One way in which conflict is presented in this excellent tragedy is through the storm that rages throughout Act III as Lear wanders around on the heath. This storm could symbolically represent a number of different aspects of conflict. Of course, primarily it could be argued to represent the conflict and inner turmoil that Lear himself is experiencing. Note how at the beginning of Act III scene 2, Lear appeals to the storm to become stronger and destroy all in its path:
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
.... Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill at once
That makes ingrateful man!
This clearly represents the inner conflict within Lear as he tries to reconcile the way that he has been treated with his increasing loss of control as madness sets in and his own guilt at the way that he exiled his one true daughter.
However, note too how it could be said to reflect the conflict that is tearing Lear's kingdom apart. The storm reflects the "division" that is evident in the kindom that Kent alludes to when he talks to the Gentleman in Act III scene 1.
Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the play, and support their choices with details from the text.
King Lear Themes to Look For and Discuss
Foolishness and Manipulation
Both King Lear and Gloucester are foolish in their haste to believe their deceitful children, which allows them to be easily manipulated. Lear’s daughters manipulate him with their words in order to make him believe that they deserve a piece of the kingdom. Cordelia, for her refusal to participate in such a trivial exercise, is disinherited and banished by Lear because he was too foolish to see that her sincerity lay in her refusal to placate him with meaningless words. To further drive this point home, King Lear allows the Fool to be one of his closest confidantes and allies during his struggle, and the Fool constantly reminds and berates the king for his foolishness. Gloucester is fooled by Edmund with the false letter from Edgar and the imaginary sword fight and wound that Edmund stages. His refusal to follow his instincts lead him to trust the wrong son.
Moral Instruction for Nobility
Shakespeare is known for utilizing his plays to send important morals or warnings to the monarchy in veiled ways (in order to keep his head attached to his shoulders). King Lear delivers two important moral instructions for the nobility that are worth noting. King Lear, while out in the storm, muses that as king, he never really took time to understand the hardship of the impoverished people. He suggests that the nobility should go out and learn what it is to be a “wretch” and then share more wealth with them to create a more “just” world. The second instance of moral instruction comes when Gloucester pays “Tom” for taking him to the edge of the “cliff.” He tells Tom that a rich man should feel grief and agony so he will be compelled to distribute his “excess wealth” until every man has enough wealth.
The Consequences of Greed
While it initially seems like all the nice characters finish last, Goneril, Regan, Cornwall, Oswald, and Edmund all meet their most untimely deaths as a result of their pursuit of power and riches. Goneril, Regan, and Cornwall’s lust for power reveals their absolute cruelty, which they direct at King Lear and Gloucester. Edmund’s greed for his father’s inheritance reveals his despicable betrayal of his only brother. Oswald’s actions go beyond merely following his master’s orders: he sees opportunity in apprehending Gloucester, and in turn, envisions many honors and thanks and an escalation in standing in the house once Goneril becomes Queen.
Reconciliation and Redemption
While Lear and Gloucester allow their flaws to get in the way of their reason and make a grave error in deciding which children they trust, they are eventually able to reconcile with Cordelia and Edgar and find forgiveness with them. This redemption for their sins from two very selfless characters does not absolve their guilt and grief, but it does provide some rectification for their mistakes before they die.
King Lear Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss
Lear and Gloucester’s Blindness
Both King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester experience a metaphorical blindness that makes them miss the obvious devotion and love of their honest children in favor of the flattery and lies of their other children. This blindness eventually leads to their ruin, and then their deaths. Both men are also blind to the true identities of Kent and Edgar. Gloucester suffers a physical blindness as well at the hands of Cornwall, who at the same time reveals Gloucester’s blunder in trusting Edmund. Gloucester is left to wander off without physical sight, but truly seeing for the first time, the error of his decision.
At the exact time that King Lear realizes the true character of his daughters Goneril and Regan, along with his mistake of disinheriting Cordelia, a great storm begins to rage. It mirrors his own inner turmoil, along with the imbalance of power in the Great Chain of Being. Other characters remark that it is one of the worst storms they’ve ever witnessed, which further substantiates the idea that because the Crown is in crisis, the heavens are revolting violently.
Both Edgar and Kent have to utilize disguises to hide in plain sight while they complete their goals. For Kent, he wants to preserve the king’s sanity and kingdom, and protect him from his evil daughters. He disguises himself and becomes the king’s faithful servant, while maintaining an open line of communication with Cordelia. Likewise, Edgar has to disguise himself as a beggar in order to escape his father’s wrath caused by Edmund. He maintains his disguise until he is able to defeat Edmund in a proper fight, although his revelation of his identity to his father causes him to die of grief and joy.
Throughout the play, characters make reference to various Greek and Roman gods and ideas. King Lear often calls out to the gods for patience or in anger, and throughout the play, Apollo, Jupiter, Jove, Juno, and Cupid are all mentioned. Edgar, as “Tom” references Nero. King Lear calls Edgar a “Greek philosopher” and finds kinship with Edgar, who rambles on in third person as “Tom”, because Lear himself is beginning to slip into a certain kind of rambling madness.
(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in King Lear. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.
- Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
- Identify the theme(s) from King Lear you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
- Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
- Write a description of each of the examples.
(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)