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Trickery and Foolery in King Lear

Teachers' Rating:
  1 rating

February 2009
Jennifer Lim teaches English at New Trier High School, Winnetka, Illinois.

Plays/Scenes Covered
King Lear 2.1
What's On for Today and Why

One of the definitions of a fool is “one who is easily duped.” The most obvious manifestation of this definition fool in King Lear is Gloucester, but in a way, all of the characters are duped, one way or another. This lesson will demonstrate to students that it is not just Lear and Gloucester who are fools. Each character’s folly contributes to the play’s outcome.


This lesson will take 60 minutes.

What You Need

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

4 index cards and a marker

What To Do
  1. Put students in groups. Give each group one of the following cards, and ask them to enact a scenario.

  Card 1 : A girl is duped into thinking her date actually likes her, when in fact he  is merely taking pity on her.

 Card 2: A dad is duped into believing that his children actually want to buy him a nice gift, when in fact, the kids want the gift for themselves.

 Card 3: A child is duped into thinking that his parents want him to go to summer camp because it’s such a great experience, but really, it’s because he’s too unruly to handle at home.

  Card 4 : A teacher is duped into believing her students are actually enthusiastic about the material, but the students just want a good grade.

  1. Give the students time to plan their scenario, but refrain from giving them further directions, other than to emphasize that all group members must have a part.
  2. Share scenarios.
  3. Discuss after each scenario – how did that person get duped? What made that person vulnerable?
  4. Read the scene. In light of the scenarios students just performed, discuss the reasons why Gloucester would believe such a setup.
  5. Then, list these characters on the board: Goneril, Regan, Albany, Cornwall, Cordelia.
  6. Discuss with students how each of these characters is played for the fool. What makes each character vulnerable to trickery?

End class by asking students to finish the sentence, “The character ­­­­_______ is easily duped because s/he … ” Student responses can range from practical: “because he has a letter,” to more intangible: “because she loves her sister but the love is not mutual.”

How Did It Go?
Did students use their enacted scenarios to better understand how these characters are each duped? Did students articulate the characteristics that make each character vulnerable to being duped by another?

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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