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Fools for Love in King Lear

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Richard Earlom after Henry Fuseli, King Lear, act I, scene I. Engraving, 1792

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

Plays/Scenes Covered
King Lear 1.4.194-264
What's On for Today and Why

Often, students associate the phrase “fool for love” with people falling in love. However, parents often do even more foolish things out of love for their children. Students will discuss the different ways the fathers in King Lear act foolishly out of love for their children. It is worthwhile to look at the play from this perspective, because much of the play’s action is driven by fathers trying to confirm that their children do indeed love them, or by fathers reacting to the hurt of experiencing a child scorn him. This lesson will allow students to discuss their own observations of parental behavior.


It is easy to dismiss Lear as a bad father, one who is irrational, unreasonable, and cruel at the beginning of the play. Yet, it is worthwhile to examine his words and his motives for acting in such a manner. It will reveal a different side of the character to students and make him multi-dimensional.


This lesson will take 60 minutes.


What You Need

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

What To Do
  1. Divide students into small groups of two or three. Give half of the groups the following prompt: Enact a scenario where a parent does something foolish out of a desire to receive affection from his or her child. Examples may include a father blabbering to his baby, trying to coax a smile.  Give the other groups the following alternative prompt: Enact a scenario where a parent gets really angry at his child.
  2. Only give students the prompt. Refrain from giving any further directions except that all students in the group must be involved.
  3. Allow time for people to work in groups.
  4. Present scenarios in front of the class.
  5. Discuss common links between the different scenarios. Specifically, what causes a parent to do something foolish? What are parents’ triggers? How are these foolish actions connected to love for the child, if at all? When do parents get angry at their children?
  6. Read 1.4.194-264.
  7. Ask students to highlight Lear’s insults toward Goneril.
  8. Discuss with students why Lear is so angry. Some may argue that Goneril  makes a reasonable request – what causes his rage? Why does he curse her and say that she is a “degenerate bastard”? Encourage students to avoid responses such as, “He’s an idiot. He’s mad.”

Go around the room and ask students to finish the sentence, “Lear curses his daughter because…”

How Did It Go?
Did students see that Lear has a reason, however irrational, for hurling cruel insults at his daughter? Did students discuss the various methods in which parents show their desire to be loved by their children? Did students discuss the various manners in which parents manifest their frustration when their children do not show their affection for them? Did students discover any rational, understandable motives for Lear to act the way he did?

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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