotionally or physically, by your error. Did you confess your error? Why or why not?

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