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Lecture Notes on Shakespeare's King Lear: Topics for discussion Act by Act and Essay Questions

From Macbeth and King Lear, by Jessie K. Curtis, published by University of the State of New York Extension Department.

Lectures 6-10


King Lear is, indeed, the greatest achievement in poetry of the Teutonic, or Northern genius. — Dowden

The greatest dramatic poem in all literature. — R. G. White

King Lear is one of the most complex of Shakespeare's tragedies. — Moulton

Thtre is perhaps no play that holds the attention so strongly as King Lear. — Coleridge

King Lear is the best of Shakespeare's tragedies, for it is the one in which he is the most in earnest. — Hazlitt

Lear, the grandest of Shakespeare's tragedies. — Mrs Jameson

As terror in Macbeth reaches its utmost height, in King Lear the science of compassion is exhausted. — A. W. Schlegel

1 From what source did Shakespeare get his stories for this drama?
2 What is the connection between the Gloucester story and the Lear?
3 What era is pictured in this tragedy?
4 What is its sentiment?
5 How is unity preserved?

Lecture 6


Act I

There's beggary in the love that can be reckoned. — Shakespeare

We waste our best years in distilling the sweetest flowers of life into love potions. — Longfellow

Do not devour thy heart. — Diogenes Laertius

1 Is Lear insane in the first act?
2 Give causes and reasons if so.
3 What soul truth is violated in this sale of the affections?
4 Has history any parallel to this surrender of the kingdom?
5 Give resemblances and differences to the surrender of Lear's kingdom.
6 What wrong has Lear done?
7 Does Lear show himself a judge of character? Give examples.
8 Why had he not learned the nature of Goneril and Regan?
9 How does Cordelia show her characteristics?
10 What are they?
11 With what hero of Shakespeare's is she a direct contrast?
12 How is she usually ranked among Shakespeare's women?
13 How is Cordelia's marriage a rebuke to Lear?
14 Where does Shakespeare give the key to this drama?
15 What excuse has Edmund for his conduct?
16 In what is he like Richard 3?
17 How does Edmund's belief about evil differ from his father's?
18 What characteristic in each explains this?
19 Has Goneril any excuse for her conduct?
20 What does Kent personify?
21 What character is the opposite of Kent?
22 How is he ranked among Shakespeare's characters?
23 Give the special reason for giving each their rank.
24 What is the fool?
25 Why is he needed?
26 What served the same purpose in the Greek drama?
27 Wherein lies "the sublimity" of the fool's sayings?
28 Is this kind of humor in keeping with the grandeur of this tragedy?
29 In what form is Lear's curse to his daughter given?
30 Can you find a parallel to this in Shakespeare?
31 Is Lear's fear of madness in accordance with medical science?
32 With what feelings do we regard Lear in this act?

Lecture 7


Act 2

Blow, blow, thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind,
As man's ingratitude. — Shakespeare

You have a law, lords, that without remorse
Dooms such as are belepr'd with the curse
Of fold ingratitude unto death. — Beaumont and Fletcher

Besotted, base ingratitude. — Milton

1 Why is Gloucester so easily deceived by Edmund?
2 How does he differ from Lear in his treatment of his child?
3 What reason is there for setting Kent in the stocks?
4 Why does he sleep so contentedly in such a place?
5 Why is Edgar a difficult character for the actors?
6 How does he show himself the most Christian character in this entire drama?
7 What is his natural character?
8 How is this a fault?
9 How are we led to hope that Regan will be kind to Lear?
10 What fickleness does Lear show?

11 Is this characteristic of him?
12 What new lesson has he learned in life?
13 Why does the fool put extremes of cruelty and kindness in the same family?
14 Does Regan defend her sister from sisterly affection?
15 How does she show herself more cruel than Goneril?
16 To what false idea does Lear still cling?
17 How have our feelings changed toward Lear since Act I?
18 What does the purchased love become?
19 Define this by antithetical words.
20 Give resemblances and difference in Regan and Goneril.
21 What has each inherited from the father?
22 How do they differ from Shakespeare's other women?
23 Have they any parallel in literature?
24 Why are they put in pairs?
25 From what animal are the terms applied to them borrowed?
26 Give other examples in literature.
27 From what source are these ideas taken?
28 Where does Lear show his fatherhood?

Lecture 8


Act 3

Hail horrors. — Milton

All is not lost; the immortal will
And study of revenge immortal hate. — Milton

In unrelenting hate. — Virgil

Devoured with the hate of hate the scorn of scorn. — Tennyson

1 How does this act rank among Shakespeare's dramas?
2 What does Snider call it?
3 To what geologic era would you compare it?
4 What reason is there in this tumult?
5 What is the result of this tempest?
6 Why is the storm introduced?
7 How does the storm affect the brain of Lear?
8 What mercy in Lear's madness?
9 How does Edgar affect him?
10 Should the insane be put with the insane?
11 How does age affect native or acquired traits?
12 What relation between the passions and nature?
13 What is the effect of the storm on Lear?
14 Is the gibberish of Edgar in keeping with the sublimity of this act?
15 To what work of art can this act be compared?
16 In what is the unity in each?
17 Which has the most powerful effect, poetry or painting? Why?
18 Show the pathos in this act.
19 What feelings influence the reader?
20 To what does passion change in Lear?
21 What lesson does Lear learn from Edgar?
22 What lesson does he teach English kings?
23 How is Lear a prophecy?
24 What suggestions may Carlyle have found in Lear that he has elaborated into a book?
25 How do doctors regard Lear's insanity?
26 How many cases of unquestionably genuine insanity has Shakespeare given?
27 What quality has been quickened in Lear by the loss of reason?
28 Can you find any parallel to this in the loss of other faculties?
29 What is the trial of the stools?
30 What character disappears in this act? Why?
31 Why does Shakespeare give all the disgusting realism of the plucking out of Gloucester's eyes?
32 What change of the action begins in this act?
33 What feelings are excited by Act 3?

Lecture 9


Act 4

Unbounded courage and compassion joined. — Addison

It is the secret sympathy,
The silver link, the silken tie
Which heart to heart and mind to mind,
In body and in soul can bind. — Scott

1 What is the effect of Gloucester's blindness on his character?
2 In what does Gloucester place his hope after his blindness? Why?
3 How does Goneril show herself at the worst?
4 Which seems most vile, a good quality perverted or one that is entirely evil?
5 What is Albany's character?
6 Why has his better nature been hidden from us?
7 What was needed to fully arouse him?
8 Is this true to human nature?
9 Why was it necessary to have the French king recalled?
10 What new traits are shown in Cordelia?
11 Does she lose womanliness in becoming a warrior?
12 How could this be construed into a compliment to Queen Elizabeth?
13 What family relationship has Cordelia assumed?
14 What one virtue have Goneril and Regan lost?
15 Was it necessary to show them any worse than in the previous acts?
16 What lesson has Edgar learned out of his experiences?
17 To what has Lear's madness turned?
18 What does he give as the cause of his calamity?
19 Why is Gloucester's sin punished by blindness, Lear's by madness?
20 What feeling has this extreme of justice, in this judgment of their sins, awakened in the reader?
21 What new trait does the battle bring out in Gloucester?
22 What opportunity does Edgar have to show his love for his father?
23 What further purpose does his Act serve?
24 Why is music furnished for the meeting of Lear and Cordelia?
25 What is the effect of music on the insane?
26 Give some important example.
27 How does Cordelia meet her father?
28 What change has been wrought in her character?
29 Wherein did Cordelia resemble her sisters in the first act?
30 Wherein does she show herself like her father in this act?
31 Why was this quality especially aggravating to Lear?
32 What feeling is aroused by this entire act?

Lecture 10


Act 5

John 15:13.

Where once thou lovest, thou lovest forever. — Quarks

The offended suffering in the offender's name. — Dryden

"Love descends more abundantly than it ascends."

1 Why must Cordelia be defeated?
2 Who is the real victor?
3 On what side is the victory?
4 What is Albany's character in this act?
5 In what does his nature differ from all other characters in this play?
6 Why does not Edgar enter the battle?
7 What quality does Cordelia show as a prisoner?
8 What makes the prison a palace to Lear?
9 What new quality has Lear developed?
10 What one quality has he kept in all the changes of fortune?
11 What reason has Edgar for desiring the deaths of Lear and Cordelia?
12 What has given him this reason?
13 Why must this be a part of the plot?
14 What are Edmund's excellences?
15 What one quality have most villains?
16 Do Shakespeare's villains always have this quality?
17 Why is long companionship in sin uncommon?
18 What law of evil is illustrated in this drama?
19 How does love in Goneril and Regan differ from love in Cordelia?
20 What lesson is taught by this?
21 What virtue does Edmund show at death?
22 Is this conversion or in accordance with his previous character?
23 Wherein is Lear the sanest of all?
24 What is the effect of a powerful crisis in life on the insane?
25 What has changed Lear?
26 How is this death-scene ranked?
27 Does Lear still show anger?
28 Has he changed in character?
29 What quality does Albany show?
30 What causes Lear's death?
31 Does he die insane?
32 Why must Cordelia die?

General questions

1 What is the religious setting of King Lear?
2 What Christian lesson does it teach?
3 What problem in life does it solve?
4 What quality of the mind does it demand in the reader?
5 How does the action of fate differ from fate in the Greek drama?
6 What article of a religious creed does it illustrate?
7 What is the difference between thought in Hamlet and thought in Lear?
8 What causes "the superb language of Lear?"
9 How does its diction rank in literature?
10 With the grouping of what work of art can the plot of Lear be compared?
11 Give resemblances and differences.
12 In what way is unity preserved?
13 What artist tells one story by another? Give examples.
14 Give an example from the Bible.
15 In what is this like the play of Lear?
16 Compare Lear to Pere Goriot.
17 What striking contrast between the two?
18 Why was the acting of King Lear forbidden under one of the Hanoverian kings?

Topics for papers

1 The hunger of love.
2 Ingratitude.
3 What is charity or love?
4 The serpent in literature.
5 Man symbolized by animals.
6 Tyranny.
7 The patriotism of Shakespeare.
8 The loyalty of Shakespeare.
9 Does Shakespeare believe in kings?
10 The medical knowledge of Shakespeare.
11 The woman of Shakespeare, an anti-Bacon argument.
12 The wits of Shakespeare, an anti-Bacon argument.
13 Age in Shakespeare.
14 The family relations in Shakespeare.
15 Why so few mothers in Shakespeare?
16 Shakespeare's religious ideas.
17 Divine justice in Shakespeare.
18 The creative quality in Shakespeare.
19 The Greek and the English drama.
20 Shakespeare's truth to the era he pictures.
21 What were Shakespeare's sympathies politically?
22 Advantages from studying Shakespeare.
23 Epithets and phrases, and qualifying terms of Shakespeare.
24 Americanisms from Shakespeare; did Shakespeare use the speech of the people, or did our fore-fathers learn their speech from Shakespeare?
25 The miracle of Shakespeare; does the Bacon theory explain it?
26 Was Shakespeare better educated than Burns?

References for lectures 6-10

Brigham, A. Shakespeare's illustrations of insanity (see Am. journal of insanity, i: 27-41).
Farren, W. King Lear (see Lond. mag. 10: 79).
King Lear and his court (see Hogg's instructor, new sen 6: 161-63).
King Lear as Shakespeare wrote it (see Colburn's new month, mag. 41:218-23).
Lear (see Blackwood's mag. 5: 228-29).
Lear's fool (see Cornhill 52: (or new ser. 5) 365-86).
Ray, Isaac. Insanity (see Am. jour, of insanity 3: 289-332).
Salvini, Tomasso. Impressions of King Lear (see Cent. 5: 563-66).
Salvini on Shakespeare, King Lear (see Theater 15, ser. 4, 2: 299-306).
Swinburne, A. C. The three stages of Shakespeare (see Fortn. mag. 25 (new ser. 19) 24-45).
White, R. G. King Lear (see Atlan. mo. 45: 824-36; 46: 111-21).


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