'King Lear' Questions for Study and Discussion

Understanding Shakespeare's famous tragedy 'King Lear'

King Lear and Cordelia
King Lear and Cordelia. Wikimedia Commons/James Barry/The Yorck Project

King Lear is one of my favorite plays by William Shakespeare, and I've grown to appreciate it more and more as I get older. Considered one of the Bard's finest tragic plays, Lear tells the story of the elderly king who seeks to retire and divide his kingdom among his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. Though in reality the only daughter who truly cares about him is Cordelia, Lear is swayed by the persuasive words of his other two daughters, and gives them equal shares of the kingdom.

Cordelia is disinherited. 

This work is filled with family squabbles, madness, and turmoil; but what does it all mean in the grander scheme of things? 

Here are a few questions for study and discussion.

What is important about the title? Why is it named for the king and not his daughters?

How are the themes of nature, madness and vision, both literal and metaphorical, woven into the action of King Lear? 

How does Shakespeare reveal character in King Lear? How important are the monologues of Goneril and Regan in showing the audience who they truly are?  

What are some symbols in King Lear, and how are they important to the audience's understanding of the play and its characters? 

The blinding of Gloucester is a critical point in the play. How is it representative of the larger theme of Lear's inability to "see" which of his daughters is true to him? 

How does religion factor into the plot and the characters' actions?

 

Would you consider Cordelia a feminist? Why or why not? 

Consider this quote from King Lear: "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." Does this take on a different meaning by the end of the play? 

Compare this play to other Shakespearean tragedies, such as Hamlet and Othello.

Are there similarities among the titular characters of those plays and King Lear himself? 

How are women portrayed in King Lear? Is this consistent with how women, such as Ophelia and Desdemona, are portrayed in other Shakespearean tragedies?

How essential is the setting of King Lear? Could the play have taken place anywhere else?

How is the father/daughter relationship represented? Is Lear a good father or a poor father?

What present-day actor can you most easily envision playing the role of Lear? The role of Cordelia? 

Does the play end the way you expected? What other possible outcomes could King Lear have had? 

This is just one part of our study guide on King Lear. Please see the links below for more helpful resources: