Sample essay questions on King Lear

  1.  Goneril and Regan are not evil; they are formidable women asserting themselves in an otherwise male-dominated world. Discuss.
  2. ‘In King Lear the good characters are imaginative and the evil characters are coolly rational.’ Do you agree with this view?
  3. To what extent is King Lear a play about sacrifice?
  4. To what extent is it true that the only relationships which Lear values in the play are those he has with his daughters?
  5. ‘Chaos from conflict of authority is the very essence of the play.’ How far do you agree with this view?
  6. ‘The end of the play proves that the universe is unjust and that human suffering has no meaning.’ Evaluate this view of King Lear.
  7. ‘King Lear’s tragedy stems from the fact that he has not taken enough care of his kingdom.’ To what extent can you agree with this view?
  8. King Lear makes clear how fragile life is – how thinly divided happiness is from misery.’ To what extent is this the way you read the play?
  9. King Lear promotes patience in enduring life’s hardships rather than striving against one’s fate.’ To what extent do you accept this view?
  10. ‘Gloucester is no less a tragic figure than his king.’ To what extent can you agree with this view?
  11. By considering the dramatic effects of King Lear, evaluate the view that ‘despite the appalling suffering, the world of the play is not without hope’. 
  12. In which ways is King Lear timeless, yet clearly a play of its times?
  13. Discuss Shakespeare’s exploration of the role of language, as portrayed through King Lear.
  14. How justified are critics in regarding King Lear as a major tragedy?
  15. Discuss the contribution to King Lear of the minor roles (such as Albany, Cornwall, Oswald, Kent, the Fool).
  16. ‘A nihilistic vision of humankind which denies all hope.’ How far is this true of King Lear?
  17. How far and in what ways is Lear changed by suffering?
  18. Write an imaginary version of the letter sent by Goneril to Regan in Act 1. It should include all the specific matters which Goneril wanted to communicate to her sister but enlarge it to encompass such other matters which you consider may have been preoccupying Goneril at this stage.
  19. Consider Act 3 Scene 4. Examine:
    1. The presentation of Lear and Kent in this scene
    2. How your thoughts and feelings develop through – and are shaped by -  the passage
    3. The significance of this scene to the play as a whole
  20. Discuss the claim that King Lear is too full of improbabilities to be believable.
  21. Examine Act 1 Scene 2 from Gloucester: ‘These late eclipses ..’ to Edmund: ‘Fa, sol,la,mi.’ 
    1. What impressions of Gloucester’s and Edmund’s state of mind and character are created here, and by what means?
    2. Comment in detail on the language and movement of these two speeches.
  22. ‘At the beginning of the play, Lear is a King, a father, a master and a man. As the action develops, the first three roles are stripped from him and he is forced to consider what the last of them means.’ Show how Lear is stripped of his roles and evaluate the truth and significance of the claim that Lear is forced to consider what it means to be a man
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