Shakespeare’s King Lear

King Lear. Photograph: Tristram Kenton (Guardian)

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our teeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurour and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!”

― William Shakespeare, King Lear

King Lear is regarded by many as Shakespeare’s greatest tragic work,looking at the nature of love and loyalty in its rawest manifestations. The goals of the Salon are to acquaint or re-acquaint you with the language of Shakespeare, consider the dynamic between theater and literature, and to develop an appreciation for Shakespeare’s ability to speak of the human condition in ways that ring like a choral bell across four centuries. This Salon will provide the opportunity for performance and presentation. The work is meant to be understood first and foremost as theater, and we will do our best to honour Shakespeare’s intention in the Salon. I will suggest clips from film versions of the work to help bring the words to life, and use Issac Assimov’s meaty background information to help us understand the historical context and allusions of the play.

Part of the beauty of this play is found in the honest exploration of parent-child relationships. This fundamental unit is based on a love so elemental as to be almost inarticulate- at the same time, the parent-child relationship can be fraught with power struggles, issues of entitlement, betrayals that run as deeply as the love, and the disorganizing pressures of the outer world. Shakespeare offers a study of a variety of these relationships, from the absolute filial loyalty of Cordelia (which traps her in its inarticulateness) to the twisted love (which one might read as love’s opposite) of her sisters- and others- Kent’s love of Lear, Edmond and Edgar of their father- that help give the reader a field of inquiry for this most essential human experience.

King Lear brings us to the depths of human suffering- to madness, torture, betrayal and death- but not in a way that distances us from the experience. The language allows us to continue to be within the emotions of the characters, even as the events become almost hyperbolic in their tragedy. Frank Kermode describes the universal nature of the tragedy in Lear:

“In King Lear we are no longer concerned with an ethical problem that, however agonizing, can be reduced to an issue of law or equity and discussed forensically. For King Lear is about suffering represented as a condition of the world as we inherit it or make it for ourselves. Suffering is the consequence of a human tendency to evil, as inflicted on the good by the bad; it can reduce humanity to a bestial condition, under an apparently indifferent heaven. It falls, insistently and without apparent regard for the justice they so often ask for, so often say they believe in, on the innocent; but nobody escapes.”

– Frank Kermode, Shakespeare’s Language, pg. 184


  • Four-week study
  • Recommended edition: King Lear, by W. Shakespeare, Arden Shakespeare edition (1997); ISBN-13: 978-190343659

If you would like to request this study or have any questions about it, please contact us.



Posted on

January 19, 2018