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King Lear Themes Lesson Plan

by eNotes

  • Release Date: February 28, 2020
  • Subjects: Language Arts and Literature
  • Age Levels: Grade 10, Grade 11, Grade 12, and Grade 9
  • Pages: 22
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Document Details


Theme Revealed Through Motif in King Lear:

This lesson plan focuses on Shakespeare’s use of literary motifs to develop themes in King Lear. Students will specifically examine the motif of sight and blindness in the play, analyzing what it reveals about King Lear and Gloucester and how it contributes to social themes in the drama. In studying the motif, students will be better able to describe the dynamic natures of Lear and Gloucester’s characters as well as how their literal and figurative blindness contributes to themes in the play.

Learning Objectives: 
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to

  • identify and describe examples of motifs in the text; 
  • describe the parallel plot structure of the play; 
  • describe how Lear and Gloucester’s characters develop over the course of the play; 
  • analyze and explain how social themes are revealed through motifs.

Common Core Standards: RL.1, RL.2, RL.3, RL.4

Introductory Lecture:

At its surface, William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Lear is a family drama that follows two aging fathers, King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester, as their children take control of their lives and legacies. Despite their life experience and social standing, the opening scenes reveal the inability of the two fathers to see the true nature of their children around them. When Lear challenges his daughters to a contest of affection, he is blind to the flattery of his two eldest daughters and equally blind to the honest moderation of his youngest daughter. Meanwhile, Gloucester is blind to the anger and trickery of his younger son and blind to the inherent goodness of his older son.

For Lear, the storm of personal crisis worsens when his eldest daughters cast him out into a literal squall, where he is stripped of the final trappings of his abdicated kingship. Without crown, castle, or knights, Lear is sent into the night. In the wilderness, his clothes are shredded, and his mind veers from sanity. As he howls and rants on his descent from king to madman, Lear reveals the extent of his blindness: as king, he was as blind to the true natures of his courtiers, his daughters, and himself. As king he thought he ruled over people and nature alike; in the storming heath, he is as fully ravaged by Nature, Time, and human evil as anyone else.

In act 4 Lear—now bumbling and wearing a crown of flowers—reunites outside Dover with another individual ravaged by nature, time, and humanity: Gloucester. Having had his eyes gouged out, Gloucester wanders the heath guided by Edgar, his older son. In their interactions, the two men banter about Gloucester’s blindness and bemoan their experiences, using sight and blindness as a motif through which to address their concerns and changes in social standing.

Studying Lear and Gloucester is no simple task: their characters evolve—and devolve—as heads of state, as fathers, and as self-aware individuals. These layers of selfhood give the characters—particularly Lear—the depth that has caused them to be regarded as some of the greatest tragic heroes in Western literature and the Shakespearean canon.

As a prominent motif with literal and figurative significance, sight can act as a path by which readers of Shakespeare may enter King Lear, a play known for its varied meanings and complicated structure.


Our eNotes Lesson Plans have been developed to meet the demanding needs of today’s educational environment. Each lesson incorporates collaborative activities with textual analysis, targeting on discrete learning objectives. We've aligned all of these lessons to particular Common Core standards, and we list the specific standard met by each lesson. The main components of each plan include the following:

  • An introduction to the text
  • A step-by-step guide to lesson procedure
  • Previous and following lesson synopses for preparation and extension ideas
  • A collection of handouts and worksheets complete with answer keys

Each of these lesson plans focuses on promoting meaningful interaction, analytical skills, and student-centered activities, drawing from the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and the expertise of classroom teachers. Each lesson includes an instructional guide on how to present the material, engage students in an activity, and conclude the class.

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