Susan O'Connell teaches middle school language arts at Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, District of Columbia.
King Lear This lesson could also be easily adapted for use with Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, or any play that deals with issues of filial obedience or family loyalty.
What's On for Today and Why
This lesson will encourage students to think about parent-child tensions regarding obedience and communication, in order to understand the conflicts in the opening scene of King Lear.
This lesson takes one to two class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of King Lear (Or, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing)
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Copies of the Primary Source Handout, A Work Worth Reading
What To Do
1. Divide students into pairs and give them the following questions to answer and discuss: Do you ever tell your parents what you know they want to hear? Ask students to jot down examples. Have you ever gotten in trouble for telling the truth to your parents? Again, jot down examples.
2. In pairs or as a whole class, have students imagine how parent-child relations might have been different in Shakespeare's day.
3. Give students copies of the handout, an excerpt from Charles Gibbon's 1591 book A Work Worth the Reading. These pages will give students an idea of the deportment expected of children over four hundred years ago.
4. In pairs or as a whole class, discuss ways in which expectations for children's obedience were different in Shakespeare's day.
5. Read Act 1.1.37-155 from King Lear. Prompt discussion about whether Lear's reaction to Cordelia's response seems fair.
6. Ask students to write a note of consolation to Cordelia. If they need writing prompts, try: "Dear Cordelia, I know how you feel. One time I (or my parents)..." or "Dear Cordelia, This is what I think you should do."
7. As a possible homework assignment, have students bring in a contemporary song that expresses some aspect of Cordelia's plight.
How Did It Go?
Did the students sympathize with Cordelia's plight? Were they surprised about the ways parents were expected to control their children in the late sixteenth century? Did the themes of the play strike a chord with the students?
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.