Mark Miazga teaches English at Baltimore City College High School, a large urban public magnet high school in Baltimore, MD.
King Lear, 5.3
What's On for Today and Why
The legacy of Greek ideas of tragedy was still quite influential in the early modern era. Students will first learn how to identify a character's tragic flaw and see what bearing that flaw has on the action of the play and what the play communicates about the nature of the world. Students will investigate and perform King Lear's final scene to analyze how playwrights and directors might use tragic characters' demises to convey a certain worldview. They will use performance choices in order to see how interpretation of scenes leads to different meanings. This lesson will take two 50 minute class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of King Lear
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts (copies of Lear's final scene will suffice)
What To Do
1. Review concepts of Tragedy, including Tragic Heroes and Tragic Flaws. Discuss some archetypal tragic figures to ground students' ideas about the requirements for tragic characters.
2. Have students discuss Lear as a tragic figure, identifying his tragic flaw and how the action of the play is precipitated by it.
3. Read 5.3 of King Lear with the students, emphasizing the edited stage directions. Discuss possible interpretations of this final scene. Does Lear gain redemption, or does the play end on a darker note? What sorts of clues are in the stage directions of the scene that inform students' decisions? What clues can students identify in the language that would affect an interpretation of either redemption or defeat?
4. Have students form groups and create acting companies: Acting Company 1: This group will act out " King Lear "as a play of redemption Acting Company 2: This group will act out "King Lear" as a play of defeat.
5. Have students present their interpretations of the scene to the class and discuss how performance interpretations altered the meaning of the last scene and thus the theme of the play. What acting choices were made and how did they convey meaning? What were the most convincing justifications for these choices?
6. Final Assignment: Have students choose an interpretation of the play and write an essay that justifies their thesis using evidence from the text, defending their explanation by focusing on how the final scenes could be performed for each character.
How Did It Go?
Students should have an understanding of the concept of the Tragic Flaw and the way it functions in dramatic works and an idea of how endings can be interpretive and depend upon close reading and performance. Students should be able to successfully defend their interpretation with evidence from performance.
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.