The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the play as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help get you started.
Shakespeare has woven the subplot into the main plot in King Lear to intensify the emotional effect of the tragedy. Write an essay analyzing the way in which the subplot parallels the main plot. Discuss the areas of father-child relationships, political power, and the deaths of the protagonists in the double plot.
I. Thesis Statement: The emotional effect is heightened in King Lear with Shakespeare’s use of a subplot that mirrors the father-child relationships, the corruption of political power, and the death of the protagonist in the main plot.
II. Parallels of father-child relationships
A. Lear’s daughter Cordelia parallels Gloucester’s son Edgar.
1. Both Cordelia and Edgar are loyal to their fathers to the end.
2. Cordelia is banished and Edgar is forced into hiding.
B. Lear’s daughters Goneril and Regan parallel Gloucester’s son Edmund.
1. Goneril and Regan flatter Lear just as Edmund deceives Gloucester.
2. Both Lear and Gloucester talk of the ingratitude of their children.
C. Lear and Gloucester are both blind to their children.
1. Lear is blind to Cordelia’s love and to Goneril and Regan’s ulterior motives.
2. Gloucester is blind to Edmund’s deceit and trickery.
III. Parallels of greed in political power
A. Goneril and Regan seek political power.
1. They strip the King of all his train of followers.
2. They reject the King’s title and turn him out into the storm.
B. Edmund has high political aspirations.
1. He allows Gloucester to be blinded for his own political gain.
2. He usurps Edgar’s legitimate title as the future Earl of Gloucester.
C. Kent and Edgar both lose their nobility.
1. The Earl of Kent is banished for his honest defense of Cordelia.
2. Edgar loses his claim to nobility through the deceit and trickery of Edmund.
IV. Parallels in the deaths of Lear and Gloucester
A. Both die in the presence of their loyal children.
1. Lear dies with Cordelia in his arms.
2. Gloucester dies after Edgar has revealed himself as the Duke’s son.
B. Lear and Gloucester both die in “extremes of passion.”
1. Lear dies of a broken heart. “Break heart, I prithee break!”
2. Gloucester’s “flaw’d heart” bursts of “joy and grief” after his reunion with Edgar.
C. Both die with renewed insight.
1. Gloucester needs to be blinded before he can see Edmund’s deceit and Edgar’s loyalty.
2. Lear needs to suffer the rejection of his older daughters before he can see Cordelia’s loyalty
3. Both find that the loss of title and position humbles them.
V. Conclusion: The subplot intensifies the emotional impact of the main plot in the areas of child-parent relationships, the corruption of political power, and the death of the protagonist.
Through suffering, King Lear is transformed from an arrogant, dictatorial king and father to a man who realizes the folly of his past life. Write an essay tracing the progress of his...
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10 Wonderful “King Lear” Essay Topics to Compose a Paper On
King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated and critically acclaimed works, and makes for an excellent assignment in many high school and college level classes.
Here are 10 great “King Lear” essay topics you can use to write your paper on or to guide you towards your own:
- 1. There are a number of characters in the play besides King Lear and Cordelia that can be examined at length. What is the importance of characters such as Edgar and Edmund?
- 2. Two of the major themes that are worth discussion are both the private and public concerns within the play. What is your take on each of these and how are these themes presented in specific characters?
- 3. In Shakespeare’s day, the use of madness in theater was largely a comic effect. Shakespeare, though, appears to be serious in his portrayal of King Lear’s own madness. Compare and contrast the differing types of madness and what it means to mad within the play.
- 4. The play is not only a tragedy of ingratitude and pride and of children and parents; it is also seen as a tragedy of what it means to be a king, or kingship. Consider the power relations present in the play and the possible message Shakespeare may have been trying to convey.
- 5. The play is considered one of Shakespeare’s most layered works. For instance, the physical blindness of Gloucester is often considered to be a reflection of King Lear’s own spiritual blindness. Discuss this and other subplots in the play.
- 6. The female characters in the play are often seen as aggressive and powerful figures who are sometimes more ruthless than the male characters. Discuss how different the role of women is in this play compared to Shakespeare’s other works.
- 7. Do you have any sympathy for King Lear? Does your perception of him change as the play unfolds? What about your impression of Gloucester? Does he deserve sympathy?
- 8. Who do you blame for the disorder that erupts in Britain? Does one character hold the key to keeping order or was a break down inevitable and are the characters merely witnesses to what they have no control over?
- 9. The “Fool” is a literary trope that makes many appearances in Elizabethan plays. What function does he have in King Lear and why does he abruptly disappear from the action?
- 10. How does age and fear of death factor into the play? Is this merely a common feeling that Shakespeare points out about humanity, or is this a criticism he uses about his own characters?