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Of Passions Sundry and Strange

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Robert Smirke. The Awakening of King Lear. Oil on canvas, ca. 1792.

May 2002
Deborah Bailin teaches English to upperclass students at IDEA Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.

Plays/Scenes Covered
King Lear. This lesson can be modified to analyze a strong character in any play.
What's On for Today and Why

Students will examine on-line primary sources to gain an understanding of Elizabethan attitudes toward different character traits. They will use these ideas to help understand Lear, or another strong character, more fully.


This lesson will take one to two class periods.

What You Need

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


Internet access


Paper and art supplies (or on-line illustration software)

Works Printed in English, 1477 to 1799
What To Do

1. In a computer lab or for homework, direct students to http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/ren.htm, a repository of works printed in English between 1477 and 1799.


2. Have the students select either Francis Bacon's Essayes or Counsels Civill and Morall or Joseph Hall's Characters of Vertues and Vices.


3. Have the students select a single passion, virtue, or vice, such as wisdom, honesty, faithfulnesss, love, valiance, hypocrisy, flattery, ambition, etc.


4. Have the students read and summarize what Bacon or Hall says. Have them find two or three quotes from the text that help to demonstrate that summary.


5. Have the students choose a character from Lear or another play you are working on. Direct them to scan the play to find four or five instances where the character exhibits this trait.


6. In groups by character or individually, have students draw an illustration of their character demonstrating the appropriate trait. Place the appropriate quotes from the text and from Bacon/Hall around this illustration.


7. Examine the illustrations as a whole class and discuss the different ways that your students have interpreted the different characters. Help to explain any conflicts and highlight any new interpretations.

How Did It Go?
Did the students understand and engage with the primary source? Did they closely examine the Shakespearean text? Did they learn something new about their character? Did the final product accurately depict their character?

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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