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Who's the Fool in King Lear

Teachers' Rating:
  4 ratings

W. Sharpe after R. Smirke. King Lear, act 1, scene 1. Engraving, 1792.

October 2008
Jennifer Lim teaches English at New Trier High School, Winnetka, Illinois.

Plays/Scenes Covered
King Lear, 1.1.37-173
What's On for Today and Why

Often, the scene when Lear disowns Cordelia is interpreted as one in which Lear acts irrationally, the older daughters are insincere, and the youngest daughter shows her genuine love and devotion. Such a reading, while popular, may be a bit too simplistic. The purpose of today’s lesson is to show that all characters in this scene may be acting foolishly, not just some. The students will learn that the initial reading of the scene is not necessarily the one that will yield the most information and help them understand the play the best.


This lesson will take approximately 80 minutes.

What You Need

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

Handout #1 – King Lear 1.1.37-173

Handout #2 – Who’s the Fool

Handout #1
Handout #2
What To Do

Day 1

  1. Ask students, in groups, to cut and enact this scene. Use Handout #1 – King Lear, 1.1.37-173. First, ask students to cut the scene - the objective is to pick only the lines that demonstrate action and communicate the story to the viewer. Second, ask students to assign parts to themselves. Third, students should physicalize those lines, so their body actions mirror the words they are speaking. For example, if Goneril says, “I love you more,” she can place her hands over her heart. Students should run through their scene at least once, without stopping, in their groups.
  2. Ask each group to present their scenes to the class.
  3. Discuss, with the whole class, the cutting and physicalizing choices each group made after each group scenario. How did those choices affect the interpretation of the scene?
  4. Finally, to end the day, go around the room and ask students to answer the following question in one sentence, “Which character acted most foolishly, and why?”

Day 2


6. Begin by asking each student in the class to refresh their memories from the previous class by asking, “One thing I learned from yesterday’s group scenes was….”


7. Discuss with students how each character’s foolish actions contribute to the scene. For instance, how does Lear’s reaction to Cordelia influence the outcome of the scene? How does Cordelia’s refusal to express her love in glowing terms influence the outcome of the scene? How do Goneril and Regan’s praises influence the scene? Use Handout #2 – Who’s the Fool?

How Did It Go?
Can students see the different definitions of “folly” operating in different ways in these characters? Can students articulate that each character, in his or her own way, contributes to the action of the scene?

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

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.
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