King Lear- An Exploration

This post will develop over the course of the class’ study of the Shakespearean play, King Lear.

Please note: a block of text that has a blue background indicates a question or action that the students have been asked to answer or complete to guide their understanding of the text.

Act One- Exposition

We have begun our journey into the depths of King Lear. The students have been reading the play in class together and we have spent some time reflecting on things we have observed in Act One.

As a summary of “notable ideas”, the students worked on a collaborative slides presentation. This is published below.


In small groups, we then began breaking down the Fool’s rhymes and riddles to understand their ‘voice of reason’. As a class, we have decided that at this stage, the Fool is acting like a mirror for King Lear, throwing hard truths back in his face which he is currently choosing to ignore.



As a class, we are discussing key lines and ideas as they arise throughout the play however at the end of each act, we are taking some time to document some of the things we see as important. Sometimes the students do this in groups and other times they work indpendently to develop their thoughts and collect material from the script.

Act Two- Rising Action

At the end of Act Two, the students are beginning to think about the play using the five questions below to guide them.

Scanning Act 2, Scene 4, note down any references to animals that Lear or the Fool makes. Explain what ideas this imagery is developing. Does it build on our observations from Act 1?

In Act 2, Lear’s speech is not as eloquent or sophisticated as it is in Act 1. It becomes more broken and he uses less latinate words. What could this be an indication of? Explain your answer.

In line 22 of Scene 4, Lear says:

“They durst not do’t,
They could not, would not do’t;
Tis worse than murther,
To do upon respect with such violent outrage.”

King Lear, Act 2

To what is her referring to? Why does Lear consider this to be a worse crime than murder? Explain your answer using the Elizabethan world views we have discussed in previous classes.

4. Sight and eyes appear throughout this act. What idea is beginning to emerge from this imagery?

5. A storm brews outside the castle as Lear and his daughters argue inside. What could this possibly symbolism? Why do you think Lear would choose to face the storm outside instead of obeying his daughters and staying within the safety of the castle?

Lear makes several interesting comments in this act which lead us to believe that somewhere inside himself, he knows he is slipping into insanity. Possibly, he finds it easier to let himself begin the descent into madness rather than face the reality of his situation. We discussed some of these key quotations as a class.

Our classroom whiteboard. An everyday tool that we use to anchor our discussion.s.

Act Three- Climax

We have now completed our reading of Act 3 and in order to keep track of the rapidly unfolding action, the class has created a plot diagram that we feel Aristotle would be proud of. This diagram will be added to as we read further into the the play.

In addition to our plot diagram, the class is working on the following questions to keep track of some of the more important ideas presented in Act 3. We will discuss these as a class once everyone has crafted responses.

1.Provide an explanation of the difference between verse and prose. Identify how verse and prose is being used in the play at the moment.

2. Explain the significance of the storm. Find two quotations that support your response. Hint: Look towards the beginning of the act.

3. Explain the situation that Gloucester finds himself in during this Act? What horrible thing happens to him and what is ironic about the situation? Find two quotations that deliver this event to the reader.

4. Lear makes some interesting statements about the weather and its connection to his mental state:

“Thou think’st ‘tis much that this contentious storm invades us to the skin…”

King Lear Act 3

“…this tempest in my mInd doth from my senses take all feeling…”

King Lear Act 3

What is a tempest? How does this provide a direct connection between Lear’s mental state and the raging storm outside.

5. Lear is at the lowest of his fortune in this Act. He is experiencing the full effects of peripetia. He makes a reference to animals as he tears his clothes off in Act 3 Scene 4. Find it and explain how Shakespeare is using a mixture of imagery and the knowledge of the Great Chain of Being to show Lear at the height of his downfall.

6. What scene does Shakespeare use to play on our feelings that there is no justice left in the world of King Lear. Explain your answer.

As a group, we spent some time discussing some the actions of the characters in the play so far. From this discussion, we have arrived at the conclusion that in order to understand why Lear believes he is “more sinned against than sinning”, you have to think classically and consider the “Divine Right of the King” and “The Great Chain of Being” from Elizabethan England.

Our classroom whiteboard following the discussion about who is more in the wrong: Lear or his daughters.

Posted by Renee Plunkett

Teacher of English at Mount Aspiring College, Wanaka, New Zealand.

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