AP Seminar
King Lear: Introduction
Shakespeare’s Language
 Yes, Shakespeare’s language is considered Modern English!
 His diction is difficult to understand because
 Some of his words are no longer used.
 Some of his words have changed in meaning.
 His sentences are unique in that
 He often uses anastrophe.
 The verb often precedes the subject (e.g., goes he rather than he goes).
 The subject often is placed between two parts of a verb phrase (e.g., he does go rather than go he
The object often precedes the subject and verb (e.g., Him I hit rather than I hit him).
Sometimes the verb precedes the subject and the object precedes the subject and verb: “Such
unconstant stars are we like[ly] to have from him” (I.ii.347-348).
Sometimes words that are normally together are separated.
Sometimes basic sentence elements are held back until subordinate material is presented.
Sometimes words are omitted.
 Shakespeare’s unique syntax helps to
o Maintain the rhythm (usually iambic pentameter).
o Heighten the emotional intensity of the scene.
 Pay close attention to Shakespeare’s use of prose and poetry. Who speaks in prose? When? What is
its effect? Who speaks in poetry? When? What is its effect?
 At times, it is helpful to rearrange the words in sentences.
Video Links
o “St. Crispin’s Day Speech” from HenryV:
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ptqev-KEmhU
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luqr-
o “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” from Macbeth:
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZnaXDRwu84
o “Seven Ages of Man” from AsYou Like It:
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziXqEX6AwKA
o RUSH “Limelight” I LoveYou Man (allusion to Shakespeare’s “Seven
Ages of Man”)
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOckQm-TpWk
Dialectical Journal
 Four observations and interpretations per entry (12 total entries):
 Language (poetry vs. prose, puns, stichomythia, etc.)
 Nature imagery and symbolism, including references to human nature
 Irony and paradox
 Parallel plots
 Elements of tragedy (tragic flaw, hamartia, peripeteia, anagnorisis,
catastrophe, pathos, catharsis)
 Connections to Oedipus Rex
 Summary of each Act
 Three vocabulary words from each Act
Important Literary Terms and Concepts
Archetype: An archetype is a basic model, a prototype, a paradigm, an exemplar; an archetype is atavistic (a throwback) and
universal; it is a product of the “collective unconscious.”
Imagery and Symbolism:
o Nature
o Eclipses
o Storms
Paradox: A seemingly contradictory statement, which upon further analysis makes sense; that which sounds impossible but is
actually possible; a side-by-side play on contradictory ideas that clash and reconcile simultaneously.
o The paradox of blindness!
o The paradox of the fool!
Pun: A pun is a play on words, which Shakespeare uses quite frequently.
Stichomythic dialogue (stichomythia) and antilabe: Alternating individual lines of verse between two speakers.
Motifs and Themes
Tragic Hero
Tragic Flaw
Rising Action or Complication
Falling Action, Unraveling or Denouement
Climax or Crisis
Fundamental Facts of
Human Existence
Growing up
Tribal life
Sibling rivalry
Generational conflict
Creatures and Symbols
Paradisiacal garden
Character Types
The rebel
The “player”
The “femme fatale”
The self-made man
The all-conquering hero
The traitor
The villain
The god-king
The king as a sacrificial
The tragic hero
Motifs and Themes
 Motif: a recurring element (e.g., object, idea, character type, or theme) or
contrasting elements in a work of literature that helps to illuminate theme.
 Theme: a common, recurring topic seen throughout a literary work; or a
prominent and oftentimes abstract idea in a literary work.
 When asked to explore how a motif (e.g., a Bar Mitzvah, a Bat Mitzvah, or a
Quinceañera) helps to illuminate a theme, make sure to identify a prominent
idea (e.g., empathy, not age, equals maturity) in addition to a common,
recurring topic (e.g., coming of age).
 Example
o Motif :
o Ultima and Tenorio
o Compassionate, benevolent daughter (Cordelia) and scheming, malevolent daughters
(Goneril and Regan)
o Loyal son (Edgar) and a scheming, Machiavellian son (Edmund)
o Theme (Topic): Good vs. Evil; Loyalty vs. Betrayal
o Theme (Prominent Idea): For good to truly triumph over evil, we must learn to
forgive those who perform evil deeds.
Paradox: A seemingly contradictory statement, which upon further analysis
makes sense; that which sounds impossible but is actually possible; a side-byside play on contradictory ideas that clash and reconcile simultaneously.
Paradox deals with an apparent logical contradiction; irony deals with an
incongruity between what is expected and what occurs, what is said and what is
 “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”
 “It’s the little things in life that are colossal.”
 “Stone walls do not a prison make.”
 “None so blind as those that will not see.”
 Although blind, Teiresias sees more clearly than Oedipus
who can see.
 By exercising freewill, Oedipus fulfills fate!
Stichomythic dialogue (stichomythia):
Alternating individual lines of verse
between two speakers
 A technique used to provide contrast to long speeches
 A technique used to present thesis and antithesis, questions
and answer, argument and refutation.
A technique that allowed playwrights to distinguish for the
audience one masked actor from another
A technique used to heighten the drama
Usually occurs at moments of high tension
Usually structured in parallel lines of verse
Sometimes structured using antilabe
 An action of great magnitude is at the center of the plot.
 Pathos (that which evokes pity or sympathy) is an essential element of
the play.
 The plot is carefully sequenced, moving from the complication to the
unraveling or denouement.
 Rising Action or Complication (i.e., the rising action): Prologue to
turning point (i.e., crisis or climax)
Unraveling or denouement (i.e., the falling action): Turning point (i.e.,
crisis or climax) to the resolution
Complicated plots involve reversal (peripeteia), which is a sudden change
or reversal of circumstance or fortune, and recognition (anagnorisis),
which is a change from ignorance to knowledge.
A catastrophe occurs, which usually spirals outward: not only does the
tragic hero suffer, but his family also suffers, thus producing pathos (great
sorrow and pity, which evokes empathy).
A catharsis occurs, which is a purification or purging of emotions, a
spiritual renewal.
Tragic Hero
 He is elevated to a high status and position in society, and he
possesses noble stature and greatness.
While he embodies nobility and virtue, he is flawed.
His downfall or demise is due in part to freewill, an error in
judgment (i.e., hamartia) associated with a tragic flaw (e.g.,
His downfall or demise is due in part to fate.
His misfortune is not wholly deserved; the punishment exceeds the
He gains awareness, insight, and self-knowledge as a result of his fall
from grace.
Complete Freytag’s Plot Triangle for
Shakespeare’s King Lear