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

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