Introduction

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Last Updated on September 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 531

So you’re going to teach King Lear. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of King Lear has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenging spots, teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into King Lear’s drama of political intrigue and the familial tragedy surrounding Lear’s abdication from power, his daughters’ competition for the throne, and his quest to understand himself in a complex and cruel world. This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching.

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  • Facts at a Glance 
  • Publication Date: 1606 
  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level: 12 
  • Approximate Word Count: 26, 150 
  • Author: William Shakespeare 
  • Country of Origin: England 
  • Genre: Tragedy 
  • Literary Period: English Renaissance 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Supernatural, Person vs. Self 
  • Setting: 8th Century BCE 
  • Structure: Five-Act Stage Drama 
  • Mood: Dramatic, Suspenseful, Cruel


Texts That Go Well With King Lear

“The Absent Mother in King Lear,” a 1986 essay by Coppélia Kahn, provides a detailed, modern, feminist reading of King Lear. In addition to providing an extensive close reading of the text, Kahn argues that Lear’s, and his society’s, tragic flaw is their pervasive patriarchal worldview. 

The Dresser, a 1980 play by Ronald Harwood, revisions Lear as an aging actor whose mental illness threatens the production of King Lear in which he has been cast. The play was made into a 2015 film starring Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins. 

Fool, a 2009 novel by Christopher Moore, retells the story of King Lear from the perspective of the Fool. Moore names the Fool “Pocket,” and grants him his own set of motivations, namely the affections of Cordelia. Moore employs a blend of archaic Elizabethan diction and modern British slang, all in a comic style aimed at American readers. 

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. Penned between 1599 and 1602, this tragedy echoes many of the themes and images in King Lear. In Hamlet, the title character struggles to avenge his father’s murder by his uncle, who has quickly married his mother in the aftermath of the crime. In seeking to avenge his father, Hamlet feigns and eventually descends into actual madness as he struggles with his inability to take decisive action. 

Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex), by Sophocles, provides a thematic and structural precursor to King Lear. The play dramatizes the day in which Oedipus, the king of Thebes, discovers the truth about himself—he has killed his father and married his mother—and that his attempts to defy his gruesome fate have brought it to pass. In punishment, he stabs out his own eyes. Like King Lear, Oedipus faces questions about his identity and the limits of his free will. 

A Thousand Acres, a 1991 novel by Jane Smiley, modernizes King Lear in the context of rural Iowa. The novel is told through the point of view of Ginny, the eldest daughter of an aging farmer who decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. A Thousand Acres won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1992.

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