Seeing, Storms and Madness: King Lear

Unit Plan

Mark Osborne
Adapted by Mark Rounds
(College Prep-Honors)
6 weeks

California Language Arts Content Standards
Standards Addressed in this Unit
2.0Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.2 Write responses to literature:
  1. Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the significant ideas in works or passages.
  2. Analyze the use of imagery, language, universal themes, and unique aspects of the text.
  3. Support important ideas and viewpoints through accurate and detailed references to the text and to other works.
  4. Demonstrate an understanding of the author's use of stylistic devices and an appreciation of the effects created.
  5. Identify and assess the impact of perceived ambiguities, nuances, and complexities within the text.
3.0 Literary Response and Analysis
Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text
3.2 Analyze the way in which the theme or meaning of a selection represents a view or comment on life, using textual evidence to support the claim.
3.4 Analyze ways in which poets use imagery, personification, figures of speech, and sounds to evoke readers' emotions.
Supporting Standards


Smiley Select and adapt these learning activities to best meet the needs of your students, and to fit the time available:

  1. Setting the scene:

    • How they lived: Background materials on Elizabethan Society

    • New 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.

  2. Pre-reading exercise

    Read 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.

    CinderellaKing Lear
    A poor but honest protagonist
    two wicked sisters
    a fairy God-mother
    distant time
    A disinherited but honest protagonist
    two wicked sisters
    no fairy God-mother
    pre-historic England

    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?)

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. Characters

    • 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:

    • Cordelia
      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.

      Mutual Dictation 1
      Mutual Dictation 2
      Mutual Dictation 3
      Mutual Dictation 4
      Mutual Dictation 5

      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.

  6. 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.

  7. Language:

  8. Imagery:
    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.

    Related essays:

  9. 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.

  10. Summary:
    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?


Homework Ideas:


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
Group 1
Essay Analysis
Group 1
Essay Questions
Group 2

Essay Analysis
Group 2
Essay Questions
Group 3
Essay Analysis
Group 3

Mark these essays according to the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam) Response to Literature/Expository Text Scoring Guide.