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And We All Sit Down: Status in King Lear

Teachers' Rating:
  6 ratings

Benjamin West. King Lear and Cordelia (King Lear IV.vii). Oil on canvas, 1793

May 2001
Kathy Dobronyi, San Manuel High School, San Manuel, Arizona.

Plays/Scenes Covered
King Lear, Act 1
What's On for Today and Why

Determining status is an important way for students to understand the relationship between characters. This lesson plan uses two simple status games to allow students to explore the relationships between Lear, his three daughters, and his court.

The lesson plan will take one class period.

What You Need

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

Strips of paper numbered 1–10 and a hat

3x5 character cards: King Lear, Goneril, Albany, Regan, Cornwall, Burgundy,

Cordelia, King of France, Kent, Gloucester, Edgar, Edmund, Fool, Oswald

What To Do

1. Students will need to have covered Act 1 before beginning this lesson. Prepare 35 slips of paper labeled 1–10. Have each student draw a number out of a hat. Tell the students that the number 10 indicates high status, the number 1 indicates low status, and the other numbers indicate gradations in between.


2. At the front of the room, establish the position for the head of a line. Then ask all the students, without talking, to place themselves in the line according to their numerical status, with the 10's at the head of the line, proceeding on down to the 1's. When the students are finished placing themselves, have them count off, starting with the 10's, to reveal their status. The students should be surprised to discover that they have been fairly accurate in determining their positions.


3. Discuss how and why the students lined up the way they did. What is status? How do you express status without using language? How does status apply to daily life? Discuss jobs and careers and assign the status of 1-10 to specific jobs. Explore assigning numbers to different family members, and discuss these choices. A discussion about status can get pretty lively, but see if you can engage your students in thinking about and maybe even questioning the role that status plays in students' lives.


4. Ask five students to choose a character card, a 3 x 5 card with a character from King Lear written on it that you have prepared prior to class. (See below for the list of characters.)


5. Tell the five students to imagine that they have been invited to a formal dinner. Brainstorm with the whole class about how people are seated at a dinner table according to their rank or status. Who sits at the head and foot of the table? Who sits next to whom for conversation and courtesy? Why would it be impolite of the host to place enemies next to each other?


6. After this discussion of basic protocol, ask the five students to find their character's place at the table according to their status. They should do this without speaking or asking questions. When they are finished, discuss with the class where the guests are sitting and how the choices were made.


7. Collect the character cards, reshuffle, and choose five other students. Continue playing the dinner party game until the last 10-15 minutes of class.


8. Then have the students write five things they learned about status and five things they learned about their character. Assign a short character analysis of this character for homework.


Extension Activity:

Play the dinner party game at the end of key scenes or at the end of each act to allow the students to explore how the characters in King Lear experience shifts in status. Then ask the students to write a longer essay in which they explore how shifts in status affect character development throughout the play.

How Did It Go?
Did this lesson plan get your students thinking about the role that status plays in fiction and in real life? Were they able to discover how status relates to the relationship between the characters of the play? How well did they incorporate their discoveries about status in an analysis of a character in King Lear?

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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