King Lear Essay

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A TEACHER’S GUIDE TO THE SIGNET CLASSIC EDITION OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S KING LEAR By LEIGH ANN HERN S E R I E S E D I T O R S : W. GEIGER ELLIS, ED.D., ARTHEA J. S. REED, PH.D., UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA, EMERITUS and UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, RETIRED A Teacher’s Guide to the Signet Classic Edition of William Shakespeare’s King Lear 2 INTRODUCTION While King Lear is thought to be one of Shakespeare’s more difficult works, the play is accessible to advanced high school students and certainly to most college students. The topics of (1) natural, (2) unnatural, (3) self-knowledge, (4) public perception, (5) written words, and (6) spoken words are accessible to both levels of student. Whether we can express our opinions or not, each of us has a basic belief about each of those topics. Sometimes the feeling is innate and inexpressible. Shakespeare questions this feeling and shows his Elizabethan audience what can happen if accepted belief is challenged. He turns events on their ear and plays out a tragedy that speaks as eloquently today as it did more than three centuries ago. Naturally, accepted beliefs came from Elizabethan philosophy; however, many of those beliefs persist in our culture. The much studied Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero express a particular view concerning appearances: a person’s countenance and station of birth are relative to the inner person—the more noble the birth, the more noble the soul; the more fair the countenance, the more fair the soul. Shakespeare’s world was no less interested with a person’s appearance and the flattery by which one would ply another. This yet is true, and often we define ourselves by our appearance or by what others say about us. In King Lear, appearances, station, and how what others think influences our actions are examined through relationships found in family and service: father and

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