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King Lear
William Shakespeare




_____ 1. In the opening lines of the play

    A. Lear divides his land among his daughters
    B. Gloucester acknowledges his son, Edmund
    C. we learn why Edgar may decide to flee
_____ 2. Shakespeare frequently refers to eyesight in order to emphasize
    A. the violence perpetrated against Gloucester
    B. Lear's blindness
    C. Cordelia's vision of the future
_____ 3. The mad King Lear speaks of
    I. corruption in mankind
    II. man's sanctimonious qualities
    III. evil in high places
    A. I and II only
    B. I and III only
    C. I, II, and III
_____ 4. The beginning of the end for King Lear may be found in his line
    A. "These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us"
    B. "I prithee, daughter, do not make me mad"
    C. "Which of you shall we say doth love us most?"
_____ 5. A good example of Lear's arrogance is seen in his statement to the loyal Kent
    A. "Mend your speech lest it may mar your fortune"
    B. "Come not between the dragon and his wrath"
    C. "If you come slack of former service, you shall do well"
_____ 6. "Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter" could not have been spoken by
    A. Regan
    B. Cordelia
    C. Goneril
_____ 7. The King of France urges the Duke of Burgundy to marry Cordelia, saying
    A. "Take her or leave her"
    B. "She is herself a dowry"
    C. "No vicious blot deprived her of favour"
_____ 8. Shortly after Regan and Goneril publicly professed their love for their father
    A. they criticized him privately
    B. they made plans to destroy Cordelia
    C. they denied him access to their castles
_____ 9. Edmund resents
    A. his illegitimacy
    B. having been rejected by his father
    C. his lack of opportunity for advancement
_____ 10. Gloucester resembles Lear in that he
    A. turns a deaf ear to those who can help him
    B. moves too rashly against his child
    C. is willing to risk his life for what he believes in

11. In Act II, Scene ii, the disguised Kent draws his sword on Oswald and attempts to engage him in a duel. The cowardly Oswald backs off, fearing that he will be murdered. If they had not been interrupted by the party from within the castle, would Kent have slain Oswald? How would he justify it? If not, why?

12. Since Albany is painted in such virtuous colors and behaves so nobly throughout the play, why doesn't he take over the rule of the entire country at the end? Why does he pass it on?

13. The great villains- Cornwall, Regan, and Goneril- die offstage. Only Edmund, their equal in villainy, and Oswald, a "subvillain," are slain in front of the audience. How do you account for this? Why don't we witness all the villains getting their punishment? Does it make any difference?

14. Do you think Edgar would make a good king of England? Why?

15. Was Shakespeare secretly "antimonarchist"?


_____ 1. In his striving for power, possessions, and women, Edmund may best be described as a

    A. ruthless materialist
    B. Machiavellian villain
    C. rank Philistine
_____ 2. Edmund detests his brother and his father for their
    A. lack of imagination
    B. credulity
    C. social graces and respectability
_____ 3. It is ironic that
    I. Old Lear is treated as a child by his daughters
    II. loyal Kent was banished by Lear
    III. Gloucester doesn't see straight until he is blinded
    A. I and II only
    B. I and III only
    C. I, II, and III
_____ 4. Kent had been placed in the stocks because
    A. he assaulted Goneril's servant
    B. his blunt talk outraged Lear
    C. Regan and Cornwall wanted to make an example of him
_____ 5. The Fool's enigmatic last line in this play is
    A. "And I'll go to bed at noon"
    B. "Pour on. I will endure"
    C. "Away! the foul fiend follows me!"
_____ 6. Although Lear is furious when not shown proper respect
    A. he is powerless to act against Cordelia's impudence
    B. he is willing to be shown the error of his ways
    C. he allows the Fool to criticize him
_____ 7. When Lear is frustrated by Goneril, he
    A. places a terrible curse on her
    B. appeals to her husband
    C. asks for forgiveness of Cordelia
_____ 8. In the quest for Edmund's love
    A. both sisters are willing to renounce their husbands
    B. Goneril poisons Regan
    C. Regan endangers Cornwall's life
_____ 9. In reply to Lear's pitiful complaint, "I gave you all," Regan replies
    A. "And in good time you gave it!"
    B. "I pray you, father, being weak, seem so"
    C. "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless father"
_____ 10. The terrible storm upon the heath
    A. was forecast accurately by Lear's Fool
    B. leads to Edgar's insanity as well
    C. parallels the storm within Lear

11. What is the position of women as presented in King Lear?

12. Without a vast stage to sweep across, how does Shakespeare show the sense of urgency and forward motion we feel throughout the play?

13. Is it fair to attribute Goneril's and Regan's behavior to greed?

14. Is there a difference between the father-daughter relationships and the father-son relationships in the play? If so, how is it shown?

15. Do Lear's daughters represent separate fragments of his own character and personality?


  1. B
  2. B
  3. C
  4. C
  5. B
  6. B
  7. B
  8. A
  9. A
  10. B

11. Does the tone of Kent's badgering suggest that he really intends to commit murder? Doesn't the scene have comedic overtones, especially Kent's description of Oswald? Kent has a firm sense of justice. Listen to what he says when he tries to convince Lear that banishment of Cordelia is wrong. Even when he is introduced to the bastard, Edmund, he is the soul of propriety.

On the other hand, Oswald is allied with Goneril, whom Kent has seen taunting and abusing Lear. The handwriting is on the wall. In his defense to Cornwall, Kent certainly talks boldly about doing away with Oswald. Perhaps this would have kept Goneril's message from being delivered and the course of the play would have taken a different turn.

12. Albany has claimed that his fight with France is for the restoration of Lear's rights; it is not a war over property. Would we regard him so highly if he suddenly decided that he now had a right to take over everything? Go back over what Albany has to say at various times and you will see that greed has never been a part of his character. You'll also discover other reasons to support his final position.

Consider, too, Albany as a representative of one faction; that is, the North. Wouldn't the threatened civil war erupt in earnest if he placed himself on the throne?

13. Despite the explicit horror of the blinding scene, Shakespeare was not particularly interested in presenting gory details on stage. People were killed only when their death moved the action of the drama forward.

How would the audience feel if Cornwall died immediately after blinding Gloucester? Wouldn't our desire for revenge be satisfied a bit too soon? And what about the impact of the other deaths occurring in the final scene? Wouldn't they be lessened by an ongoing scene of expirations?

Consider the balance Shakespeare achieved in disposing of his villains. And consider their punishments vis-a-vis their crimes.

14. To evaluate Edgar's qualifications, you have to consider not only his own development but the errors of his predecessor. Review the balance of their behavior and you will find definite signs of character that may be proper or may be problems for Edgar. Within the text of the play there is enough material to develop a projected character sketch for Edgar, which should guide your answer.

15. There are two angles to consider. The first is obviously your view of his attitude toward Lear as king. That he pointed out Lear's failures is certain. But how does he balance them with Lear's redeeming qualities? And are they necessarily the failures of a king, or of a man?

The other view is the more general picture of "rulers" that comes up here and there throughout the play. It is more subtle but still applies to the question. This includes the final decision to leave Edgar in charge. Will he be a worthy successor?


  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. A
  5. A
  6. C
  7. A
  8. B
  9. A
  10. C

11. It's fairly safe to assume that Shakespeare reflected the views of his time. There's little suggestion of prehistoric England, despite the general setting. But without going to outside references, a picture may be developed from the play itself.

Women are presented as both daughters and wives, and there are only three of them- Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. That in itself tells us that it's essentially a man's world. But women do not lack power. As you review their relationships and their comments, you will develop a broader understanding of women in the "natural order," too, which was one of Shakespeare's concerns.

12. There are references at the start of several scenes that indicate a passage of time. Review them and you will discover the chronological length of time that passes in the course of the action.

Just as important is the image of a journey taken by the focal characters of the main and subplots. The discussion of movement and travel helps sustain the momentum. And, of course, the constant entrances and exits as the only way of beginning and ending scenes should be considered.

13. There are many reasons for their behavior, and greed is certainly one of them. When rumors are reported of differences growing between Albany and Cornwall (III, i), the reason given is the desire to control the entire kingdom. But what we know of Albany makes us suspect that it is Goneril, rather than her husband, who is behind the rumor.

Consider, too, the confrontation scene with Lear. More than a desire to be rid of the burden of accommodating his retinue, isn't the desire for power over him a kind of greed?

And, in their wanting Edmund, doesn't the ultimate greed lead to their final destiny? As you review their moves throughout the play, you'll discover that greed plays an important part.

14. Overall, the point being made is broader than one of gender. But there are differences.

The laws of inheritance come into play here. Lear bequeaths his kingdom specifically to his daughters, but Gloucester's estate would go without question to his firstborn male heir.

For the sake of parallels, however, most of the thematic concern is with children in general. It is more than a matter of verse, which puts the stress where it is in Lear's observation:

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child.

(Act I, Scene iv, lines 279-80.)

Consider the comments made by both fathers, as well as others, and a case may be made for both the specific and general views.

15. Lear displays an incredible number of sides in the course of this play. If you extract certain traits, you can see them appear in one daughter or another.

For example, he is obviously stubborn. But in the very first scene, Cordelia is easily his match in holding on to a position once it is taken.

His concern for quantity over quality is shown by the contest he sets up between the three daughters: "How much do you love me?" Goneril and Regan hurl quantity at him in Act II, Scene iv, when they ask why he needs so many knights.

There are many such parallels. You must decide if they add up to a complete personality or are mere chips off the paternal block.

[King Lear Contents]


  1. ANIMAL IMAGERY: Discuss the references to animals that abound throughout the play. What do they tell us about the character speaking as well as the character spoken of?
  2. PAIN: Pain plays an important part in King Lear. Consider it from the angles of those who suffer as well as those who inflict.
  3. SACRIFICE: What sacrifices are made? By whom? For what purpose?
  4. ADULTERY: Discuss the viewpoints expounded by various characters and the attitude of the playwright.
  5. ROMANCE: There are passionate relationships between men and women in this play, but is there "romance"? Do Shakespeare's characters live in a world without romantic love?
  6. HEALING: There are two types of wounds with which to deal- physical and mental. Discuss the actual examples as well as the broader concerns of the healing powers.
  7. FRANCE. The King of France disappears as a character after the first scene, but the emblem of the country figures in the solution. Discuss.
  8. ANACHRONISMS: Do they interfere with our acceptance of the events taking place? Are there many? Are they important?
  9. LETTERS: There are so many letters and messages sent that they seem more important than some characters on stage. Discuss.
  10. MUSIC: Discuss the function of music as it's used to create settings and relate offstage action.
  11. PATRIOTISM. Reaction to the French invasion is one indication. Are there any other indicators of a concern for the country?
  12. CLOTHING: Clothing makes the man or woman; nakedness does the opposite. Discuss.
  13. MADNESS: We are told that there is "Reason in madness" (IV, vi, 172). How true is this?
  14. FIDELITY: Fidelity to a master and fidelity in marriage are examined through various relationships. Discuss.
  15. PRIDE: A sense of pride can be a force for good or evil. Discuss.
  16. RETIREMENT: There is more than one view. Discuss the pros and cons.
  17. REVENGE: It seems to be a great motivation but is it a great factor in the play? Discuss its importance.
  18. THE COSMOS: Many references to the heavens, gods, planets, and so on, occur. What do they reveal about the various characters?
  19. SUICIDE: Discuss Shakespeare's attitude toward suicide from what different characters say and do in King Lear.
  20. THE STORM: Discuss its function in the play.
  21. SUPERSTITION: Omens, charms, symbols- what role have they in this play?
  22. CORPORAL PUNISHMENT: The use of the stocks is one example, but other characters are struck, and so on. Discuss its relevance to the larger themes.

[King Lear Contents]


There are many unfamiliar terms, words, and phrases in King Lear, most of which can be understood from the context in which they appear. Some recur frequently and seem strange only because of usage. Here are a few that have slightly different meanings from our present usage.

These were not necessarily curses. They were commonly used to describe the origins of birth. Sometimes the reference to low birth carried a sting, too.

A holdover from the Middle Ages, the image of the Wheel of Fortune was a strong one. It was seen to be the barometer of man's fate that turned constantly, moving the bottom to the top and vice versa.

Our present-day equivalent would probably be criminal and crime. There were varying degrees, from an affectionate use to actual accusation of wrongdoing. Again, reading the word in context will provide a clue to the vehemence intended.

Any form of betrayal was treachery and the perpetrator was a traitor. From the common tattletale to the commission of major crime of betrayal, the words were commonly applied.

Another relic of the Middle Ages that Shakespeare and his contemporaries commonly incorporated into their routine philosophy. The personification of disorder was the monster. An upset or inversion of the ordered world, the benign forces, was the monstrous, the chaotic. Grotesque images were frequently used to represent this manifestation of evil and disorder.

Wit was more than cleverness. Wit represented the human intelligence, the ability to reason. When someone lost his reason, his sanity, he lost his wits. At times it also indicated cunning and the ability to exploit words to a greater purpose.

THE STORY, continued

ECC [King Lear Contents] []

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of, Inc. is prohibited.

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