King Lear – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

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Are you preparing to introduce your students to Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy, King Lear? If so, you have come to the right place! This gripping story’s iconic themes and lessons are wildly captivating and instantly relatable for many of today’s young scholars. In this post, we will discuss how to best plan for teaching this inspiring play by detailing key elements that should be included in each lesson sequence. So strap yourselves in – it will surely be a learning experience!

King Lear’s Storyline

Act 1

The ageing King Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. To determine who gets what amount of land and power, he requires each to make a speech praising him in return for their inheritance. Goneril and Regan do this successfully, but Cordelia refuses to participate in such games, which enrages the King, who disowns her and divides her share between the other two daughters.

Act 2

Kent, a courtier of Lear’s court, is banished by Lear after standing up on behalf of Cordelia before she is disowned. Earl of Gloucester introduces his bastard son Edmund to the court while Edgar hides nearby as a poor beggar. Edmund tricks Gloucester into believing that Edgar intends to kill him and manipulates him against Edgar. Meanwhile, Goneril quarrels with Lear over how many knights he can keep at her palace when he takes shelter there during a storm; she orders him away, making Lear angry.

Act 3

Edmund betrays Edgar and orders the captain to hang him; however, Edgar manages to escape death when Oswald intervenes, speaking in favour of Edgar. An old servant of Gloucester tells Edmund about Cornwall’s plan to blind Gloucester due to his loyalty towards King Lear. With help from Kent, who disguised himself as Caius, Lear enters Dover, where he meets with Cordelia again, whose presence adds joy and sanity to his life.

Act 4

Edmund kills Oswald following an argument about Goneril’s love interest both brothers shared: Edmund had betrayed Gloucester shortly before this event occurred. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Regan had married Cornwall while Goneril had married Albany in secret- further fueling their rivalry. The nurse brings news that Cordelia has been hanged in prison after attacking the English soldiers trying to rescue Lear. Meanwhile: When Albany discovers what Goneril has done, he disowns her immediately, calling her treacherous. In addition, it is also revealed that Edgar has been fit enough to fight despite all odds.

Act 5

The armies prepare for battle but are interrupted by news of Lear’s return with Cordelia’s corpse- a result of having been hanged upon capture by Cornwall’s army. Meanwhile, Edmund meets with a fatal end at the hands of his brother though not before realising his mistake. Albany then changes sides joining forces with Lear against Cornwall’s army. In the aftermath, everyone grieves for those lost friends and enemies alike. Shakespeare gives us closure along different motivations from almost every character.

Critical Themes in King Lear


The tragedy of King Lear is partly driven by the King’s and his daughters’ hubris. This is exemplified when King Lear divides his kingdom despite being warned not to do so, believing he knows best. Meanwhile, his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, also demonstrate similar behaviour when manipulating their father for their gain.

The Nature vs Nurture Debate

The play’s nature vs nurture debate questions whether people’s personalities are predetermined from birth or if they are formed through their environment. This is highlighted in how Cordelia differs from her sisters in terms of action as she follows her heart while they let ambition guide them.

Humility & Compassion

In contrast to the prideful characters within the play, humility and compassion are heightened by characters such as Kent, who speaks out against injustice even though it costs him his royal status; Gloucester’s willingness to forgive Edmund despite knowing he has wrongfully disinherited Edgar; and the Fool whose bantering comments hint at understanding that can be found in accepting one another’s flaws.

Sacrifice & Redemption

Sacrifice and redemption appear throughout the play, with several characters having to make difficult decisions which have a significant impact on their lives without expecting anything in return: Gloucester sacrifices himself because he knows it will help Edgar reclaim his rightful place in society; Cordelia puts her life on the line for love; and ultimately Lear offers his pride to realise that kindness should always take priority over wealth/status.

Key Characters in King Lear

Here is a list of the characters in King Lear and what they contribute to the story:

  • King Lear: An ageing monarch who impulsively decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, which leads to catastrophic consequences.
  • Cordelia: King Lear’s youngest daughter who refuses her father’s request for her to make a speech praising him in return for an inheritance, costing her dearly when the King disowns her.
  • Goneril & Regan: Two of King Lear’s daughters who manipulate their father for their benefit.
  • Edgar: Earl of Gloucester’s son and Edmund’s half-brother whom Edmund betrays by convincing their father that he plans to kill him.
  • Edmund: Earl of Gloucester’s illegitimate son who plots against Edgar and manipulates Gloucester against him.
  • Kent: A courtier of Law court who stands up on behalf of Cordelia before she is disowned and banished by Lear himself.
  • Fool: The court jester whose sarcasm is often used as a vehicle for wisdom that others fail to recognise or understand.
  • Gloucester: Earl of Gloucester introduces his bastard son Edmund to the court while hiding Edgar from sight as a poor beggar but pays dearly after being fooled by Edmund into believing Edgar wants him dead.
  • Albany & Cornwall: The powerful noblemen with whom Goneril and Regan marry, respectively, add fuel to their rivalry even further when Albany finds out about Goneril’s treacherous behaviour.

Edmund’s Motivations and Ambitions

Edmund is the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, who has always been envious of his half-brother Edgar’s status in the court. This motivates him to do whatever it takes to gain power, even if it means betraying Edgar and manipulating his father into believing that Edgar wants him dead. Edmund is ambitious and unscrupulous in his pursuit of power, willing to use any method necessary, such as deceit or manipulation, to achieve what he wants.

King Lear’s Motivations and Character Development

King Lear is an elderly king of ancient Britain who divides his kingdom among his three daughters. Initially, he values superficial qualities such as flattery and cannot see the goodness in others. As the story progresses, he realises he has been mistaken about many things and learns to value honesty over flattery. King Lear begins to recognise that his actions have consequences and begins to take responsibility for them. He also knows to put the needs of others before himself, ultimately sacrificing himself for Cordelia’s happiness at the end of the play.

The Theme of Hubris in King Lear

One of the significant themes in William Shakespeare’s play, King Lear, is hubris. This theme is seen through many of the character’s choices and actions, notably King Lear’s.

At the beginning of the play, King Lear is characterised as an arrogant ruler who places more value on hollow flattery than genuine love from his daughters. He splits up his kingdom between them according to who can flatter him the most and does not consider what might be best for everyone involved. This decision leads to chaos and suffering as Goneril, Regan, and Edmund all attempt to seize more power for themselves.

Another example of hubris in this play is Gloucester’s blind loyalty to Edgar despite evidence of his guilt. His stubbornness leads to tragic consequences when he ignores advice from Edmund, who reveals that Edgar has betrayed him. As a result, Gloucester eventually gets blinded by Cornwall and Regan before committing suicide in despair.

King Lear’s arc throughout the play highlights this theme further as he slowly begins to recognise his hubris and takes responsibility for his past mistakes. He eventually comes to terms with how foolish he has been and learns humility which makes it possible for some redemption at the end of the story.

The Consequences of King Lear’s Initial Decision

King Lear’s decision to divide his kingdom unequally among his daughters has far-reaching consequences throughout the play. For one, it leads to an internal conflict within the royal family as Goneril and Regan begin to compete for more power in the kingdom. This feud culminates in a heated exchange between Cordelia, Goneril, Regan, and their suitors, quickly spiralling out of control. Eventually, the domain becomes chaotic as Edgar and Edmund conspire against Gloucester while Cornwall and Albany are in civil war.

In addition, this decision leads to external conflict between France and Burgundy as they both try to claim Cordelia’s inheritance by attempting to marry her off. Ultimately, these quarrels led to bloodshed as French forces invaded Britain and battled against Cornwall’s army.

Finally, this sequence of events brings suffering upon characters like Edmund, who become entangled in a web of deception and betrayal due to King Lear’s initial decision. In the end, much of the tragedy in this story is a direct result of King Lear’s unfortunate division choice at the play’s start.

Conflict Between Cordelia, Goneril and Regan

The conflict between Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan is significant tension throughout King Lear. At the beginning of the play, King Lear divides up his kingdom among them according to their flattery rather than genuine love for him. This decision sets off a feud between the sisters as Goneril and Regan attempt to outdo each other to win more power from their father.

The feud intensifies when Edgar enters the scene, claiming he has been wronged by Gloucester’s son Edmund. Edgar accuses Edmund of foul play to protect Gloucester, leading Goneril and Regan to turn on one another as they both want credit for uncovering Edmund’s duplicity.

At this point, Cordelia defends her sisters by exposing Edmund’s treachery and restoring harmony between them. However, her actions only further enrage Goneril and Regan, who becomes jealous of her good favour with their father. As a result, they team up against Cordelia by attempting to marry her off against her will to France or Burgundy, respectively, to gain more power within the kingdom.

In the end, much of the strife in this story revolves around the rivalry between these three characters as they battle for dominance throughout the play.

Ten Essay Questions About King Lear

  1. What is the significance of the Fool’s role in Shakespeare’s King Lear?
  2. Discuss the different types of madness in King Lear and how they relate.
  3. Trace the evolution of Cordelia’s character throughout the play and explain its relevance to the plot.
  4. Analyse how Shakespeare uses nature imagery in King Lear and what more prominent themes it serves to illustrate.
  5. Explore King Lear’s gradual understanding of justice, love, and power as he journeys through the play.
  6. Describe how Edmund’s character develops in King Lear and explain his importance to the plot.
  7. Analyse Goneril and Regan’s relationship with their father, King Lear, and explain how this reflects their respective characters.
  8. Examine how scholarship has traditionally interpreted Gloucester’s blindness as a metaphor for insight or knowledge within the narrative of King Lear.
  9. Investigate why Gloucester chooses not to commit suicide after hearing news of his son’s death and its context within Shakespearean tragedy conventions at that period.
  10. Assess the impact of gender roles on characters’ decisions throughout King Lear and evaluate its social implications today.

Lesson Plan for Teaching King Lear


Students will demonstrate a basic understanding of Shakespeare’s play, King Lear, by thoroughly analysing the text and its themes.

Materials Needed:

Copies of King Lear, supplementary material (images, videos, articles) from internet sources, and writing utensils.

Time Required:

3-4 45-minute class periods


  1. Introduction (10 min): Introduce the play to the students – cover the basics such as plot description, characters introduced, and a brief overview of major themes discussed in it. Ask students if they have seen any film/tv adaptations or read a modern retelling of this story before coming into class today.
  2. Close Reading Activity (20 min): Have students break up into small groups of 4-5 and assign each group a scene from the play you have chosen beforehand. Ask each group to read through their background carefully and answer questions based on their close reading of the text – focus mainly on any significant character development or relevant backstory information revealed in this scene.
  3. Discussion (15 min): Once students finish their close readings, start a whole class discussion about what was learned from each scene and how it fits into or affects the larger narrative arc of the play.
  4. Summary (10 min): End the lesson with a short review activity – ask each student to explain at least one thing they remember learning about King Lear during today’s session and how it contributes to our overall understanding of it as an essential work in English literature.


A list of books that can be utilised to help teachers teach King Lear and their Amazon links are as follows:

  1. King Lear by William Shakespeare
  2. Readings on King Lear, edited by Clarice Swisher
  3. A Guide to Teaching King Lear, by Peter Homan
  4. Critical Essays on King Lear, edited by Jay L. Halio
  5. Performing King Lear: A Guide for Actors and Directors, edited by Will Sharpe 6 . Taming of the Shrew and King Lear, edited by Harold Bloom

10 Most Popular Shakespeare Plays

  1. Romeo and Juliet
  2. Hamlet
  3. Macbeth
  4. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  5. The Taming of the Shrew
  6. Othello
  7. King Lear
  8. Twelfth Night, or What You Will
  9. The Merchant of Venice
  10. Much Ado About Nothing*

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.

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