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Shakespeare/Exploring themes in king Lear


I can't seem to pinpoint an exact theme to research and present from King Lear. I am hoping to work on a topic that is challenging, interesting, and perhaps less obvious. I am seeking something specific but nothing is jumping out at me. If I may receive help on simply general themes that are present throughout the story- and that I may find a strong position on, it would be a major starting point for me.

Thank you in advance for your time and suggestion(s).

Hi, Cindy,

I apologize for taking so long to answer your question. I've been ill and besieged with midterm exams, and then the email with your question in it got pushed back too far in my inbox.  

I hope it's not too late for this answer to be of some help to you.

There are many different themes in King Lear , some that lean more to the philosophical and some that are character-oriented and, when enlarged, applicable to society at large.

Some of the philosophically oriented themes that come to mind are:

* what is the nature of God or the divine and his/its relationship with humanity?  Many characters offer statements that amount to theories of life, such as "As flies to wanton boys as we to the gods . . . ."

* what is the nature of evil? is it a force outside ourselves that visits bad things on us? or does it reside in our choices that bring about consequences (even if the consequence doesn't happen for 20 years or more, and we've forgotten about our bad or selfish choices long before)?  are we victims against its power?

* historically, England was experiencing some bad economic times during the immediate time period that Shakespeare was writing the play.  The so-called Poor Act of 1601, in particular, was an attempt to help the enormous number of beggars who roamed the countryside, though in reality it did very little for those beggars.  Research the Poor Act of 1601 and the ways that Shakespeare's play reflects upon the plight of the poverty-stricken and the insane in this time period.

Some of the more character-oriented themes:

* some productions cast the same actress as Cordelia and as the Fool-- this is not to suggest that, literally, Cordelia IS the Fool in the play but more to point our the parallels between Cordelia's characteristics as they parallel the Fool's character. What does this add to the play?

*  Shakespeare's plays often focus on the quesion of "what constitutes a great leader of people"? Has King Lear been a great leader to his people?  What about during rough times, has he been a wise ruler?

* Is Lear a satisfying tragic protagonist, according to the classical standards of the time? For example, one of Aristotle's requirements is that the protagonist experiences anagnorisis or "tragic recognition," when he realizes that he has participated in his own downfall (and is not merely a victim) and takes upon himself more punishment than we would have given him. In what ways does Lear participate in his own downfall?  (conversely, he cannot be merely senile, because then he would be a victim of his body's biology) At his death, does he die in a complete delusion, thinking he is seeing something that isn't at all there before his eyes? or does he die seeing, at long last, the true nature of reality?

* Edmund is a specific character "type" called a Stage Machiavel. Is he like others of Shakespeare's Stage Machiavels? In what ways?  Is he different from them or unique? In what ways?

Good luck with your project; I hope I've given you a few pointers that ultimately may find their way into your papers.  
Dr. T.


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Dr. T.


I can answer questions about Shakespeare's life and times, his plays and poems, the history of criticism and critics' responses to Shakespeare's works, other authors of the time period, the audiences of the time period, Queen Elizabeth I, women of the Renaissance or Early Modern age, history of rhetoric, British drama, etc.


I have taught Shakespeare, Early Modern literature, Early Modern women's literature, the history of rhetoric, Arthurian literature, and related general literary subjects and many others in university classrooms for more than 25 years.

Renaissance Society of America, South-Central Renaissance Society, John Donne Society

3 books with University Presses, 1 book with HarperCollins Press; articles with: Continuum Press, DLB, Gale Research Shakespearean Criticism and Shakespearean Criticism Yearbook, College English journal, Studies in English Literature journal, CEA Critic journal, Renascence journal, Texas Papers on Language and Literature journal, several others.

Ph.D. in British Renaissance Literature and Rhetoric; M.A. in English; B.A. English and Theatre

Awards and Honors
I was editor of a scholarly journal for 10 years; Recipient of my university's Recognition Awards for Research, Teaching, and Service; two Sabbatical awards; graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude

Past/Present Clients
Panelist/Reviewer for National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, DC, 2001, 1997, and 1993; Referee for College Literature, Yale University Press (numerous editions of Shakespeare’s plays), College English, Harper/Collins (1992 to 1995: full-length book manuscripts, including the complete manuscript of The HarperCollins World Reader, Volume I.); Dramaturg for local Little Theatre, 2001–03 (including productions of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Dangerous Liaisons); Dramaturg for various productions in Theatre/Dance Dept at my University (including As You Like It, Midsummer Night's Dream, Measure for Measure, The Tempest)

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