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"Who is it that can tell me who I am?": Performances of Lear's Speeches

Teachers' Rating:
  2 ratings

James Stephanoff. King Lear, act III, scene II. Watercolor, 1853

January 2001
Melissa Borgmann, North Community High School, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Plays/Scenes Covered
King Lear
What's On for Today and Why

The themes of love, transformation, redemption, and forgiveness are central to King Lear and to Lear's relationships with his daughters. Asking students to read, analyze, and perform two of Lear's speeches—one from the beginning of the play, and one from the end—is a provocative way to introduce these themes and to inspire questions about the character and the play.


This activity works as an introduction to the text, as a way to examine character midway through, or as a compare and contrast lesson at the end of the play.


This lesson will take 1–2 class periods.

What You Need

Folger edition of King Lear
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Assorted props
Handout #1
Handout #2
What To Do

1. Divide students into four groups. Hand out copies of Lear's speech from 1.4 (handout #1) to two groups. Give the copies of the speech from 5.3 (handout #2) to the other two groups.


2. Have students read through their speeches at least twice. The first time all of the students should read it aloud in a choral fashion. The second time through the students should take turns reading line by line. Ask students to identify words they don't know and find their definitions. Students should become familiar with the speech and begin to interpret what Lear is saying.


3. Instruct students that they will be performing their speeches for the class. One group with handout #1 and one group with handout #2 will perform their speeches using any significant props or symbols they can find or create. The symbols should help to convey the meaning of the most visual or significant words, and/or the words with difficult meanings. For example, students could find a picture of someone they hold in high regard for the "goddess". The two remaining groups are responsible for rewriting and performing the speeches in contemporary vernacular. For example, students should consider how a television character would say the lines, or how a father might sound delivering them. Give students 25–35 minutes to work.


4. Tell the students to begin rehearsing their speeches. Remind them that everyone in the group must participate aloud. Prompt students to consider setting. Who is Lear addressing? What time of day is it? What might have happened immediately before the speech? What might happen after? Will music or sound effects create the mood of the scene?


5. Ask students to take notes during the performances for a discussion afterwards. Have the two groups with handout #1 perform first, followed by the two groups with handout #2 .


6. Discuss the scenes as a large group. What did students notice? Which words had more impact? What was the predominate feeling of each speech? Did the original speech match the contemporary translation? How did the symbols help clarify meaning?


7. For homework, ask students to write an essay on one of two topics. If they have just started the play, they can predict what happens between Acts 1 and 5. If they are in the middle or have finished the play, they can compare/contrast the Lear in the first speech with the Lear in the second speech. They should use lines from the speeches and examples from the performances to support their claims.  

How Did It Go?
Was comprehension evident? Did students engage in performance? Did they choose appropriate symbols or create accurate translations? Did students cite examples from the text and their performances in their essays?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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  Common Core State Standards

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