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Shakespeare: King Lear

5. Act III – Human Nature

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In this module, we think about the significance of Act III of the play, focusing in particular on: (i) the textual history of the play, including the significant differences between the 1608 quarto and 1623 folio editions of the play – most notably the blinding of Gloucester (Act 3, Scene 7) and the mock trial scene (Act 3, Scene 6); (ii) the extent to which the play’s characters reflect on the themes of nature and the natural, nature and nurture, and the nature of man (‘Man is no more but such a poor bare, forked animal’); (iii) the extent to which there is an underlying Christian ethic to the play, despite the lack of explicit references; and (iv) the extent to which King Lear represents a bleaker account of the human condition than Shakespeare’s other great philosophical play, Hamlet.


In this course, Professor Grace Ioppolo (University of Reading) explores Shakespeare’s King Lear. We begin in the first module by thinking about Shakespeare’s sources for King Lear – what he took from earlier versions of the story, and what he invented for himself. After that, we think about the critical reception of the play, focusing in particular on Peter Brook’s 1962 production and the influence of Jan Kott’s ‘Shakespeare Our Contemporary’ (1961). In the third module, we explore the opening scene of the play, before turning in the fourth module to the theme of the absent mother in the play. In the fifth and sixth modules, we focus on the long central act of the play, thinking first about Act III as an exploration of human nature, and then about what Act III tells us about the kind of tragedy King Lear is. Finally, in the seventh module, we think about the final two acts of the play, focusing in particular on the very end of the play, and the meaning of the play as a whole.


Grace Ioppolo is Professor of English at the University of Reading. Her teaching focuses mostly on Shakespeare and his contemporary dramatists, although she also has an interest in American drama of the 20th century. Her recent publications include the Norton Critical Edition of King Lear (2015) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (2018)

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Ioppolo, G. (2019, November 05). Shakespeare: King Lear - Act III – Human Nature [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Ioppolo, G. "Shakespeare: King Lear – Act III – Human Nature." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 05 Nov 2019,