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Shakespearean Drama. King Lear Knowledge Notes. Chain of Being. The Elizabethan World Picture Elizabethans viewed their world order according to what is called The Chain of Being , much of which worked its way into the literature of the time, including Shakespeare's plays.

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shakespearean drama

Shakespearean Drama

King Lear Knowledge Notes


The Elizabethan World PictureElizabethans viewed their world order according to what is called The Chain of Being, much of which worked its way into the literature of the time, including Shakespeare's plays.

  • Everything on earth and in the universe is linked in a particular order - everything has its place.
  • The most heavenly beings are placed at the top of the chain, seated at the foot of God.
  • The basest creatures are at the bottom, furthest away from God. The best way of envisioning this is probably to think of a ladder
  • The protagonists (main characters) must be admirable but flawed characters
  • =HUMAN

The audience must be able to understand and sympathize with the characters

themes to look out for in king lear

Eyes and Sight

Madness and Insanity

Civil Disorder


The poor/poverty

The Elements

Nature and Nurture


Cruelty and Violence


Warmth and Cold

  • Kingship; Crown
  • Inheritance; Division;
  • Justice;
  • Parents and Children
  • Ingratitude of children
  • Love: self-love and false love
  • Legitimacy
  • Loyalty; Hospitality
  • Treat language like special effects
  • Treat language like a voiceover in a film .
  • Characters overflow with words

Special effects


Profile of Gloucester

· representative of the old regime: weak, elderly, inert, credulous

Good guys

Bad Guys


EDMUND Thou, nature, art my goddess. To thy law

My services are bound. Wherefore should I

Stand in the plague of custom and permit

The curiosity of nations to deprive me

For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines

Lag of a brother? Why “bastard”? Wherefore “base”?

When my dimensions are as well compact,

My mind as generous, and my shape as true

As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us

With “base,” with “baseness,” “bastardy,” “base,” “base”—

Who in the lusty stealth of nature take

More composition and fierce quality

Than doth within a dull, stale, tirèd bed

Go to th' creating a whole tribe of fops

Got ’tween a sleep and wake? Well then,

Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.

Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund

As to the legitimate.—Fine word, “legitimate”!—

Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed

And my invention thrive, Edmund the base

Shall top th' legitimate. I grow, I prosper.

Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

tragic hero

Qualities of a Tragic Hero:

  • Possesses high importance or rank
  • Exhibits extraordinary talents
  • Displays a tragic flaw—an error in judgment or defect in character—that leads to downfall
  • Faces downfall with courage and dignity
king lear
King Lear
  • Lear’s basic flaw at the beginning of the play is that he values appearances above reality.
  • He wants to be treated as a king and to enjoy the title, but he doesn’t want to fulfill a king’s obligations of governing for the good of his subjects.
  • In relying on the test of his daughters' love, Lear demonstrates that he lacks common sense or the ability to detect his older daughters' falseness.
  • Lear cannot recognize Cordelia's honesty amid the flattery, which he craves. Similarly, his test of his daughters demonstrates that he values a flattering public display of love over real love. He doesn’t ask “which of you doth love us most,” but rather, “which of you shall we say doth love us most?” (I.i.49).
  • Hubris is a Greek term referring to excessive and destructive pride. In the ancient Greek world, hubris often resulted in the death of the tragic, heroic figure. This is clearly the case with Lear, who allows his excessive pride to destroy his family.
  • What does it mean to see the true nature of people’s hearts?
  • How do you see a liar?
profile of gloucester
Profile of Gloucester
  • Represents the old regime: weak, elderly, inert, credulous
  • Dramatic role · to head up the minor plot · his fate mirrors Lear's
  • Historically · represents mindless continuity, · end of an era inertia,
  • Who are his sons?
  • What do you know about them?
tragic hero18
  • Qualities of a Tragic Hero:
  • Possesses high importance or rank
  • Displays a tragic flaw, an error in judgment or defect in character—that leads to downfall
tragic hero19
  • Knowledge Check
  • question
  • What is Lear’stragic flaw or error in judgment?
  • Do people know of his plan?
  • How does he go about it?
the fool
  • Knowledge notes
  • Act 1 scene 4+5

Q- What is the fools role in the play?

  • He is used to show Lear’s true feelings and highlight Lear’s foolishness
  • The fool acts as a commentator speking the truth
fool kent tries to point out that the fool is telling the truth
Fool Kent tries to point out that the fool is telling the truth
  • All thy other titles thou hast given away; that     thou wast born with. KENT     This is not altogether fool, my lord.
thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown when thou gavest thy golden one away

thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown,     when thou gavest thy golden one away.

Refers to his royal crown



FoolI marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are:     they'll have me whipped for speaking true, thou'lt    have me whipped for lying; and sometimes I am     whipped for holding my peace. I had rather be any     kind o' thing than a fool: and yet I would not be     thee, nuncle; thou hast pared thy wit o' both sides,     and left nothing i' the middle:

the fool act 1 scene 5
The Fool -Act 1 Scene 5
  • He is critical of Lear but also kind and humorous pointing to Lear’s foolishness
  • Examples
  • Daughters are as sour as crab apples
  • He remarks Lear should have been ‘wise before being old’
  • Lear should be like a snail with a house to put his bald head into
  • He uses animal imagery and metaphors
king lear act 2 scene 1 manipulative edmund
King Lear Act 2. scene 1 – Manipulative Edmund
  • Edmund begins this scene with deceit and treachery
  • He tricks his father into believing Edgar is hungry for power and land and is willing to murder Glouscester

He is a consummate liar

He is manipulative

He cuts his own arm to add credence to his lies saying Edgar injured himHis father believes him and calls him loyal and natural

  • His language reflects the theme of Natural order.He use pregnant imagry and refersto the natural orderHis language is duplicitous and ironic and he is a skilled in his speechesHe is the real villain, not Edgar
king lear act 2 scene 4 overview
King Lear Act 2 Scene 4 Overview
  • Kent is in the stocks
  • Regan and Cornwall refuse to meets him
  • Regan demands that he return to ask forgiveness form Goneril
  • Sisters greet each other as friends
  • They sadistically reduce his retinue to none
  • Lear is reduced to level of animal
  • Lear gave all, his daughters gave nothing
lears s heroic struggle to endure
Lears’s heroic struggle to endure
  • Disbelief
    • They durst not , they could not
    • I gave you all
  • Overwhelmed
    • Down thou climbing sorrow ! Thy elements below
  • Angry
    • I would rather wage against the enmity of the air
  • Powerless + isolated
      • Man’s life is as cheap as beasts
tragic hero33

Lear’s tragic plight

  • Kingship/ Power destroyed
  • Seeing the error of his ways
  • Displays new humanity in character
lear s turmoil
Lear’s Turmoil


  • KING LEAR     O, reason not the need: our basest beggars     Are in the poorest thing superfluous:     Allow not nature more than nature needs,     Man's life's as cheap as beast's: thou art a lady;     If only to go warm were gorgeous,     Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear'st,     Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need,--     You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!     You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,     As full of grief as age; wretched in both!     If it be you that stir these daughters' hearts     Against their father, fool me not so much     To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger,     And let not women's weapons, water-drops,     Stain my man's cheeks! No, you unnatural hags,     I will have such revenges on you both,     That all the world shall--I will do such things,--     What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be     The terrors of the earth. You think I'll weep     No, I'll not weep:     I have full cause of weeping; but this heart     Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws,     Or ere I'll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!

Impotent rage


knowledge act 3 scene 1
Knowledge Act 3 Scene 1

Natural order is disturbed

  • Lear against the elements

Lear is

Contending with the fretful element:Bids the winds blow the earth into the sea,Or swell the curled water 'bove the main,That things might change or cease; tears his white hair,Which the impetuous blasts, with eyeless rage,Catch in their fury, and make nothing of;

Catch in their fury, and make nothing of;Strives in his little world of man to out-scornThe to-and-fro-conflicting wind and rain.This night, wherein the cub-drawn bear would couch,The lion and the belly-pinched wolfKeep their fur dry, unbonneted he runs,And bids what will take all.


storm scene
Storm Scene
  • This political chaos is mirrored in the natural world.
  • We find Lear and his courtiers plodding across a deserted heath with winds howling around them and rain drenching them.
  • Lear soon finds himself symbolically stripped bare.
  • He has already discovered that his cruel daughters can victimize him; now he learns that a king caught in a storm is as much subject to the power of nature as any man.

A symbol is something such as an object, picture, written word, sound, or particular mark that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention.

The Storm

  • As Lear wanders about a desolate heath in Act III, a terrible storm, strongly but ambiguously symbolic, rages overhead.
  • In part, the storm echoes Lear’s inner turmoil and mounting madness: it is a physical, turbulent natural reflection of Lear’s internal confusion.
  • At the same time, the storm embodies the awesome power of nature, which forces the powerless king to recognize his own mortality and human frailty and to cultivate a sense of humility for the first time.
  • The storm may also symbolize some kind of divine justice, as if nature itself is angry about the events in the play.
  • Finally, the meteorological chaos also symbolizes the political disarray that has engulfed Lear’s Britain.

Lear is trying to face down the powers of nature, an attempt that seems to indicate both his despair and his increasingly confused sense of reality.

  • Both of these strains appear in Lear’s famous speech to the storm, in which he commands, “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! / Lear’s attempt to speak to the storm suggests that he has lost touch with the natural world and his relation to it—or, at least, that he has lost touch with the ordinary human understanding of nature.
  • In a sense, though, his diatribe against the weather embodies one of the central questions posed by King Lear: namely, whether the universe is fundamentally friendly or hostile to man.
  • The storm marks one of the first appearances of the apocalyptic imagery that is so important in King Lear and that will become increasingly dominant as the play progresses. The chaos reflects the disorder in Lear’s increasingly crazed mind, and the apocalyptic language represents the projection of Lear’s rage and despair onto the outside world:
  • Along with Lear’s increasing despair and projection, we also see his understandable fixation on his daughters: “Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters: / I tax you not, you elements, with unkindness” (III.ii.14–15). Lear tells the thunder that he does not blame it for attacking him because it does not owe him anything. But he does blame his “two pernicious daughters” for their betrayal (III.ii.21). Despite the apparent onset of insanity, Lear exhibits some degree of rational thought—he is still able to locate the source of his misfortune.
  • Finally, we see strange shifts beginning to occur inside Lear’s mind. He starts to realize that he is going mad, a terrifying realization for anyone. Nevertheless, Lear suddenly notices his Fool and asks him, “How dost my boy? Art cold?” (III.ii.66). He adds, “I have one part in my heart / That’s sorry yet for thee” (III.ii.70–71). Here, Lear takes real and compassionate notice of another human being for the first time in the play. This concern for others reflects the growth of Lear’s humility, which eventually redeems him
king lear revision guide 2 act and scene summary
King Lear Revision Guide 2Act and Scene summary
  • Act 1 (937 lines)
  • 1. Lear divides his kingdom
  • 2. Gloucester believes Edmund about Edgar
  • 3. Goneril shows her hatred of Lear
  • 4. Lear curses Goneril
  • 5. Lear rejects Goneril and fears madness
  • Act 2 (634 lines)
  • 1. Edgar flees. Gloucester’s heart cracks
  • 2. Kent abuses Oswald and is put in the stocks
  • 3. Edgar becomes Tom
  • 4. Regan rejects Lear. Lear goes mad
  • Act 3 (615 lines)
  • 1. Kent looks for Lear
  • 2. Lear wanders in the storm
  • 3. Gloucester confides in Edmund
  • 4. Lear confronts the disguised Edgar
  • 5. Edmund betrays Gloucester
  • 6. Lear tries his daughters
  • 7. Gloucester is blinded
  • Act 4
act 3 scene 3 subplot
Act 3 Scene 3 - Subplot
  • Alack, alack, Edmund, I like not this unnatural dealing.

Most savage and unnatural!

  •     The younger rises when the old



ClothingThe play’s interest in clothing and the imagery associated with it is central to its exploration ofidentity.


  • Lear describes his abdication of the throne, using the play’s first clothing image, as ‘divest[ing]
  • us…of rule’ (I.i.49). By the start of the first storm scene (III.ii), Lear is ‘bareheaded’.
  • On first meeting Poor Tom, he attempts to strip off his remaining clothes, which he calls mere ‘lendings’
  • (III.iv.106), to reveal the real man (‘the thing itself’) beneath. (There is clear irony here )

Edgar, who is pretending, ‘a poor, bare, forked animal’ (105-106), is seen by Lear as the most accurate picture of the human condition on stage. Is this a reflection of Lear’s muddle as he descends into madness, or a reflection of the play’s deeper truth?)

  • Even when Poor Tom is naked, Lear continues to be obsessed by the idea of his clothing (
  • In effacing his identity as Edgar, Edgar removes all his clothes – anticipating Lear’s progressive stripping away of layers,
    • first metaphorically (his titles),
    • then metonymically (his knights) and
    • finally literally (his clothing), at the end of which he arrives at a fuller sense of self.

Clothes are

  • seen as a generally bad thing at this point in the play – Lear recognises that the hypocritical
  • Regan’s clothes do not keep her warm (II.ii.458-459) and Poor Tom twice draws attention to the
  • extravagance of dress he used to enjoy before his fall (III.iv.84-94, 131-132).
  • When Lear reappears, after a break of four scenes, in IV.iv, he has begun the process of
  • reclothing himself – beginning with the crown of wild flowers that establishes the contrast
  • between old and new (the old, angry tyrant of the court in I.i and the new, unselfconscious king of
  • nature) and, somewhat ironically, the inalienable nature of kingship (q.v.): however much Lear
  • has changed, the crown remains. (Whether this is touching or grotesquely parodic is debatable,
  • however.) Ultimately, he is reclothed only when he reaches Cordelia’s party in IV.vii –
  • symbolising perhaps the rebirth and fresh sense of self that he is to find, secure in Cordelia’s
  • love.
act 3 scene 4
Act 3 scene 4
  • Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,     That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,     How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,     Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you     From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en    Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;     Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,     That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,     And show the heavens more just.
power and evil
Power and Evil
  • Power is the ability to manipulate and control whatever one desires; to do what one pleases to do without answering to authority.
  • The power that corrupts the characters plays an extensive role throughout Shakespeare’s play, King Lear.
  • Goneril and Regan are corrupted by the power that Lear offers them. Edmund’s corruption comes from the trust of his father.
  • Absolute power corrupts absolutely with the characters, because once have full control, they are so cold that they will do anything to keep the power – or to gain more.
  • The quest for power corrupts, but when absolute power is attained, treachery and deceit is the only path to take.

EvilThis play deals with evil inherent in humankind and also with supernatural evil.  We see the hell-on-earth, which ensues when humankind surrenders to the seductive power of evil in this play.  Evil is portrayed in the action particularly in the murder of Duncan and Macduff’s family. We also see the profound and absolute evil in the witches.  The witches are intended to represent the metaphysical world of evil spirits. Their meetings take place in conditions suggestive of cosmic disorder. Their function on a symbolic level is to mirror the spirit of evil roaming around Scotland. All their actions are a perversion of the natural order. It is Banquo who recognizes the satanic quality of the witches in his question,’ can the devil speak thus?’ He also recognizes their manner of working ‘ the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.’

  • Evil works in the play through deception. The witches as instruments of evil operate in terms of false appearance. As agents of the devil they seek to reverse the normal order of things and by so doing obscure reality. The essence of their intention is embodied in the line,’ air is foul and foul is fair.’ However, the crime to which they incite Macbeth is committed by him and the responsibility for succumbing to the temptation is Macbeth’s alone. Macbeth is his own betrayer. The witches are merely catalysts who bring to the surface the latent evil, which lies buried in his subconscious mind.