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King Lear. King Lear Author: Shakespeare Culture: English Time: 1608 CE (early 17th century) Genre: drama (tragedy) Names to know: Lear, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, Edmund, Kent, Gloucester, Cornwall. KING LEAR. King Lear explores the issues of: Egotism (need for flattery is a tragic flaw)

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king lear
King Lear

King Lear

Author: Shakespeare

Culture: English

Time: 1608 CE (early 17th century)

Genre: drama (tragedy)

Names to know: Lear, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, Edmund, Kent, Gloucester, Cornwall

king lear1
  • King Lear explores the issues of:
  • Egotism (need for flattery is a tragic flaw)
  • Madness (leads to the insight which he lacks)
  • Love & Loyalty (exposes the Kent, Cordelia and Edgar as those who have insight and are true)
  • The influence of Modernity (division of land causes division amongst Lear’s daughters)
  • Unnatural – Lear’s abdication of the throne and division of land, Gloucester choosing illegitimate over legitimate son creates chaos in a society that regards natural order.
issue unnatural behaviour
Issue: Unnatural behaviour
  • Animal imagery reinforces unnatural behaviour. Lear’s reference to cannibals, pelicans and predatory animals serve as illustrations of the unnatural behaviour of Goneril & Regan as well as that of Gloucester’s son - Edmund.
issue loyalty
Issue: Loyalty
  • Lear’s question “Do you love me?” effectively turns daughter on daughter in a betrayal of loyalty and trust.
  • Cordelia remains true even though she is banished for her truthful love
  • Her response of “Nothing” introduces a main theme that is present in the double plot line. Gloucester believes the contents of a letter outlining betrayal which was actually “nothing” as Edmund ironically answered him upon request to read it.
issue love loyalty
Issue: Love & Loyalty
  • Like Edgar, Cordelia remains true to her father and holds the ideal love - one that suffers in patience, is sacrificed for truth and honour to restore order to a chaotic world.
  • Kent is a remains a servant although banished from Lear’s sight.
  • Kent begs Lear “to see better” when pleading with him to reconsider his decision to disown Cordelia.
  • Kent remains loyal, but due to Lear’s blindness he must do this in disguise because he must remain out of Lear’s sight.

How does this image link to Lear?

  • An image often used in the play… the wheel of fortune and a wheel of torture and suffering.
issue justice fate
Issue: Justice & Fate
  • Fortune can tie you to the wheel so as to turn you through fortune to poverty and back on a whim. Fortune is often pictured as a whore granting or refusing favours as the mood takes her.
parallel plots
Parallel Plots
  • Parallel Plots

Each family centers on an aging father (patriarch)

Lear: imperious tyrant

Gloucester: gullible

Each sees his children through a distorted lens,

turning against the child who truly loves him,

unleashing in the other children greed, lust,


issue modernity
Issue: Modernity
  • The MAP is the symbol of the modern world imposed on a world without measurable boundaries.
  • Lear’s “constitutional monarch” conflicts with the Elizabethan world scene.
King Lear Themes
  • Sight-Insight/Blindness-lack of insight
  • Nothing
  • Natural/Unnatural
  • Flattery
  • Madness
  • Judgment
  • Appearance vs. reality
  • world view of Renaissance Christian Humanist and Machiavellian
act 1
Act 1

Scene 1

Lear divides


Disowns Cordelia

Cordelia bids

farewell to


Scene 3

Goneril and Oswald

Scene 2

Edmund soliloquy

Conspiracy theory

Advice to Edgar

Scene 5

Lear sends Kent

to Regan

Lear and Fool

Scene 4

Kent to serve Lear as Caius

Lear and Fool

Lear and Goneril

act 1 scene 1
Act 1, Scene 1
  • Act 1, Scene 1

Shakespeare sets out the premise for the play (the crazy idea out of which all follows):

King Lear, intending to divide his power and kingdom among

his three daughters, demands they publicly profess their love

for him. Cordelia refuses to put on that show.

In revenge, Lear strips her of her dowry, divides the kingdom

between the other two, then banishes the Earl of Kent, who

dares to protest Lear’s rash and unfair actions toward Cordelia.

insight seeing imagery
Insight/Seeing Imagery
  • Act 1
    • “Hence and avoid my sight” “Out of my sight!”
    • “See better, Lear”
    • “If it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles”
  • Complications

The king of France marries Cordelia despite

her lack of dowry.

Lear tells Goneril and Regan that they and

their husbands should divide his powers and

revenues; he will keep 100 knights and will

live with them each by turns.

act 1 scene 2
Act 1, Scene 2
  • Act 1, Scene 2

Introduction of the Sub-plot

  • Gloucester’s two sons – Edmund & Edgar
  • Gloucester’s relationship with them
  • Sub-plot amplifies & reverberates themes and issues explored in the main plot

Ordinary jealousies, demands, and desires begin to be taken to extremes.

Edmund plots to displace Edgar as Gloucester’s heir.

What does he tell his father about Edgar?

Is it true?

king lear act 1 scene 2
King Lear: Act 1 Scene 2

Edmund’s Speech in the beginning

The Issue of Nature

The Elements

Natural Order of Things

Nature , Natural & Unnatural

king lear act 1 scene 3
King Lear: Act 1 Scene 3
  • What did we expect?
  • Is Goneril unreasonable if she is irritated by her father’s antics?
  • Are our suspicions confirmed by Goneril’s actions?
act 1 scene 3
Act 1, Scene 3
  • Act 1, Scene 3

Lear has gone to live with Goneril.

Why does Goneril become so angry with her


What does she tell her steward, Oswald, to tell


king lear act 1 scene 4
King Lear: Act 1 Scene 4
  • Kent Disguised
  • Disguise as an important feature of Shakespearean plays
  • Appearances vs Reality (able to be pulled off because of a lack of insight in characters such as Lear and Gloucester)
act 1 scene 4
Act 1, Scene 4
  • Act 1, Scene 4

The Earl of Kent returns in disguise, offers his services to Lear, and is accepted.

Goneril and Lear confront each other - what does Goneril demand, and how does Lear react?

king lear act 1 scene 41
King Lear: Act 1 Scene 4
  • Purpose of Disguise
  • Dramatic irony, where the audience is aware of something (in this case the true identity of characters) that characters in the play are not. This creates tension in a play and excites the audience; actions take place on the stage, of which the audience knows the import, but characters on the stage do not.
  • It also creates a setting for a great deal of irony where characters make comments that take on a double meaning.
king lear act 1 scene 42
King Lear: Act 1 Scene 4
  • Development of Features of Act 1 Scene 3
  • Lear starting to lose grip
  • Goneril shows her true colours
  • Lear begins to regret
king lear act 1 scene 43
King Lear: Act 1 Scene 4
  • Entrance of the Fool
  • Traditional role of the fool
  • ‘Magic’ status of the fool
  • Ability to see & say what others can’t
king lear act 1 scene 44
King Lear: Act 1 Scene 4
  • Entrance of the Fool
    • The ‘Wise’ fool
    • Effect of the fool on Lear
    • The Fool’s Advice
      • Song 1 Line 120
      • Song 2 Line 145
act 1 scene 5
Act 1, Scene 5
  • Act 1, Scene 5

Lear sets out for Regan’s with his Fool.

The disguised Kent goes ahead with a letter

for Regan.

issue madness
Issue: Madness
  • Lear’s realisation of the betrayal of professed love leads him to madness and the insights necessary for him, and the audience, to recognise the need to know and see reality.
king lear suffering
King Lear & Suffering
  • King Lear & Suffering (the sadness of old age)

Lear makes a big mistake - he gives up his basis for power, but still expects to be treated as powerful.

He rages against his own pain until his sanity cracks.

He dies without being able to profit from his learning through suffering. In King Lear, most of the characters suffer. They react to suffering in different ways:

  • Some harden their hearts
  • Some indulge in violence
  • Some try to alleviate others’ suffering
the promised end
The promised end
  • When order is restored there can be no life for Lear. Cordelia’s death and the knowledge of his own weakness - as a man and as a Monarch means that he, too, must die.
  • “Is this the promised end? Or image of that horror?