Tag Archives: Reading Questions

RQ: Intro (1-40) & Richard II


Genealogy of the English MonarchyElizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)

According to Yachnin & Dawson, why does Richard II occupy “an important place in the Shakespeare canon” (1)? Why doesn’t the play get taught more often?

What does Queen Elizabeth mean when she says, ““I am Richard II know ye not that…He that will forget God will also forget his benefactors…this tragedy was played forty times in open streets and houses” (Chambers, II 326-7 (4)?

Why did supporters of the Early of Essex commission a special performance of Richard II in 1601? What came of the performance?

How and/or why does the printed text of Richard II change between the late 16th and the early 17th?

Was the deposition scene (4.1) cut from or added to the printed editions (both Q & F) after 1608? Why?

Why was the deposition more of an issue than the regicide?

According to the editors, “What thoughts can honor and allegiance not think?” (18).

What are the “king’s two bodies” and how does he get them (17)? Is the King subject to the law, or is the law subject to the King?

Who eventually deposes Richard and why?

How does the play set-up the audience as judges of affairs of state? How else the does the play position the roles of playgoers (ex:3.4 & 5.2)?

“What is the nature and source of political authority and under what circumstances is it legitimate to resist or even overthrow that authority” (21)?

What are some standard purposes of historical writing and how does Richard II meet those standards?

What is “sacral kingship” and how does it play out in Richard II?

Richard II, Act I

What does it mean that Richard refuses to arbitrate the quarrel between Bolingbroke and Mowbray?

Does it show his weakness or his that his strength comes from God b/c he allows God to arbitrate via trial by combat?

Does the courtliness get in the way of the fighting? Is it a substitute for fighting, or is the violence a substitute for courtliness? Violent rhetorical skirmish and lots of repetition, who’s all that rhetoric for?

When Richard interrupts the tournament at 1.3.55 (or so), does he interrupt God’s judgment

Why banish Bolingbroke?

Act 4

How does the phrase free speech pepper this act? How has its meaning or effect changed since the courtroom scene in act 1?

Of what does Bagot accuse Aumerle (4.1.11-13) and how does Aumerle respond?

How does act four repeat the actions and rhetoric in act 1? How is it different? What’s the point of the repetition?

Why won’t Bolingbroke let Bagot pick up Aumerle’s gage (duel challenge)?

What testimony does Fitzwater give against Aumerle? What proof does he offer? Why does he throw down his gage?

What testimony does Percy give against Aumerle? Does he offer any proof? Why does he throw down his gage?

What testimony Another Lord give against Aumerle? Does he offer any proof? Why does he throw down his gage?

Does Surrey give false testimony in the court? How can Bolingbroke know if he’s lying or not & why may the undecidability be a problem?

Why all the puns on “lie” (4.1.68-90)?

What does Aumerle do when he runs out of gloves to throw down to challenge his interlocutors?

How does Bolingbroke resolve the quarrel amongst his nobles? What can Norfolk do to help find out the truth about Gloucester’s murder (4.1.90)? Why can’t Norfolk provide testimony after all?

With what news does York interrupt the proceedings?

What does York mean when he says, “Ascend his throne, descending now from him,/And long live Henry, of that name the forth!” (4.1.112-13)? Can humans just do that, or do the intrude on divine decision?

How does Henry respond? How does Carlisle (4.1.115-50)?

Why is Richard so much more active in this scene that Henry? Are you surprised?

Why does Henry call Richard in front of the court? Why not just kill him?

What does Richard communicate through his “hollow crown” metaphor (4.1.182-89) that he could not have communicated more plainly?

What does Richard give to Bolingbroke and what does he keep for himself?

What does Richard loose and what does he gain? What’s lost with Richard? What loss do we experience?

What service does Richard ask of Henry and how does Henry respond? Does Henry grant his request?

What does Northumberland require of Richard and how does Richard respond?

How is Richard like Kate? Is he a scold?

How does York anticipate Titus Andronicus?

If Shakespeare puts absolute sovereignty on trial to be adjudicated by the audience that he has transformed into a jury, what sorts of appeals does the play make for and against sovereignty and what is your final assessment?


RQ: King Lear, Scenes 16-24



Keep the following questions in mind as you read King Lear Scenes 9-15. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

How does Oswald’s reply to Gonoril mark a turn in the plot and/or in Lear’s fortunes (16.4-11)?

Why does Edmund have to “Decline” his head to Gonoril (16.21)?

What accounts for Albany’s change in perspective? Was he already more on Lear’s side than his wife’s?

How does Albany express his disdain for Gonoril’s life choices? What sorts of metaphors does he use?

According to Albany, what sorts of things make humanity monstrous?

How does Gonoril respond to Albany’s critique of her sovereignty? Which character makes the more persuasive argument and why?

What happens to Cornwall?

How does Cordelia respond to Kent’s letters?

Why does the King of France return home?

Who/what controls human fate according to Kent? How does his POV accord with his own life trajectory?

Why won’t Lear agree to see Cordelia?

How does Cordelia describe her father?

What sorts of treatments does the Doctor prescribe for Lear?

What request does Regan make of Oswald, why? And how does Oswald respond?

How does Edgar trick Gloucester? Why does he “trifle” with his father’s “despair” (20.31)? Is he successful?

What does Edgar’s description of the vista at the Dover cliffs (20.11-23) reveal about his perspective? What does the speech reveal about perspective in general?

How is Scene 20 a miniature version of the whole play?

How does Edgar describe his father’s fall? What imagery does he use to figure the fall?

Why does Edgar change character again?

When Lear reenters at 20.80, we haven’t seen him since the end of Scene 13. How has changed? What sorts of linguistic markers suggest his transformation?

In what does Lear suggest that Gloucester might, “behold the great image of authority” (20.152)?

Where does Lear think the [First] Gentleman is taking him and how does he react?

Why does Edgar lie to his dad for a second time about who he is and where he comes from? In other words, why doesn’t Edgar reveal his real identity to Gloucester?

How does Oswald react to Gloucester when he meets he and Edgar on the road? How does Edgar react?

What requests does Oswald make of Edgar just before he dies?

What does Gonoril request Edmund do in the letter that Edgar intercepts?

How does Edgar respond? How does does Gloucester?

Why doesn’t Ken change out of his disguise in Scene 21 even though Cordelia knows who he is?

How do you respond to Cordelia’s questions 21.38-34?

How do the doctor and Cordelia attempt to cure Lear? Are they successful, why/why not?

How does Lear respond to his reunion with Cordelia? Does it break your heart?

How does Edmund deal with his two girlfriends problem?

Compare the processions with which Scene 23 opens to the procession in Scene 1, and compare the two sets of Father/Child in the opening to Scene 23.

What’s Lear’s plan for life in prison with Cordelia (24.7-19)?




RO: King Lear, Scenes 9-15



Keep the following questions in mind as you read King Lear Scenes 9-15. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

Does the play in performance give audiences on stage and/or in the theater enough time to understand what the Fool says and sings? Why or why not?

Why don’t Cornwall and Regan allow Lear and his train into Gloucester’s castle? Is there decision justified? What sorts of mistakes do they make?

Does Lear cause the storm, or vice versa? What is the relationship between the storm and Lear’s “woman’s weapons” (7.435)?

Why does Shakespeare give audiences a report of Lear in the storm before we see him out on the heath?

What secret does Kent tell the First Gentleman in Scene 8? What surety of his story does Kent offer the First Gentleman?

If you were staging Lear, how would you portrait the “Storm” in Scene 9? Why?

Whom does Lear address in the opening lines of Scene 9? How does Lear’s address compare to the Boatswain’s first few lines in The Tempest?

Is the storm magical or sentient? How is it possible, in Lear’s assessment, for the storm to “Find out their enemies now” (9.51)? Compare the power Lear attributes to the storm in 9.50-60, i.e. the storm can discover who all the villains are even if they are wearing disguises, to 11.25-33. Does the storm transform Lear, from a seemingly unsympathetic man to a deeply sympathetic one, OR, does is he another counterfeit exposed? Could you even, ever tell the difference between the two? If not, so what?

Is Lear, “More sinned against than sinning” (9.60)?

What ideas or emotions does the storm convey to stage and theater audience, as well as readers, that words cannot (11.6-20)?

What motivates Lear’s pity for Tom? Is Lear sincere? How can you tell and so what? Also, does it matter that Tom is really Edgar, disguised nobleman?

When Edgar describes Tom’s life before the hovel, is he telling the truth? If yes, assess his character. For instance, are you surprised he chose to take on the costume of a beggar?

If you were directing this play, would you have Lear take off all his clothes at “Unaccomodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art. Off, off, you lendings! Come on, be true” (11.96-99)? Why or why not? AND, can an actor really ever be naked on stage? Also, did Derrida’s cat really see him naked? Is nakedness a feature of man that separates us from animals?

Where, or even how, do you think Edgar learned to curse?

What does Poor Tom eat? For what does his diet qualify him?

What, as Lear asks, is the “cause of the thunder” (11.139)?

Why can’t Gloucester recognize his own son?

Contemporary environmental discourse is often carried on by people who don’t live and work with animals or complex ecosystems. Is Edgar part of this tradition? OR, what might an actual wandering, wildman have to contribute to conversations about environmental justice?

Does Lear’s maddness come from inside or outside?

Where are they in Scene 13?

Why do you think that several key lines and actions in Scenes 13 & 14 are missing from F1? (13.15-45; 13.91-105; & 14.96-106). What difference does it make to what comes before or what comes after if these scenes/lines are cut?

Is Lear’s condemnation of his daughters in the mock trial justified? What does he see when he anatomizes Regan?

Why does Tom/Edgar taxonomize the all those dogs even as he disperses them?

Are Regan and Cornwall’s “revenges” (14.5) against Gloucester justified, why or why not?

How does Regan and Cornwall’s interrogation of Gloucester compare with the ‘mock trial’ scene that precedes it? What happens to the rest of the play if the mock trial scene is left out?

What does Gloucester see after he looses his eyes?

Where does he ask Edgar to lead him? White_Cliffs_of_Dover_4_(Piotr_Kuczynski)



RQ: King Lear Intro. & Scenes 1-5



Keep the following questions in mind as you read Stanley Well’s Introduction and King Lear Scenes 1-5. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

Well’s Intro. (1-20)

According to Stanley Wells, why does King Lear “pose a nice philosophical problem” (8)?

When was the The True Chronicle of the Life and Death of King Lear and his Three Daughters composed? When was it printed? When was it performed?

When was The Tragedy of King Lear written, printed, and performed?

How have past editors of Shakespeare reconciled the two texts of King Lear?

How does Wells reconcile the two texts? What theories guide his editorial decisions?

Where does Shakespeare derive the plot and characters in his versions of King Lear?

Key terms: Quarto (Q1); Folio (F1); Stationers’ Register; Master of the Revels; Act to Restrain Abuses of Players (1606); and Historia regrum Britannie (1136).

Scene 1

Are the kingdoms already divided?

What is Edmund’s legal status?

Is there a connection between Gloucester’s sexual and verbal incontinence? How is he like Kate and Bianca?

Why does Lear divide his kingdom? How does he decide which sister gets which portion of land?

How much does Gonoril love her father? Does Regan improve Gonoril’s speech? Is it possible to love someone as much as they say they love their father? How much does Cordelia love her father?

Does Cordellia take the contest for the biggest portion of the kingdom too seriously? Does she transform the plot from comedy to tragedy?

What sort of test proves love? Is the entirety of the play a love test? If yes, does the ‘game’ undermine the play’s seriousness?

What are some consequences of Lear’s curse (1.100-12)?

What’s in a name?

What does Kent mean when he says, “Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak/When power to flattery bows?” (1.136-7). Is Kent out of line? Does he misread and misspeak in court? Or, are his criticism warranted?

How does Lear do Cordelia a favor by disowning her?

Why does Lear give everyone in his kingdom so much latitude to choose their futures?

When France says, “this is most strange” (1.203), to what does the ‘this’ refer? Do you agree?

What’s the trouble with sophistry? Is there any way around “that glib and oily art” (1.216)?

Compare the use of nature in Scene 1 (1.201 & 1.210) to Edmund’s use of the term in monologue at 2.1-20.

Evaluate Lear’s claim: “Better thou hadst no been born than not to have pleased me better” (1.224-25).

What’s Regan and Gonoril’s final assessment of Lear? Do you agree with them?

Scene 2

What sorts of words carry over from Scene 1 to Scene 2?

What’s the gist of Edmund’s first speech? Are you persuaded?

There is a great deal of repetition in Edmund’s opening speech. How does the meaning of the repeated words or phases shift over the course of the speech?

How/why does Edmund trick Gloucester?

Summarize the contents of the letter.

What steps does Gloucester want to take to ascertain if Edgar wrote the letter?

What’s the source of human behavior, or are eclipses bad omens?

Why does Edgar believe Edmund that Gloucester is angry with him?

Scene 3

Why does Gonoril want Lear to go stay with Regan? How does she plan to accomplish that goal?

Why does she phrase her plan as suggestions, instead of just ordering Oswald to treat her father and his retainers with negligence?

Scenes 4-5



Illumination from 15thc. MS of Historia Regum Britanniae Vortigern and Ambros watching the fight between two dragons

RQ: Shrew Acts 3, 4, & 5

DTR114681 The Wedding Dance, c.1566 (oil on panel) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69); 119.3x157.4 cm; Detroit Institute of Arts, USA; City of Detroit Purchase; PERMISSION REQUIRED FOR NON EDITORIAL USAGE; Flemish,  out of copyright

PLEASE NOTE: The Bridgeman Art Library works with the owner of this image to clear permission. If you wish to reproduce this image, please inform us so we can clear permission for you.


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Acts 3-5 of The Taming of the Shrew. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

Act 3

What purpose does education serve throughout the play?

Are the parts the characters play in Shrew, i.e. husband, daughter, servant, Lord, etc., inherited or learned?

What does Lucentio mean when he calls Hortensio a “Preposterous ass” (3.1.9)? Does this epithet describe other characters? Which ones & why?

What does Lucentio translate and how does Bianca repeat the translation?

What sort of student is Bianca? Is she different than you expected? How does she transform her suitors?

Why the contraction of sex and syntax in Shrew 3.1?

What tactics do Lucentio and Hortentio use to persuade Bianca of their suit? Which is more successful and why?

According to Biondello’s report, how does Petruccio dress for the wedding and what what sort of horse does he ride? How is his footman attired? How do Baptista, Tranio, and Biondello react? Compare their reactions to Kate’s.

How does Gremio describe Katherine and Patruccio’s wedding? Why doesn’t Shakespeare stage the wedding? Why do we just get a report?

What sound rings through the church at the end of the ceremony?

Why don’t Katherine and Petruccio stay for their wedding dinner?

Act 4

Is Shrew a criticism of excess? If so, who is the object of the criticism?

How are all the events at Petruccio’s house made possible by the initial absence of the hostess?

Compare Katherine’s education with Bianca’s.

How does education, in general, compare with the training of animals? What receives instruction, mind or body?

If the king is so absolute as to be the head, source, essence, origin, of power and hierarchy in the kingdom, then why is he so easy to imitate?

Why does Grumio rhyme so much? Why is there so much rhyming throughout Shrew?

What does Grumio tell Curtus about Petruccio and Katherine’s journey from Verona to the countryside?

What sort of lord is Petruccio? Is his managerial style successful?

What strategies does Petruccio use to “curb [Katherine’s] mad and headstrong humour” (4.1.189)?

What oath do Tranio and Hortensio swear to one another? Why does Shakespeare stage the oath the two suitors swear against (or beside) the two lovers, who also express their love for one another?

Is all school, “taming-school” (4.2.55)?

What do Tranio and Lucentio want from the Pedant? How does Tranio persuade him to comply with his request?

What sort of a host is Petruccio? What sort of hospitality does his house offer? How does Grumio imitate him? Why does he expect Katherine to do the same?

What time will Petruccio, Katherine, and the rest of the household leave for Baptista’s house?

Why is the Pedant so good at marriage contracts? Also, what are the conditions of Lucentio and Bianca’s contract?

What does Biondello mean when he says, “I cannot tarry, I knew a wench married in an afternoon as she went to the garden for parsley to stuff a rabbit, and so may you sir, and so adieu, sir” (4.5.23-25)?

The road to Padua:

Do you agree or disagree with Jean Howard’s assessment of the famous scene: “Kate calls the sun the moon and an old man a budding virgin. Her words at this point no longer express her own perceptions, but her husband’s blatantly willing the reading of reality” (179).

How might we read the scene as an interrogation of the way in which perception works? In other words, what relationship between words and things does the scene establish? 

Act 5

Why do Lucentio and Bianca marry in secret (clandestinely)?

What are the conditions of the game the men play in the final act? How much does each man wager? What does each have to accomplish to win the bet?

How does Bianca respond? How does the Widow respond? How does Katherine respond?

What do you make of 5.2.140-84?


RQ: Shrew Introduction & Induction



Keep the following questions in mind as you read Barbara Hodgdon’s Introduction (1-38) and the Induction of Taming of the Shrew. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.


According to the Introduction, what genre is Taming of the Shrew?

How does the play adapt contemporary events and literary forms?

1967 RSC Shrew Poster

How does the play draw attention to the early modern English stage practice of all male casts?

What is the relationship between The Taming of a Shrew (1594) and The Taming of the Shrew (F1 1623)? When were the plays first performed? Where were the plays first performed? (see esp. page 20 where Hodgdon lays out the three theories of the text: 1. Shakespeare copied/adapted ‘A Shrew‘ or he wrote both; 2. the ur-Shrew theory; 3. Memorial reconstruction).

How have editors resolved the problem of the two texts?

What’s a conflated edition of a text?

Nicholas Rowe

Who is Shakespeare’s editor? How have editors over the centuries shaped Shakespeare’s plays?

What does “induction” mean (23)?

What is Barbara Hogdgon’s (and by extension the edition we are reading) final word on the relationship between ‘A Shrew‘ and ‘The Shrew‘ (36-7)?

Are you surprised that there is no such thing as a true, original Shakespearean text?

What’s the relationship between the notes and the main body of the text?


Induction I

Where does Taming of the Shrew take place?

Does Christopher Sly’s name describe his character? Why are names so important to him?

What purpose does the repetition of contrast between hot and cold serve throughout the induction?

What are some of the Lord’s dog’s names? Do think it’s strange that Lord’s dogs have names when so many of the other characters in the Induction, the Lord included, only have descriptive titles, or not titles at all and are merely referred to as boy?

Compare the Lord’s treatment of Sly to his treatment of the dogs.

What does the Lord mean when he says, “Sirs, I will practice on this man” (Induction 1.35)? What sort of outcome does he predict? Do his attendants, 1 & 2 Huntsman agree?

What sorts of arrangements does the Lord ask the Huntsman to make to his chamber to convince Sly to “forget himself” (Induction 1.40)?

Are there points of contact between the Induction and The Tempest?

How does the Lord greet the players?

What sorts of instructions does he give them concerning Sly? Who else is his advice aimed at? Why is he so excited about inciting laughter only to “abate the over-merry spleen” (I.135)?

What does it mean that that everyone has to obey a Lord even if he order them to help him give his power away and undermine the very authority that binds them to his service?

Who does the Lord get to the play Sly’s “humble wife” (Induction I.115) & what instructions does the Lord tell his servant to pass along to Bartholomew?

How does the Lord’s training of Bartholomew compare to Pertuccio’s training of Katherina?

Induction II

Are you surprised by Sly’s initial reaction to the situation he finds himself when he wakes up?

Do clothes really ‘make a man’?

What sorts of evidence do the Lord and his servants offer to Sly to persuade him that he is actually “a mighty man of much descent” (II.13)?

What sorts of pictures does the Lord want to show Sly? Why will looking at a series of visually rendered, Classical rape sequences persuade Sly that he is a lord?

What finally persuades Sly that he is a lord?

Is the Lord and his household play on Sly cruel?

How does Bartholomew excuse himself from having sex with Sly? What is the connection between love/lust and madness/illness?

What are the medical properties of the play?