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King Lear. Reading Classics of Humanities (I) Week 6 & Week 8 Iris Tuan. 莎士比亞. William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) an English poet and playwright. 莎士比亞. England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard").

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King lear

King Lear

Reading Classics of Humanities (I)

Week 6 & Week 8

Iris Tuan


  • William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616)

  • an English poet and playwright


  • England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard").

  • His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems.

  • His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.


  • Between 1585 and 1592 he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part-owner of the playing company the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as the King's Men.

  • He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613, where he died three years later.


  • Few records of Shakespeare's private life survive and considerable speculation has been poured into this void, including questions concerning his sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.


  • Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1590 and 1613.

  • His early plays were mainly comedies and histories.

  • By the end of the sixteenth century, he wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, producing plays, such as Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth.

  • In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies and collaborated with other playwrights.


  • Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime.

  • In 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare's.


  • Title page of the First Folio, 1623. Copper engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout


  • Shakespeare’s reputation did not rise to its present heights until the nineteenth century.

  • The Romantics, in particular, acclaimed Shakespeare's genius, and the Victorians hero-worshipped Shakespeare with a reverence that George Bernard Shaw called "bardolatry".

King lear1
King Lear

  • "King Lear and the Fool in the Storm" by William Dyce

King lear2
King Lear

  • One of Shakespeare greatest tragedies.

  • There are two distinct versions of the play: The True Chronicle of the History of the Life and Death of King Lear and His Three Daughters, which appeared in quarto in 1608, and The Tragedy of King Lear, which appeared in the First Folio in 1623, a more theatrical version.

  • The tragedy is particularly noted for its probing observations on the nature of human suffering and kinship on a cosmic scale.


  • The most important source is thought to be the second edition of The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande by Raphael Holinshed, published in 1587.

  • Holinshed himself found the story in the earlier Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth, which was written in the 12th century.

  • The name of Cordelia was probably taken from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, published in 1590.

Other possible sources
Other possible sources

  • A Mirror for Magistrates (1574), by John Higgins.

  • The Malcontent (1604), by John Marston;

  • Arcadia (1580-1590), by Sir Philip Sidney.

  • Albion's England, by William Warner, (1589);

  • and A Declaration of egregious Popish Impostures, by Samuel Harsnett (1603).

  • Common fairy tale, where a father rejects his youngest daughter on the basis of a statement of her love that does not please him.

Main characters
Main Characters

  • King Lear is ruler of Britain.

  • Goneril (sometimes written Gonerill) is Lear's eldest daughter.

  • Regan is Lear's second daughter.

  • Cordelia (poss. "heart of a lion" ) is Lear's youngest daughter.

  • The Fool is a jester who is devoted to Lear and Cordelia. He has a privileged relationship with Lear.


  • The Duke of Albany is Goneril's husband.

  • The Duke of Cornwall is Regan's husband.

  • The Earl of Gloucester is Edgar's father, and the father of the illegitimate son, Edmund.

  • The Earl of Kent is always faithful to Lear.

  • Edmund (sometimes written Edmond) is Gloucester's illegitimate son. He works with Goneril and Regan.

  • Edgar is the legitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester.

  • Oswald is Goneril's servant, and is described as "a serviceable villain".

Lear and cordelia by ford madox brown
Lear and Cordeliaby Ford Madox Brown


  • The play begins with King Lear taking the decision to abdicate the throne and divide his kingdom among his three daughters.

  • The eldest two are already married, while Cordelia is much sought after as a bride, partly because she is her father's favourite.

  • In a fit of senile vanity, king suggests a contest — each daughter shall be accorded lands according to how much they demonstrate their love for him in speech.


  • Cordelia refuses to outdo the flattery of her elder sisters, as she feels it would only cheapen her true feelings to flatter him purely for profit.

  • Lear, in a fit of pique, divides her share of the kingdom between Goneril and Regan, and Cordelia is banished.

  • The King of France marries Cordelia, even after she has been disinherited, since he sees value in her honesty.


  • Soon after Lear abdicates the throne, he finds that Goneril and Regan's feelings for him have turned cold, and arguments ensue.

  • The Earl of Kent, who has spoken up for Cordelia and been banished for his pains, returns disguised as the servant Caius, who will "eat no fish" (that is to say, he is a Protestant), in order to protect the king, to whom he remains loyal.


  • Meanwhile, Goneril and Regan fall out with one another over their attraction to Edmund, the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester — and are forced to deal with an army from France, led by Cordelia, sent to restore Lear to his throne.

  • A cataclysmic war is fought.


  • The subplot involves the Earl of Gloucester and his two sons, the good Edgar and the evil Edmund.

  • Edmund concocts false stories about his legitimate half-brother, and Edgar is forced into exile, affecting lunacy.

  • Edmund engages in liaisons with Goneril and Regan.

  • Gloucester is confronted by Regan's husband, but is saved from death by several of Cornwall's servants, who object to the duke's treatment of Lear.


  • one of the servants wounds the duke (but is killed by Regan), who throws Gloucester into the storm in order for him to, "smell his way to Dover" after plucking out his eyes.

  • Cornwall dies of his wound shortly thereafter.

  • The storm scene is where Lear exclaims how he is "a man more sinned against than sinning".


  • Edgar, still under the guise of a homeless lunatic, finds Gloucester out in the storm.

  • The earl asks him whether he knows the way to Dover, to which Edgar replies that he will lead him.

  • Edgar, whose voice Gloucester fails to recognise, is shaken by encountering his blinded father and his guise is put to the test.


  • Lear appears in Dover, wandering about raving and talking to mice.

  • Gloucester attempts to throw himself from a cliff, but is deceived by Edgar in order to save him and comes off safely, encountering the king shortly after.

  • Lear and Cordelia are briefly reunited and reconciled before the battle between Britain and France.

  • After the French lose, Lear is content at the thought of living in prison with Cordelia, but Edmund gives orders for them to be executed.


  • Edgar, in disguise, then fights Edmund, fatally wounding him.

  • On seeing this, Goneril, who has already poisoned Regan out of jealousy, kills herself.

  • Edgar reveals himself to Edmund and tells him that Gloucester has just died.

  • On hearing this, and of Goneril and Regan's deaths, Edmund tells Edgar of his order to have Lear and Cordelia murdered and gives orders for them to be reprieved.


  • Unfortunately, the reprieve comes too late.

  • Lear appears on stage with Cordelia's dead body in his arms, having killed the servant who hanged her, then dies himself.

  • Besides the subplot involving the Earl of Gloucester and his sons, the principal innovation was the death of Cordelia and Lear at the end.

  • During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this tragic ending was much criticised, and alternative versions were written and performed, in which the leading characters survived and Edgar and Cordelia were married.


  • LEAR: So young, and so untender?CORDELIA: So young, my lord, and true.LEAR: Let it be so; thy truth, then, be thy dower:For, by the sacred radiance of the sun,The mysteries of Hecate, and the night;By all the operation of the orbsFrom whom we do exist, and cease to be;Here I disclaim all my paternal care,Propinquity and property of blood,And as a stranger to my heart and meHold thee, from this, for ever.King Lear, 1. 1


  • CORDELIA: It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness,

    No unchaste action, or dishonoured step,That hath deprived me of your grace and favour;But even for want of that for which I am richer,A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongueAs I am glad I have not, though not to have itHath lost me in your liking.King Lear, 1. 1


  • Kent: Fortune, good night, smile once more; turn thy wheel!

    King Lear, 2. 2

  • No, I'll not weep:I have full cause of weeping; but this heartShall break into a hundred thousand flaws,Or ere I'll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!King Lear, 2. 4


  • Lear:I am a manMore sinned against than sinning.King Lear, 3. 2

  • Lear:Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend youFrom seasons such as these?King Lear, 3. 4


  • Edgar: The lowest and most dejected thing of fortune,Stands still in esperance, lives not in fear:The lamentable change is from the best;The worst returns to laughter.King Lear, 4. 1

  • Albany( to Goneril ):You are not worth the dust which the rude windBlows in your face.King Lear, 4. 2


  • GLOUCESTER: O, let me kiss that hand!LEAR: Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.GLOUCESTER: O ruin'd piece of nature! This great worldShall so wear out to nought.King Lear, 4. 6


  • Lear: Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am boundUpon a wheel of fire.King Lear, 4. 7

  • Lear: And my poor fool is hanged! No, no, no life!Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,Never, never, never, never, never!Pray you, undo this button.King Lear, 5. 3


  • Edmund:This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, -- often the surfeit of our own behaviour, -- we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary influence.King Lear, 1. 2


  • 'love test' an alternate interpretation.

  • “Kent: I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.

    Gloucester: It did always seem so to us, but now in the division of the kingdom it appears not which of the Dukes he values most, for equalities are so weighed that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.”

    King Lear, 1. 1


  • There are only two clues on how balanced the king's division of the kingdom.

  • The first is the above quoted section where Gloucester describes the shares as equal.

  • The second is in Lear's description that while Regan's portion of the kingdom is "No less in space, validity, and pleasure/Than that conferred on Goneril." (Act I/Scene 1) but for Cordelia's "more opulent than [her] sisters" (Act I/Scene 1).


  • It has been suggested that the King's "contest" has more to do with Cordelia.

  • On receiving her proclamations of devout love and loyalty, he plans to force her into a marriage which she could not possibly object to after claiming such stolid obedience.

  • Of course, the trap fails disastrously for all parties. It is not clear whether or not Shakespeare intended his audience to be aware of this subtext, or whether he assumed the details of the situation were not relevant.


  • Shakespeare's tragic conclusion gains its sting from such a discrepancy.

  • The traditional legend and all adaptations preceding Shakespeare's have it that after Lear is restored to the throne, he remains there until "made ripe for death" (Edmund Spenser).

  • Cordelia, her sisters also deceased, takes the throne as rightful heir, but after a few years is overthrown and imprisoned by nephews, leading to her suicide.


  • Shakespeare shocks his audience by bringing the worn and haggard Lear onto the stage, carrying his dead youngest daughter.

  • He taunts them with the possibility that she may live yet with Lear saying, "This feather stirs; she lives!" But Cordelia's death is soon confirmed.


  • The character of Lear's Fool, appears in Act I, scene four, and disappears in Act III, scene six.

  • His final line is "And I'll go to bed at noon", a line that many think might mean that he is to die at the highest point of his life, when he lies in prison separated from his friends.


  • A popular explanation for the fool's disappearance is that the actor playing the Fool also played Cordelia.

  • However, the Fool would have been performed by Robert Armin, the regular clown actor of his company, who is unlikely to have been cast as a tragic heroine.

  • In Elizabethan English, "fool" was a term used to mean "child" (cf. foal).


  • The novel A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

  • The play Lear by Edward Bond

  • The play Lear's Daughters by WTG and Elaine Feinstein

  • The play Seven Lears by Howard Barker

  • The play Lear Reloaded by Scot Lahaie

  • The film The King is Alive, directed by Kristian Levring

Shakespeare theater
Shakespeare Theater

  • King Lear (Jonathan Epstein)

Shakespeare theater2
Shakespeare Theater

  • Lear (Jonathan Epstein) and Fool (Jimmy Ireland)

Some film adaptations
Some film adaptations

  • 1909 - A silent, black and white film directed by J. Stuart Blackton and William V. Ranous, with William V. Ranous as Lear. The first.

  • 1934 - "Der Yidisher Kenig Lear," or The Yiddish King Lear, is an adapted of Jacob Gordin's play set in Jewish Vilna, Lithuania. The film is directed by Harry Thomashefsky.

  • 1971 - Directed by Peter Brook with Paul Scofield as Lear.

  • 1974 - A live recorded performance from the New York Shakespeare Festival, directed by Edwin Sherin, with James Earl Jones as Lear.

Some film adaptations1
Some film adaptations

  • 1974 - A Thames Television production, directed by Tony Davenall with Patrick Magee as Lear.

  • 1982 - Directed by Jonathan Miller for BBC TV with Michael Hordern once again cast as Lear. Part of the Shakespeare Plays series, this version follows the text closely.

  • 1984 - Directed by Michael Elliott with Laurence Olivier as Lear. Olivier won the Emmy Award for his performance.

  • 1985 - The film Ran by Akira Kurosawa sets the story in Edo-period Japan and replaces the three daughters with three sons.

Some film adaptations2
Some film adaptations

  • 1987 - Jean-Luc Godard's version is set in a post-apocalyptic world with Burgess Meredith as gangster Don Learo and Molly Ringwald as Cordelia.

  • 1997 - A modern retelling, set on a farm in Iowa, was Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and starring Jason Robards, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Colin Firth.

  • 1999 - Directed by and starring Brian Blessed as Lear .

  • 2001 - My Kingdom stars Richard Harris, Lynn Redgrave. A modern gangland version of King Lear.


  • 形象、性格、情節、言詞、歌曲與思想

  • 亞里士多德:悲劇是一個嚴肅、完整、有一定長度的行動的模仿,其效果是引起觀眾的恐懼和憐憫,陶冶人的心靈。

  • 悲劇成分中,情節最重要,人物性格居第二,一個不好不壞的善良人是悲劇人物的最佳選擇。


  • 希臘悲劇裡,由於當時劇場與演員的諸多限制,造成劇作家許多在寫作上所共有的特色。

  • 最早提到「三一律」的應該是羅馬時期的理論作品《詩論》。

  • 時間、空間與動作三個要素必須一致。

  • Pictured from left: Fontana Butterfield (Regan), Trish Mulholland (Goneril), Zehra Berkman (Cordelia) and Richard Louis James (King Lear)Photo Credit: Fachin Photography

Reference McKellen (King Lear), Sylvester