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Pop Culture Fools in King Lear

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

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

Plays/Scenes Covered
King Lear 1.4.96-193, King Lear 3.2 (This lesson may be used for either of these two passages. However, the accompanying handout should be used with 1.4.96-193. The handout may be modified to incorporate passage from 3.2.)
What's On for Today and Why

The fool in King Lear often confuses studentsas they find it difficult to understand the fool’s role in the play or his function. In this lesson, students will discuss the role of fools in contemporary society, and then apply that understanding to the world of King Lear. Students will learn that the fool’s words are not nonsensical; in fact, he speaks the truth in a way none of the other characters do.


This lesson will take approximately 40 minutes.

What You Need

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

Access to http://www.chinswing.com or clips from current day newspapers and magazines

Handout #1– Popular Fools

What To Do

1. A preliminary homework assignment: Two nights before the lesson, ask students to go to http://www.chinswing.com. The chinswing website is a user-friendly tool that allows students to post audio recordings. The teacher will have previously set up a discussion strand. The strand can be titled, “Who’s your favorite current day fool”? Or, if the internet is not accessible, students may come to class with a photograph of a contemporary “fool” engaging in foolish behavior.



2. Remind students that one definition of a fool, according to the OED, is “One who professionally counterfeits folly for the entertainment of others, a jester, clown.” The student will limit their recording chinswing response to one sentence. Examples may include, “My favorite fool is Jon Stewart, because he’s funny and writes a book called America, which makes fun of everything we are supposed to respect.” If students do not have access to the internet, their photograph should be accompanied with a one-sentence explanation of their choice.

  1. The night before the lesson, ask students to listen to their peers’ chinswing recordings at home, if technology allows.
  2. On the day of the lesson: Begin class by asking students what they remembered from their classmates’ recordings. Or, ask a few of them to share the images they picked.
  3. Discuss with students the role of the fool in today’s society. Why do these figures enjoy such popularity, even though their comments would normally be considered disrespectful?
  4. Read passage 1.4.96-193 together as a class. (Again, please note this lesson may also be used for 3.2.)
  5. Discuss moments where the fool in Lear mirrors what a contemporary fool may do. Use Handout #1– Popular Fools.

End class by asking, “How is your favorite pop culture fool similar to the fool in King Lear?” Ask students to respond, using one sentence.

How Did It Go?
Did students see how unique a role the Fool occupies, both in the world of King Lear and in today’s society? Were students able to articulate, through specific examples, how current day fools echo the Fool of Lear’s court? Did students make connections between the comments the Fool makes in 1.4 and the comments made today, on late night shows, daytime talk shows, and news shows?

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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