Welcome to the study guide for King Lear. In it you will find information about the play and the historical context in which it was written, along with that in which this production is set. In order to prepare your class to see the performance, David Dean has supplied background information on Shakespeare and the time in which King Lear was written. Suzanne Keeptwo has provided in-depth research on relations between the First Nations of Canada and the British Colonial powers of the 17th century as well as character interpretations with a First Nations’ point of view. Janet Irwin has provided pre- show and post- show discussion questions and exercises that are intended to engage students and prompt them to think creatively about both the form and content of the play.
King Lear from a First Nations’ Point of View
In Peter Hinton’s revisioning of Shakespeare’s King Lear, we see Lear, an aging First Nations chief, in the early days of the long history of treaty-making between his people and the British colonial powers. As the play opens, he has just signed a treaty with the Crown, and is regretting the decision. The resulting loss of ancestral lands, and the erosion of Lear’s sense of self, fuels his decision to cast off the responsibilities of leadership (while retaining the privileges) and turn to his inheriting daughters for comfort and support. A sense of tension and impending dissent colour the startling opening scene where Lear demands avowals of love from his daughters in exchange for portions of the land. When Cordelia fails to say what he wants to hear, he disowns her and casts her out of the family.
The decision we don’t see – the treaty signing - and the ramifications of the colonial presence and power on traditional lands, plus his sense that he has betrayed his people, feed Lear’s irrational behaviour, and descent into madness.
Study guide written by Suzanne Keeptwo with additional content by David Dean and Janet Irwin.