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King Lear Shakespeare’s King Lear appears on the Main Stage at People’s Light & Theatre in Malvern from March 3-28, 2010. Shakespeare’s five-act play is big. The cast is large — 17 people — and the story encompasses great emotions and extreme actions. Preparations for this ambitious play began at People’s Light two years ago and included bringing in Shakespeare scholar Deborah T. Curren-Aquino (consultant for the Folger Shakespeare Library) for a three-hour script analysis workshop on the play. It has been exciting for us to delve deeply into this magnificent play. Now we look forward to sharing it with you, our audiences. In addition to the performances in March, People’s Light will host schools from our Project Discovery High School program in February for Encountering Lear. These 10 a.m. performances will include key scenes from the play as well as interactive “bridges” that highlight plot, character, and language. Shorter in length than the full King Lear (which doesn’t fit into the field trip schedule for most schools), Encountering Lear will give students an opportunity to talk with the cast about themes in the play that touch their lives: sibling rivalry, clashes with a parent, favoritism, and issues of loyalty, betrayal, and identity. Encountering Lear was written by Elizabeth Webster Duke and directed by Samantha Bellomo.

Texting for Tickets People’s Light is also offering students an opportunity to return in March to see the full production of King Lear for free. This year for the first time, People’s Light has set

Margraffix Design

Performances for School Groups

up a way for students to “text for tickets.” Students who come to Encountering Lear will receive instructions on how to text a message to receive free tickets. The People’s Light & Theatre Company’s production is part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, a national initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest. Thank you to the NEA! To find out more about Shakespeare for a New Generation, please visit ★

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Cordelia (Lear’s favorite daughter) distrusts her sisters’ declarations and refuses to play this game. She tells Lear that as a daughter she is bound by duty to love her father. Furious at her seeming lack of feeling, Lear disowns and banishes her, giving his entire kingdom to Goneril and Regan. The Earl of Kent urges Lear to reconsider his rash action. Further enraged by this interference, Lear banishes Kent as well. Lear summons the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France to inform them that Cordelia is now penniless. Impressed by Cordelia’s honesty and character, the King of France decides to marry her without a dowry. They depart for France.

Act I King Lear announces his plans to retire. He will divide his kingdom among his three daughters Goneril (married to the Duke of Albany), Regan (married to the Duke of Cornwall) and Cordelia (sought in marriage by both the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France). He demands that his daughters declare their love for him; the most devoted daughter will receive the largest share of the kingdom. Goneril and Regan try to outdo each other in saying that they love Lear most.


Costume Design for Lear, Act I

Meanwhile, Edmund (the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester) has devised a plot against Edgar, Gloucester’s legitimate son. As the bastard son, Edmund has no social standing or right to an inheritance. Edmund composes a counterfeit letter to convince his father that Edgar is a traitor, and Gloucester falls for the trick. Goneril and Albany are the first to host Lear but the arrangement goes badly. Lear quarrels with her household and Goneril resents the rowdy behavior of Lear’s soldiers. Kent, who still remains loyal to Lear, arrives in disguise. Lear, not recognizing Kent, agrees to employ him as an aide. After a ferocious argument with Goneril, Lear leaves to stay with his daughter Regan.

Act II At the Earl of Gloucester’s castle, Edmund convinces Edgar to flee, then wounds himself to pretend that Edgar has stabbed him. Unexpectedly, Regan and her husband Cornwall arrive at Gloucester’s castle. As a messenger of Lear, Kent arrives at Gloucester’s castle where he encounters Oswald, who is carrying a letter from Goneril to Regan. Accusing Oswald of being “against the King,” Kent fights him. Cornwall puts Kent’s legs in the stocks, which is a grave offense against Lear since Kent is in his service. Edgar, in flight, disguises himself as a mad beggar and calls himself “Poor Tom.” Lear and the Fool arrive at Gloucester’s (after not having found Regan at her home) and are shocked to find Kent in the stocks. Goneril arrives and joins Regan in insulting Lear. They declare that he will only be allowed to stay with them if he follows their instructions and dismisses his personal soldiers. Full of curses and grief, Lear exits just as a storm is gathering.

Tom of Bedlam In 1247 a convent was founded just outside the London wall for the order of St. Mary of Bethlehem. Over the centuries it became first a general hospital and then a hospital for the mentally ill. In 1547 King Henry VIII granted Bethlehem Hospital, now known as Bedlam, to the city of London as an asylum for the mentally deranged. Shakespeare refers to Bedlam and the “Bedlam beggars,” commonly known by the generic name “Tom O’Bedlams” in several of his plays. Edgar takes the name “Poor Tom” to disguise himself as destitute and mentally deranged.

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Summary of Acts III, IV, and V (Spoiler Alert!) Cordelia arrives in Dover with military forces from France to aid her father. Lear rages in the tremendous storm; Kent finally guides him into a hovel for shelter where they find Poor Tom. Gloucester arrives to warn them of a plot to kill Lear and tells them to depart to Dover immediately where they will be protected by the French. Gloucester is declared a traitor by Edmund, Cornwall, and Regan. Cornwall gouges out Gloucester’s eyes. To defend Gloucester, a servant fights with Cornwall; both are killed. Gloucester, now completely blind, is turned out of his own castle. He learns that Edmund betrayed him and Edgar was set up. Edgar encounters his father Gloucester but doesn’t reveal his identity. Gloucester asks “Tom” to lead him to Dover so that he can throw himself off of the cliffs, but Edgar keeps him safe. Goneril loves Edmund and despises her husband whom she considers a coward. Regan also loves Edmund and hopes to marry him now that Cornwall is dead. Lear receives medical care from Cordelia’s doctor and is reunited with Cordelia. Goneril and Albany’s troops arrive in Dover and battle commences between the British and the French. France loses and Lear and Cordelia are captured and sent to prison.

EXPLORING KING LEAR THROUGH IMPROVISATION Ask students to work in pairs. Each pair decides who is “A” and who is “B.” Each pairs’ job is to keep the conversation going as long as possible. Have everyone work at once. Then spotlight a few pairs to reprise their conversations for the group. (Students worry that they won’t remember what they said before — they may choose to repeat the main ideas of their previous improv or they can start fresh with a new approach.) Improvisation means making it up! Situation: One friend (A) has just told another friend (B)

that s/he is going to drop out of high school to move to LA to try to become a movie star. First Line: Friend B who is staying wants his/her friend

to make a smarter decision. Friend B’s first line is, “You’re making a big mistake.” Second Line: Friend A who is leaving wants support. Friend A’s first line is, “You’re supposed to take my side.”

Read the Kent/Lear scene from Act 1, scene 1, lines 141-163 and discuss how the improv is connected to the situation.

Edmund sends a Captain to the prison with a note containing some instructions. Albany has discovered the treacherous plans of Edmund and Goneril. Edgar arrives and kills Edmund. When her plot is exposed, Goneril rushes out. Edgar reveals that Gloucester has died. Regan and Goneril both die — Regan is poisoned by Goneril (so that Goneril could marry Edmund) and Goneril commits suicide. Before he dies, Edmund reveals that he ordered the Captain to hang Cordelia. A messenger is sent to prevent the murder but he arrives too late. Lear enters carrying Cordelia’s dead body. In his grief for her, he dies, leaving Edgar, Albany, and Kent as the survivors. ★


Costume design for Regan, inspired by gowns by Mariano Fortuny.

Cordelia’s Name The name Cordelia derives from the Latin word cor, meaning heart. In many earlier stories about King Leir, his youngest daughter is named “Cordella” or “Cordeilla.” Shakespeare may have gotten his spelling of the name from “Cordelia” in The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser (1590).

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King Lear The aging ruler of Britain.

MAIN PLOT Red denotes disloyalty to Lear, blue denotes loyalty to Lear Kent Trusted nobleman, banished from Kingdom by Lear but later serves Lear in disguise.

The Fool


Court jester who serves Lear, offering his views cloaked in jokes and puns.

Lear’s eldest daughter, who turns against him. She falls in love with Edmund and scorns her husband, whom she terms weak.

Regan Lear’s middle daughter, who also turns against him. In rivalry with Goneril for Edmund’s love.

Cordelia Lear’s youngest, favorite and only loyal daughter. Lear banishes her when she displeases him.

King of France Impressed by Cordelia’s character, he marries her even though Lear takes away her dowry.

Duke of Albany

Duke of Cornwall

Goneril’s husband; he is troubled by her disloyalty towards her father.

Regan’s hot-tempered husband; helps her plot against Lear.

Duke of Burgundy


Suitor to Cordelia, who rejects her when she is disowned by her father.

Goneril’s steward; clashes with Lear and Kent.

SUB PLOT Edgar/Poor Tom Gloucester’s legitimate son and rightful heir, driven out of the kingdom by his brother’s plot. He dons the disguise of a mad beggar and calls himself “Poor Tom.”

Edmund Earl of Gloucester Nobleman in Lear’s kingdom; father to Edgar and Edmund.

Gloucester’s illegitimate son; plots to displace his brother and gain his father’s inheritance.


The Fool Shakespearean audiences would have recognized Lear’s Fool as a standard figure — a jester employed to entertain the court, and allowed to speak his mind as long as he was witty. The Fool calls Lear “Nuncle,” a term of affection, which is a contraction of “mine Uncle.”

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William Shakespeare, considered England’s greatest dramatist, was baptized on April 26, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. (His exact birth date is not known, though it is traditionally marked on April 23.) The parish register entry for his baptism is in Latin and reads, “Guiliamus filius Johannes Shakspere”; translated “William son of John Shakspere.” His mother, Mary Arden, was a wealthy landowner’s daughter; his father was a glove maker and public official. Shakespeare attended Stratford grammar school, where it is likely that he studied Latin, grammar, reading, writing, and recitation. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582 and the couple had three children, Susanna, and twins Judith, and Hamnet. Public records shows that as of 1594, he was a shareholder in the Globe Theatre in London. There he was a key player in London theatre, as actor and writer for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men, which performed for and was patronized by royalty. Shakespeare’s plays were published and sold in his lifetime, then a rare accomplishment for a playwright. Scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote King Lear sometime between 1603-1606, after he wrote Hamlet and Othello. Evidence suggests that the play was performed From Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare for King James I at Whitehall on December 26, 1606, and by Isaac Asimov. that the play reflects the political turmoil of the time as James sought to establish his power after the long reign of Queen Elizabeth I, which ended with her death in 1603. Since Elizabeth had no children, she had named her cousin James as her successor, but his succession was contested and he faced many threats on his life. In Shakespeare’s play, Lear creates a problem of succession by stepping down early and dividing his kingdom so that no one is clearly in charge.


In his late 40s, Shakespeare moved back to Stratford where he continued to write. From the texts that survive, we know that he wrote at least 38 plays and some 150 sonnets. He died on April 23, in 1616 and is buried in Stratford. In 1623, two members of the King’s Men printed the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays, half of which had been previously unseen by the public. The texts we read and perform today derive largely from this “First Folio.”

Rankings of Nobility In King Lear, the King divides his kingdom between two of his daughters, who are married to Dukes. The Earl of Kent and the Earl of Gloucester are close advisors to the King. The ranking of nobility goes as follows:

King, Prince, Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Baron

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Origins of the King Lear Story As he did for many of his plays, Shakespeare drew on familiar stories that were part of his culture for the plot of King Lear. Both British and Irish mythology had tales of a king called “Ler,” “Leir,” and “Lyr.” The earliest written account (from the year 1135) of the King Lear story is Historia Regum Britanniae, by Geoffrey of Monmouth. The story appears later in many works including a history by Raphael Holinshed and The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney (1590) may have provided Shakespeare with the model for the Earl of Gloucester subplot. But Shakespeare’s chief source was likely a book called The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his Three Daughters, Gonerill, Ragan and Cordella. This work was published in 1605 and the first known performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear was in 1606.

The Great Chain of Being Shakespeare was writing during what is called the Elizabethan era (named for Queen Elizabeth I). A widely held belief at this time was that the social order was divinely arranged by God as a hierarchy. Using the metaphor of the “chain of being,” people pictured God as the top of the chain, and the rest of creation in descending links below God. They considered the monarch (Queen or King) as divinely chosen by God and as the human being closest to God. The rest of the

nobility ranked in importance below the monarch; then came the clergy, followed by the merchants, followed by the poor, with animals at the bottom. Applying this idea to the play, King Lear has absolute power as God’s representative on earth. What he says goes. But when Lear gives up his role, he breaks the chain and brings chaos to the social order. Edmund, as another example, breaks the chain by trying to rise above his station in the social order.

A Happy Ending?! Audiences today consider King Lear one of Shakspeare’s great tragedies. But for nearly 150 years, the version that audiences saw ended happily. In 1681, a man named Nahum Tate rewrote the play. In his version, the King of France and the Fool are eliminated; Cordelia isn’t banished; Edgar and Cordelia fall in love; and the play ends happily for Cordelia and Lear! In 1823, Edmund Kean tried to revive Shakespeare’s tragic text, but audiences just laughed at it and the production closed after three days. It wasn’t until after World War II that the tragic Lear was reclaimed and began to be produced widely. To think about: What factors might make audiences in the 20th and 21st centuries find the tragic story of King Lear meaningful? How do you see the play speaking to our time? ★

PUNCTUATION CIRCLE GOAL: To encourage students to feel how Shakespeare’s punctuation can provide clues for a character’s thoughts and mood. Try this exercise with Edmund’s first monologue in King Lear, Act 1, scene 2, lines 1-22. STEP 1: Read the speech aloud

in class. Who is the speaker and what seems to be his main point? (It’s ok if the class doesn’t understand the whole speech. This exercise asks students to see what clues to meaning they can gather from the punctuation and sound of the speech.) STEP 2: Ask class (or a selected

number of students if space is tight) to stand in circle. STEP 3: Instruct students to walk

in one direction around the circle until the end punctuation of each sentence (a period, exclamation point, or question mark). Begin by

walking to the left. “Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services bound.” Now turn and walk to the right for the next sentence. STEP 4: At each sentence end,

the students change direction and walk the opposite way. “With base?” [change direction] “With baseness? [change direction]. STEP 5: Discuss what ideas this punctuation with movement gave you. Does this character seem calm? agitated? angry? happy? Did you get different ideas from the character when the sentences were short as compared to when they were long?

Steve Umberger Director Steve Umberger directed the 2008 premiere of Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Jersey Lily for People’s Light. Favorite credits include Wit, Proof, Falsettos, Cabaret, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, and The Tempest for theatres including Riverside Theatre, Barter Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, The North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, and Charlotte Repertory Theatre. He is the Founding Artistic Director of Charlotte Rep and a member of Actors’ Equity and The Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. ★

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Luigi Sottile King of France/Ensemble

Graham Smith Lear

Mary Elizabeth Scallen Goneril

Ahren Potratz Oswald

Joseph O’Brien Ensemble

Stephen Novelli Earl of Gloucester

Christopher Mullen Edgar

Susan McKey Regan

Mark Lazar Fool

Andrew Kane Burgundy/Ensemble

Claire Inie-Richards Gentlewoman to Goneril

Lenny Haas Cornwall

Peter DeLaurier Earl of Kent

★ ★


Kim Carson Cordelia

David Blatt Ensemble

Kevin Bergen Edmund

Michael Allen Duke of Albany

Letters Galore There are eight letters exchanged in King Lear, and they play a key role in the plot — setting in motion betrayal, conveying secret information, and revealing evil plots. Remarkably, in Shakespeare’s day, only 8 % of the population could read, so letters were only for the privileged few.

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Large panels define the set. Some of the panels slide, creating shadows and secret spaces. Other panels rotate to establish the play’s different spaces and moods. On the rotating panels, one side has gold-colored stamped tiles to reflect the world of a king; on the other side is a cold blue metallic texture, evoking the dark and cruel events that unfold.

From the costume designer, Marla Jurglanis At the start of the rehearsal period for each production, everyone at People’s Light (actors, designers, administrative staff, production personnel) gathers for a “design presentation” about the show. The director talks about his or her approach to the play and the designers show the set model and costume sketches and share the inspirations and research that led to their designs. Everyone leaves with the information they need to do their jobs better, whether that job is building the set, publicizing the show, selling tickets, or writing notes for the program. The notes below are from the design presentation for King Lear (1/19/10).

From the director, Steve Umberger This is the second time in recent years that Steve Umberger has directed King Lear. In 2008, he directed the play at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, with Graham Smith as Lear; Smith returns to the role of Lear in the production at People’s Light. Umberger is interested in how immediate the play feels — how it presents us with elemental feelings and behaviors that resonate with our own experiences. He notes that the play “captures characters in great moments of decision and action.” To keep the focus on the characters’ actions, he chose not to place the play in a particular period or interpretive framework. The production combines Medieval and modern influences to convey both the flavor of an ancient royal period and its link to us.

Costume designer Marla Jurglanis knew what she didn’t want for the Lear costumes. “Not romantic.” The play is too harsh, too cruel for sumptuous and highly decorated garments, she notes. She was inspired by how some painters and designers of the early 20th century blended Medieval and modern elements. One influence on her design was Mariano Fortuny, a modern Italian designer who brings together strong lines (reminiscent of the Medieval silhouette) with embossed, highly textured fabrics. Paintings by the Austrian artist Egon Schiele were also an influence. To Jurglanis, the “angularity and tension” of his work felt right for King Lear. ★

Costume design for Goneril, inspired by gowns by Mariano Fortuny.

From the set designer, James F. Pyne, Jr. James Pyne wrote a few lines to guide his design of the set for King Lear. An Old World; a tired Monarch, A Gold World; ambitious heirs, A Cold World; too few warm hearts, A Dark World; the light too hidden, A Metallic World; too “patina-ed” to polish, A world too old to prosper; too envied to die.

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Guide written by Amy Lipman and Nancy Shaw with assistance from Elizabeth Pool and David Stradley. Costume Designs by Marla J. Jurglanis. Play Artwork by Margraffix Design. Guide Design by Gary Brooks of Hollister Creative. Copyright © 2010 The People’s Light & Theatre Company. All rights reserved.

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Explore the world of KING LEAR, by William Shakespeare. BACKSTAGE offers you a summary of the play, classroom activities, information on th...