Engaging with the text

Enjoy the text

  • If studying the play becomes a chore, you will gain little from it
  • Although the language may seem unfamiliar, even difficult, at first, most people find they have no difficulty following the play once they see it performed
  • King Lear is a play which is full of thought-provoking issues such as the rights and responsibilities of the parent/child bond, what justice entails, the nature of humanity … all sorts of questions which have engrossed audiences and scholars for generations – allow yourself to think! 

Remember that King Lear is drama

  • Seen as the supreme acting challenge for older actors, King Lear is performed regularly on stage. Try to see it live in the theatre, so that you start to become aware of the possibilities of different interpretations by actors and directors
  • If it is not possible to see a live performance, there are various productions available on DVD
  • If you find yourself disagreeing with a director’s interpretations ask yourself why – you clearly have your own opinions and responses, which is the aim of studying the text.

Get to know the text

There is no substitute for reading the text - several times. 
  • Familiarising yourself with the events, ideas and language of King Lear takes time, but is essential if you are to have your own well-informed response to it
  • Critics and study-guides may suggest approaches BUT ultimately it is your opinion which counts, based on your own knowledge and understanding.

Know the complete text

Examiners often report that students seem to know the start of a play or novel well, but not the end. Study in class may tend to focus on the beginning of a text, where the writer introduces characters, themes and imagery to the reader, and then to become less detailed as the class grows more familiar with these concepts. So:
  • Do not ignore the impact of significant scenes later in the play
  • Do not forget how characters can change during the play
  • If you are planning to re-read the text several times for revision, make sure that you do not always start at the beginning
  • Once you are very familiar with the play in its normal beginning-to-end structure, try reading Act V first, then Act IV, and so on; this will give you new insights into cause and effect.

Listen to the text

The language Shakespeare uses is carefully chosen and structured; it is, in fact, poetry. In order fully to appreciate his use of blank verse you need to hear it.
  • Listening to a professional recording of the text will help
  • An even better method is to read it out loud yourself, or with a group of friends
  • Making a recording of yourselves gives you a recording for revision purposes.

Analyse the text

In order to ensure that you are fully aware of the playwright’s techniques and use of language:
  • Make notes under specific headings, such as, for example, ‘Edmund’, ‘Kent’, ‘images of chaos’, ‘references to seeing’
  • Take a key word from an essay question (see also Possible essay questions) or from the list of Themes and Images, and list everything you can think of in King Lear, including relevant supporting quotations, related to that point – e.g. to loyalty, to judgement, to Cordelia.
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.