King Lear

Discussion Questions

Pre-Production

What do students already know of the story of King Lear?

What do students already know about William Shakespeare?

This production of King Lear is interpreted from a First Nations point of view. Does this constitute an adaptation of the play?  Is it fair to take an existing story and tell it in a different way, to make a point? Shakespeare himself rewrote earlier stories. The Lion King reinterprets Hamlet. West Side Story retells Romeo and Juliet. Is this a good idea? What is gained and what is lost?

What are treaties? How do they work? Are they/have they been effective? Why? Why not?

Does anyone have the right to demand love? Why? Why not?

Why are issues around inheritance so complex? What is at stake for those involved? Have students conduct some research on the way various cultures deal with inheritance and report back to the class. Were they surprised by any rituals or ceremonies they discovered?

Post-Production

Which of the following statements seems most true to your experience of seeing King Lear, and why:

  • This is a play about family (clan, tribe, nation) and politics within families.
  • This is a play about an individual’s passage toward wisdom.
  • This is a play about land, power, and inheritance.
  • This is a play about a new order overtaking an older tradition, and the chaos that ensues.
  • This is a play about transformation and humanity.

If you have another theme in mind, write your own statement about the play, and defend it to the class.

“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’gods, They kill us for their sport.”

The Duke of Gloucester makes this bleak observation, realizing that he has disowned the son who loves him, protected the son who plots to kill him, and is blinded for protecting Lear during the storm.  His world, like Lear’s, has been brutally overthrown.  Is this Shakespeare’s message in this play – man is insignificant and powerless, justice is impossible and the gods deal with us as they wish? Discuss.

King Lear is a play full of contradictions and possible interpretations, and one can argue about it endlessly. Is it just a sad and brutal story, or does it offer hope and reconciliation? In the context of the First Nations-based visioning of this production, how do you interpret the final scene between Cordelia and Lear? What does it imply about the future?  For the First Nations? For the British?

Disguise is a major dramatic element in this play and is used for many purposes. Who disguises themselves, and why? (Sometimes disguise may not involve changing appearance, but depends more on behaviour.)

The natural world is very present in King Lear. Discuss the instances when that world intrudes on the affairs of men: how do you interpret the storm, the reference to recent eclipses, the other natural phenomena? How does the telling of Lear’s story from a First Nations point of view affect our perceptions of the natural world? (Hint: refer to the exercise “Nature is Watching” in the Activities section of this guide to extend the learning on this topic).

Blindness is an important dramatic element, and it can involve actual inability to see or symbolic blindness. Who are the characters who are blind in this play (both literally and symbolically) and who regains sight?

Discuss how the Fool interacts with Lear, and what his use is to Lear. Compare the role of the Fool in this play with that of the Trickster in First Nations’ lore.

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