Suggested Essay Topics
Act I, Scene 1
1. In the play, King Lear requests his daughters’ public profession of love to him. Cordelia is often criticized for being too proud to give her father the response he wants to hear. Analyze the incident where Cordelia responds with “Nothing, my Lord.” Discuss her obedience to her father as it relates to the philosophy of the hierarchy of all beings. Support your answer with examples from the play.
2. Goneril and Regan both please King Lear with flowery speeches of love and devotion to him. Compare and contrast their attitudes before the division of the kingdom with their attitudes at the end of Scene 1. Are they completely evil? Do they show some signs of rational thought regarding the King’s future? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
Act I, Scene 2
1. In his soliloquy, Edmund addresses issues of equality and free will. Analyze these issues in the light of our modern-day society. Do you agree with Edmund? Do you disagree? Did Edmund present a law of nature with harmony and order? Use examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Act I, Scene 2 starts the action of the subplot of King Lear. Explain the subplot and tell how it parallels the main plot of the play. Describe the characters in the subplot and tell who they are analogous to in the main plot, giving examples from the play to support your answer.
Act I, Scene 3
1. Act I, Scene 3 is a short scene, but it is essential to the understanding of the play. Explain what purpose it serves. Why are Goneril’s speeches important? In what way does the scene help to clarify the deterioration of relationships? Explain your answer.
2. The theme of old age is at the heart of Goneril’s attitude toward her father. Discuss Goneril’s attitude toward old people in general. How does she view their worth? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
Act I, Scene 4
1. Lear’s Fool is often seen as a wise character in the play. Discuss the way in which he acts as a commentary on Lear’s folly. Explain why Lear tolerates his truths. Why were Kent and Cordelia banished for telling the truth? Cite examples from the play to support your view.
2. The Duke of Albany has a “milky gentleness” that annoys his wife Goneril. Explain their marriage relationship in light of the hierarchy of nature prevalent in Shakespeare’s time. How does this hierarchy apply to Goneril’s attitude toward her husband and father. Give examples from the play to support your answer.
Act I, Scene 5
1. Lear has lived in a world of deception and illusion thus far in the play. Discuss Lear’s illusory world in relation to his three daughters. Compare these illusions to the new insights he is gaining at the end of Act I. How does he feel about his daughter Cordelia at this point in the play? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Lear has made a decision to leave his daughter Goneril’s palace and live with Regan instead. How do you think he feels as he contemplates this move? Does he feel sure Regan will welcome him? Discuss his guilt abut Cordelia. Explain your answer.
Act II, Scene 1
1. The subplot often functions to give depth and a clearer perception of the characters and the action in the play. Compare this scene to the first scene of the play. In what way do Lear and his daughters compare to Gloucester and his sons? Discuss the analogy between Edgar and Cordelia. Cite examples from the play to support your argument.
2. Edmund’s speeches in this scene are filled with irony. Discuss the irony in his account of his alleged conversation with Edgar. Why are these lines in opposition to Edgar’s beliefs? Use examples from the play to support your answer.
Act II, Scenes 2 and 3
1. Kent has been portrayed as an honest character thus far in the play. Discuss his honesty in the light of his banishment and his time in the stocks. Compare the honest characters to the deceitful characters in the play. Is Kent’s blunt honesty necessary? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Kent and Edgar both assume disguises in the play. Compare and contrast their reasons for the disguise. Discuss the differences in their physical disguises. How are their disguises alike? Is Edgar in greater danger than Kent? Explain your answer.
Act II, Scene 4
1. The Fool’s purpose in the play is to comment on the action. Discuss the poem that begins “Fathers that wear rags.” Explain the metaphors in this poem. How do they apply to Lear and his daughters? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Lear’s daughters have usurped his power by depriving him of his entire train of followers by the end of the scene. Compare and contrast the characters of Goneril and Regan in this scene. How are they alike? How are they different? Why does the King call them “unnatural hags? Give examples from the play to support your answer.
Act III, Scene 1
1. The Fool has been censuring his master for his lack of judgment as a king but stays with him and helps alleviate his suffering in the storm on the heath. Write an essay discussing the Fool’s loyalty to the King in the storm. Why is he critical of the King? Why does he stay with him when others desert him? Cite examples from the play to prove your point.
2. Cordelia seems to be associated with Kent thus far in the play. Both have been banished, but she has stayed in touch with Kent. Compare and contrast the characters of Cordelia and Kent. How do they personify the good or evil inherent in the play? Explain your answer using examples from the play.
Act III, Scene 2
1. In Shakespeare’s day, there were relatively few stage props in the theater. Discuss the way in which Shakespeare sets the scene through the character of King Lear. Discuss Lear’s use of metaphorical language to depict the storm. Relate the outer storm to Lear’s inner turmoil in this scene. Give examples to support your answer.
2. The storm on the heath is viewed by Lear as a punishment to the people for their wrongdoings. Write an essay analyzing the idea that storms were a punishment by God. Discuss the storm in relation to the loss of King Lear’s power and the resulting chaos after he divided his kingdom between his two daughters. Cite illustrations from the play to support your view.
Act III, Scene 3
1. Edmund is seen as a depraved character throughout the play. Write an essay comparing his behavior in this scene to his first speech...
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