Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2739
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 in Act I, Scene 2. What were his aspirations in this soliloquy? Is he beginning to fulfill his desires in life by Act III, Scene 3? Cite examples from the play to support your view.
2. Gloucester’s actions are commendable in this scene. Discuss Gloucester’s courage in defying Cornwall and Regan. Why is he courageous? What are his motives? Is he a loyal subject of the King? Explain your answer.
Act III, Scene 4
1. Lear’s prayer is a turning point from self-pity to compassion for the “houseless heads” and “unfed sides” who are left to fend for themselves in the storm. Write an essay comparing and contrasting Lear’s prayer with his speeches in the rest of the scene. Does he show compassion to others in this scene? If so, in what way? Cite examples from the play to support your view.
2. Lear sees Edgar, disguised as Tom o’ Bedlam, representing “the thing itself; unaccommodated man.” Write an essay explaining the meaning of these words in relation to the rest of the scene. Why does Lear wish to become like Edgar? Why does he tear off his clothes? Give examples from the play to defend your answer.
Act III, Scene 5
1. Edmund is the epitome of deception, manipulating Cornwall for his own advantage. Write an essay demonstrating the irony of his relationship with Cornwall in this scene. How does Edmund deceive the Duke? Why is this deception ironic? What does Cornwall gain from his contact with Edmund? Cite examples from the drama to support your point.
2. Cornwall plans to avenge Gloucester for supplying secret information to the King of France. Discuss Gloucester’s threat to Cornwall. Why has Cornwall forbade him to see King Lear? How would Gloucester’s loyalty to Lear affect the new divided kingdom? Explain your answer.
Act III, Scene 6
1. The Fool is considered to be Lear’s conscience in the play. Write an essay explaining this concept. In what ways does he represent Lear’s conscience? How does he use paradox to bring out truth in the play? What forms do his wisdom usually take? Why are the Fool’s methods an effective way of exposing the truth? Use examples from the play to explain your answer.
2. Lear’s mock trial reveals the incongruity of his actions as a king. Write an essay explaining the way in which the mock trial is incongruous behavior for a king. How do the supposed legal titles of Edgar and the Fool add to that incongruity? Cite examples from the play to support your argument.
Act III, Scene 7
1. In this scene, we see one of the most shocking expressions of cruelty in all of Shakespeare’s plays. Write an essay discussing the purpose it serves. Do you think Shakespeare resorts to sensationalism for the entertainment of the audience? Relate Shakespeare’s purpose to the symbolism of sight in this scene. Use examples from the play to support your argument.
2. This scene portrays the evil characters as they meet at Gloucester’s castle. Compare and contrast the “evil” characters with the “good” characters in this scene. What virtues do the good characters possess? What vices do the evil characters portray? Are they entirely evil? Cite examples from the play to explain your answer.
Act IV, Scene 1
1. In Edgar’s soliloquy, he feels that his fortune can only get better because he has seen the worst. Write an essay explaining the concept that things cannot get any worse because they are now at their worst. Why is this idea relative? How does it apply to Edgar? How does it apply to people in general? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Gloucester states, “I stumbled when I saw.” Explicate this passage in the light of Gloucester’s renewed insight. Why did his blindness contribute to his moral regeneration? How has his suffering changed him? In what ways has he changed? Draw your examples from the play to support your idea.
Act IV, Scene 2
1. Albany invokes the heavens to vindicate the good and punish the evil. Write an essay discussing the possible results of Albany’s prediction that “Humanity must perforce prey on itself.” Explicate the passage, relating it to the views prevalent in Shakespeare’s day. What was their view of an orderly society? What did Shakespeare’s audience believe was the cause of chaos in society? Cite examples from the play to support your argument.
2. In this scene, Albany is not portrayed as the “milk-liver’d man” Goneril perceives him to be. Contrast his character in previous scenes to the changed Albany in this scene. How does his change lend hope for the future of the other characters in the play as a whole. Use examples from the play to support your answer.
Act IV, Scene 3
1. Cordelia is portrayed as a vision of queenly goodness. Write an essay characterizing her in relation to her sister Goneril. Compare the sisters’ attitudes toward their father. Why do you think Cordelia has forgiven her father for banishing her? Use examples from the play to support your opinion.
2. King Lear refuses to communicate with Cordelia in this scene. Write an essay explaining the reasons for his attitude. Is the King still angry at Cordelia for refusing to please him with flattering words of love in the first scene of the play? Has he had a change of heart? Explain your answer.
Act IV, Scene 4
1. Cordelia does not invoke the gods nor call on the stars to relieve the King’s distress. Write an essay contrasting her view to that of Kent and Gloucester in previous scenes. Does she feel the stars “govern our conditions?” Who does she call on for help in curing her father? Cite examples from the play to support your view.
2. Cordelia justifies France’s invasion of Britain as an act of love toward her father. Write an essay explaining her attempt to justify the invasion. Is it right for her to invade her homeland? How would Shakespeare’s audience have felt about it? Use examples from the play to support your answer.
Act IV, Scene 5
1. Regan and Goneril have become involved in a bitter rivalry for Edmund’s love. Write an essay explaining the way in which this rivalry is indicative of the evil characters preying on each other. What do you think this rivalry will eventually do to them? Cite examples from the play to support your view.
2. Oswald remains stoic in his encounter with Regan in this scene. Write an essay comparing Oswald in this scene to Oswald in Act II, Scene 2 where he claims to be a stranger to Kent. In what way does his attitude stay the same in both scenes? Why do you think he is considered an evil character in the play? To support your argument, use examples from the play.
Act IV, Scene 6
1. Through Lear, Shakespeare espouses the theme of appearance versus reality. Analyze Lear’s words, “Robes and furr’d gowns hide all” and explain how this entire passage supports the theme. How does the “great image of authority” apply to this theme? Support your opinion with examples from the play.
2. Lear says that we are born into “this great stage of fools.” Write an essay explaining the symbolism of these words. What does the cry of the newborn baby represent in this passage? How does it explain Lear’s rebirth? Use examples from the play to support your view.
Act IV, Scene 7
1. Through suffering, King Lear has gained knowledge and insights he did not have before. Write an essay in which you discuss those insights in relation to Cordelia, his daughter. What do Lear’s feelings have to do with his new perception of reality? What has happened to his illusory world regarding his role as the king? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Lear sees himself bound to the “wheel of fire” as he views Cordelia as a “soul in bliss.” Write an essay explaining the validity of this incongruous image. How does the image symbolize Lear’s condition in life? What is meant by Cordelia’s bliss? Give examples from the play to support your opinion.
Act V, Scenes 1 and 2
1. Edgar states that he has sworn his love to both Goneril and Regan. Write an essay explaining Edmund’s motive for his actions concerning the two sisters. Why does Edmund decide to choose Goneril in spite of the fact that Regan is a widow and free to marry? What does Edmund hope to gain from his relationship with Goneril? Give examples from the play to support your view.
2. Albany faces a serious dilemma in Act V, Scene 1. Write an essay explaining Albany’s resolution to his conflict. How does he justify fighting against the King with whom he has no quarrel? What will he do with the King and Cordelia if Britain wins the battle? Cite examples from the play to support your opinion.
Act V, Scene 3
1. Lear has gained new insights and knowledge through suffering. Write an essay discussing the experiences that have led to Lear’s realization that vain deception leads to one’s downfall. In what way had he deceived himself? What has been stripped away from Lear by the end of the play? Cite examples from the play to support your argument.
2. Kent is shocked at the death of Cordelia, thinking it might prove to be the “promis’d end.” Write an essay explicating this statement. How does it explain the beliefs of the Elizabethans and the way they saw the world? Relate this passage to their attitudes concerning the hierarchy of all beings. Give examples from the play to support your view.
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