Shakespeare's "King Lear" Part 1: The Story


King Lear has perhaps the most expansive cosmic scope of any of Shakespeare’s tragedies. In this play, Shakespeare retells the story of an aging king from Britain’s ancient past who divides his kingdom among his daughters, only to have them turn against him. This story originally had a redemptive, tragi-comic ending; Shakespeare takes that story and changes it to create an almost scandalously shocking tragedy. In this course, you’ll learn the story of King Lear, hear the play’s key speeches performed and analyzed by world-class Shakespearean actors and literary scholars, and watch Shakespeare strip the world down to nothing. In Part 1, you’ll be guided through a detailed account of the story with commentary by Simon Palfrey, Professor of English at the University of Oxford. You’ll see how Shakespeare structured his play around parallel storylines and characters to draw out its key themes, and how he used the character of “Poor Tom” — a beggarly madman whose words are often dismissed as nonsense — to take the play into unexpected metaphysical territory. This summary is told using the language of the play itself, placing key quotations in context to help you understand where these lines come from and what they mean.

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