Study Guide

King Lear

by William Shakespeare

King Lear eText - Reading Pointers for Sharper Insight

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Reading Pointers for Sharper Insight

Readers should be aware of the following themes and concepts in King Lear:

  1. Parents and Children

    Compare the two sets of parents and children in the play.

  2. Good and Evil

    King Lear is based on an old fairy tale. In the play, as in many fairy tales, most of the characters are either extremely good or unmistakably evil. Lear and Gloucester, in fact, are the only characters who display change and growth. Lear's change is brought on by the increasing awareness of the evil around him and the realization that he allowed it to flourish. Gloucester also succumbs to the pressure of malevolent forces, attempting drastic measures once he is aware of his own culpability.

    • What do various characters believe about good and evil? Do they feel themselves responsible, or do they blame supernatural forces like fate, devils, and celestial activities?

    • Does either good or evil clearly triumph at the end of the play?

  3. Vision vs. Blindness

    King Lear contains multiple references to vision and blindness. Lear acts blindly when he punishes his most precious child, but he gains insight through his ensuing madness. Similarly, Gloucester's is blinded by his outrage against his son; only when he actually loses his sight does he see the truth about Edgar, Edmund, and himself.

    • In what ways are the characters' actions influenced by their perspectives?

    • Note the references to sight and blindness, light and dark, truth and deception (especially when brought about by disguises).

  4. Madness

    Lear's descent into madness occurs in distinct stages; he goes from being an egotistical monarch to an enraged and humiliated father.

    • In what way is Lear's madness beneficial to him?

    • Who finally rescues Lear from madness?

    • What other “mad” characters are in the play? What usefulness does their seeming insanity have?

  5. Nature

    Elizabethan ideas about nature held that there is an order to existence—an established hierarchy that begins with the cosmos and ends with the lowest animals on earth. Chaos rules during periods when this order is disturbed, such as when Lear's power is uprooted. The storm is a sign of the disorder—both social and psychological—that develops in the play.

    • What do different characters mean by “nature”?

    • What is the “natural” relationship of parents and children?

    • Is the Fool more “natural,” more in touch with reality, than the other characters are?