King Lear Reading Questions

We will be reading the version of the play called the “Conflated Text” that begins on p. 2493. I’ll explain briefly in class why it is that theNorton Shakespeare has THREE different versions of the play!

Act I:

1. How are Gloucester’s two son’s related to one another (1.1.12-15, 18-23)?

2. What reason does Lear give for dividing his kingdom among his three daughters in his opening speech? Remember that parent’s don’t typically leave an inheritance until after they are dead! What are the conditions Lear makes his two daughters agree to when he divides the kingdom between them? And what happened to the third?

4. What council does Kent attempt to give Lear, and how does Lear respond? (1.1.168-180)

5. We are told in the opening that Cordelia has two suitors. By the end she has only one. What happens to the other?

6. Edmund forges a letter in Edgar’s hand and shows it to their father. What is “Edgar” proposing in this letter? What reasons does he give? (1.2.45-52)

7. How does Goneril instruct her servant to treat Lear in 1.3? Does this violate Lear’s stipulations (see above)? What is his response when Lear summons him (line 39 ff.)? What does Oswald call Lear that so upsets him?

8. Note that the Fool, in his way, is criticizing the King for his behavior. How, specifically, has Lear gone wrong, according to the Fool?

9. What is Goneril complaining about in 1.4.212 and 299-305? How does Lear respond (1.4.273-287)?

Act II:

10. In case you missed what Edmund was hinting at in the forged letter (1.2.45ff.) and in his falsified report (67ff.): take a look at his explanation of how he received his wound at 2.1.45.

11. Take special note of these two pronouncements: Edmunds’, “Well, then,/ Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land” (1.2.16) and Gloucester’s, “and of my land,/Loyal and natural boy, I’ll work the means/To make thee capable” (2.1.84-6.). According to the Norton gloss, what does “capable” mean here?

12. In 2.2.132, Kent is put in the stocks. In what respect is this a violation of the conditions Lear stipulated when he gave away his kingdom (1.1.132ff)? To answer this question, you will have to consider the objection both Kent and Gloucester raise to this punishment. What other insults has Lear suffered since “divesting” himself at the beginning of the play?

Acts III and IV:

  1. In 3.1 and 3.2, what details suggest Lear’s descent into bestiality? What traces to you see of his humanity? How has Edgar transformed himself? In what way are their states similar?
  2. In 3.3, Edmund latches on to an important piece of information and he will shortly use it against his father. What is it?
  3. What characteristics of Poor Tom associate him with animals in 3.4? Take note of how interested Lear becomes in this person!
  4. In 3.5, Edmund attains his self-proclaimed goal. Where in the text does this happen?
  5. Note all the mentions of Dover in this Act. Where is Dover? Can you figure out what is happening there?
  6. 3.7 may well be the most agonizing scene in all of Shakespeare. There is, however, a redeeming touch. What is it?
  7. Who wounds Cornwall and why is this so shocking? Who kills the First Servant and why is this so shocking? To whom is the blinded Gloucester entrusted at the end of the Act?
  8. What changes about Edgar over the course of this act (as marked, especially, at 4.6.216)? What explains this change?
  9. What does Gloucester offer to Edgar in 4.1? On what condition? Does he ever give it to him?
  10. How does Goneril respond when she hears the news of Gloucester’s blinding in 4.2?
  11. In 4.5, Regan is anxious to hear about a letter Goneril sent to Edmund. Why?
  12. 4.6 is an extraordinary scene, so pay careful attention to it. Edgar (as Poor Tom) convinces Gloucester that he has jumped from the cliffs of Dover and survived–but what has actually happened?

Act V:

1. First, one question from Act IV: At the end of 4.6, Oswald tries to kill Gloucester, thinking he can earn a bounty, but is himself killed by the disguised Edgar. Just before he dies, he gives Edgar a letter from Goneril. What does the letter say? What does Edgar later do with the letter?

2. When Lear and Cordelia are captured at the beginning of 5.3, Lear asks to be put in prison with his daughter (lines 8-19). What metaphor does he use to describe their captivity?

3. When Edmund proclaims at 5.3.173 that “the wheel has come full circle,” what (or whom), according to your note, is he alluding to?

4. What does Edmund hear that finally makes him feel regret for his actions? What does he do to try and make amends for the problems he has caused?

5. When Lear comes onto stage with Cordelia, what does he say? Why are these, perhaps, appropriate “words” for him to utter at this point?

6. Try to make note of the fate suffered by everyone at the end of the play: who dies (how?), and who is left to endure “the weight of this sad time” (5.3.322)?