Close Reading- Act 1 Scene 1

This scene sets up the entire play and all of its subplots. Lear is undoubtedly foolish in this opening act and irresponsibly abdicates his powers as the King. His primary motive in these acts is selfish- he wants the title and not the responsibility of being king- and his vanity also shows here. He does not wish to be an old and weak king. We must remember, at this point, he has ruled for a long time and the lands have prospered under his control. In this scene, he acts only on appearances and chooses not to accept what he should, after all these years, know to be true. All actions in the play relate back to this original scene.


After reading the scene through again (yes, I know you will have grumbled at this) you should aim to explore some of the language in this first scene. Your task is to closely read the following sections of text and to transcribe what is being said. You should also explain what each of the following sections of text reveals about the motives of the characters that are connected to them.


The first section is from the very opening of the play, where Kent and Gloucester are discussing Lear’s plan to divide the Kingdom. Note that they talk only of the power going to Albany and Cornwall (because, you know, they’re men and women are so inferior…).


The next extract is spoken when Edmund comes onstage. Interesting to think about what has made Edmund the way he is…

This third extract is from Lear in his opening address when he explains his plan to divide the kingdom. Why does he want to split it?

This is Lear’s introduction to Cordelia’s time to shine. Is there anything that gives away his affection for her or not? Justify your answer.

Kent calls things as they truly are right from the word go and this extract is a fine example of this.

Finally, we have the sisters. After a cold farewell to Cordeila, they hold this conversation. What insight can you gain from it? Do they think that the Lear that stood before them is the same person he has always been? What do they think is happening to him? Use the text to explain your answer.

Posted by Renee Plunkett

Teacher of English at Mount Aspiring College, Wanaka, New Zealand.

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