Seeing, Storms and Madness: King Lear
Adapted by Mark Rounds
|California Language Arts Content Standards|
|Standards Addressed in this Unit|
TEACHING AND LEARNING ACTIVITIESSelect and adapt these learning activities to best meet the needs of your students, and to fit the time available:
- Setting the scene:
- How they lived: Background materials on Elizabethan Society
Approaches to Renaissance Studies
A collection of images related to the renaissance. This will help to develop students' understanding of the context of the play. There are images of Whitehall, where the play was first staged on December 26th 1604 (under the Court and Culture section).
- An Introduction to the Elizabethan Period
Good background information.
- How they viewed the world
Get students to summarize this definition of the Great Chain of Being in exactly 20 words, then get them to identify which parts of the play, characters or decisions alter or work to corrupt it.
- How the plays were staged: Shakespeare's Globe
Take a tour of the original Globe Theatre. Emphasize how rudimentary sets and theatres were and the fact that no complex effects were possible, meaning that Shakespeare could only rely on his language and stage action to keep people interested in the play.
- For background on sources for the play and a plot summary see Enjoying King Lear.
- How they lived: Background materials on Elizabethan Society
Pre-reading exerciseRead a picture book version of Cinderella to the class.
Get students to construct a table identifying the elements that show us it is a fairy tale. At the end of the unit, go back and compare King Lear to Cinderella. Examine the similarities and the differences.
Cinderella King Lear A poor but honest protagonist
two wicked sisters
a fairy God-mother
A disinherited but honest protagonist
two wicked sisters
no fairy God-mother
This establishes the context for the play. It conforms to some of these elements, but departs from them at significant points. (Where is the fairy God-mother to rescue Cordelia? Why do the good people die?)
- Read the text:
Available as an online text. Hand out the glossary to help familiarize students with Elizabethan English. Use these tips to enliven reading from the 'Romeo and Juliet' unit.
- Plot Summary:
Using this table format, get students to make their own plot summary, identifying where a particular scene takes place, and what significant events occur within it. When they have identified the significant events in each scene, ask them to choose the most important one and draw a quick sketch to symbolize it.
As the class works through the text, get students to complete the following plot questions, or, alternatively, use them to begin each class with a 10-15 question quiz revising the previous day's work.
King Lear Plot Quiz
King Lear Plot Quiz Answers
- King Lear
Copy these quotations onto separate pieces of paper. Get students to:
Put them in the correct order, as they occur during the play, then answer the following questions in relation to each quotation:
- What does this quotation reveal about Lear?
- How is it representative of his state of mind when he says it?
- What other ideas do they connect with?
See related essays:
Print off each of the five mutual dictation handouts below. Set up five mixed ability groups in the class and give each group one copy of one of the handouts.
See Shared Dictation from ESOL Onlne.
When combined, these handouts form a set of notes. Start with the group who has the first word on the page (in this case Group 1). One of the group members reads this word, which is copied down by each member of the class. This word is followed by the group that has the second word, and so on. Once somebody has read a word, they must pass the page to the person beside them. This ensures that everyone keeps up with the notes and that the groups are not dominated by one or two people. It sounds chaotic, but it works well. Students must concentrate on their listening skills as well. (It is not until the end of the exercise that the class actually realizes they have written an entire page of notes.)
- The Fool
Get students to answer these questions based on the character of the Fool.
Notes: the Role of the Fool:
- Minor Characters:
An article on the character of Kent. From the Shakespeare Oxford Society Newsletter.
- Characters in the Subplot:
Show students each of the following websites. Ask them to identify as many similarities and differences between the Lear main plot and the Gloucester subplot as they can. Ultimately the purpose of including the subplot is to encourage us to view important ideas in different ways. After they have identified the similarities and differences, ask the students to choose five of these and identify how they add to our understanding of the play, eg.
Main Plot: Subplot: Importance: Lear has three legitimate daughters. Gloucester has one legitimate son and one illegitimate one. Evil is not confined either to gender or to being illegitimate. It can occur anywhere.
- King Lear
- Formative Assessment:
Assign the first essay question as a formative assessment because it is a passage analysis that deals with Lear and the Fool. This essay question was used for an examination in New Zealand and detailed comments about typical responses are provided for the essay. These comments will be helpful in scoring papers and also for students to read, especially if they are involved in the scoring process.
- Introduction to Shakespearean Language
- Common Shakespearean Words Glossary
- Ask students to translate a chosen passage from the play into everyday, usable English.
Get students to complete the Word Cruncher exercise and the Animal Imagery exercise. In order to complete these activities, you'll need the complete text of the play. Students use the "Find" feature, either in the web browser or a word processor, to locate various words and answer questions on how those words are used.
For a further discussion of theme and image patterns see Enjoying King Lear.
- Theme Notes
Give students a copy of these Theme notes. Split the class into small groups (3-4 students) Ask the students to compile a list of key points about their chosen theme for distribution to the rest of the class. They must then choose part of a scene that illustrates aspects of the key points that they have written. Perform the scene for the class, and offer either a running commentary (stopping the action when required to expand on points they have made in their key point handout) or summarizing the importance of the scene at the end of it. The finished product will be a seminar, complete with excerpts from the play, and a summarizing handout.
Return to the pre-reading activity and identify the similarities between Lear and Cinderella. Discuss the differences between the two. Why is there no divine intervention/fairy God-mother? How would the play have changed if there had been?
Give students some of these quotations, then get them to:
- Translate them into modern English
- Identify who said them
- Comment on how they relate to other areas of the play
Alternatively, you can use them as a revision tool, quizzing students on who said them and to whom, when etc.
- King Lear Quiz
Students will write an essay based on any of the following essay questions. Each link provides 3 essay questions to choose from. These essays were used for an examination in New Zealand and detailed comments about typical responses are provided for each essay. These comments will be helpful in scoring papers and also for students to read, especially if they are involved in the scoring process.
Essay Questions |
Mark these essays according to the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam) Response to Literature/Expository Text Scoring Guide.
- Copies of the text: (Available through Amazon)
Cheaper Bantam Edition
The Deluxe Arden Edition (Recommended for Teachers)
- A copy of a screen adaptation:
Laurence Olivier: Not a bad adaptation, probably the most commonly available
in schools. Produced by Granada Television:
- Paul Schofield directed black and white version. Superb, creative interpretation of the text, may distract some less able students but will reward the more able.
- William Shakespeare: The Complete Works
This is a very comprehensive site with links to the complete works including background information, biographical information and pictures, information about Elizabethan theatres, a Shakespearean dictionary, the first folio, quotes, a quiz and a discussion forum.
- Life in Elzabethan England
- Facsimile Version of the First Folio version King Lear
- Between 1681 and 1838, the preferred ending to the play was not the ending that Shakespeare wrote. Nahum Tate wrote an alternative ending that kept Cordelia alive and married her to Edgar so that they could rule the kingdom after Lear's death. An interesting discussion can be had around the question of whether Shakespeare needed to kill Cordelia off. If the public finds it so satisfying for her to remain alive, could Shakespeare have been wrong to kill her off?
- How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth - A Lear Parody
- Light-hearted "Review" of Lear
- General Sites:
- A nice summary of the play, characters, and themes and ideas
- Shakespeare and the Theatre
The first known production of King Lear was at King James' palace at Whitehall on 26th of December 1606, but Shakespeare was also connected to the Globe theatre, a reconstruction of which now stands on the south bank of the Thames river in London.
- Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Educational resources, images and background information on Elizabethan society.
- Shakespeares' England
- Much Ado About Something
Is it possible that William Shakespeare was the nom-de-plume of Christopher Marlowe, the 16 century English playwright? This site explores the evidence and the conflicting viewpoints.
- Sites suitable for students:
- Spark Notes
- Study Site: Essays, quizzes, quotations - designed for students
- Lear in Performance A nice comparison of the different film versions:
- The BBC's site.
Focuses on Lear in production, with interviews with actors, directors and critics
- Cliffnotes Quiz
- A Shakespeare Glossary
- Shakespeare's language
- In Search of Shakespeare
A PBS resource to support the television series which includes, teaching resources, a playwright game and information on Shakespeare's life and times.
- No Fear Shakespeare
A site which presents the language of Shakespeare's plays side-by-side with a facing-page translation into modern English.
- Images of Lear from several centuries:
- Links pages:
- Online Criticism links:
- Essay Questions
- Cyber Essays:
Several Reasonable Essays here