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Shakespeare: King Lear

1. The Origins of King Lear

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about Shakespeare’s sources for King Lear, focusing in particular on: (i) Shakespeare’s use of King James’ Basilikon Doron (1st ed. 1599, 2nd ed. 1603), The True Chronicle History of King Leir (published in 1605, but performed during the 1590s), and Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1590); (ii) the parts of the play that were Shakespeare’s own invention – especially the ending; and (iii) the presentation of the love test in Holinshed’s Chronicles compared with the scene in Shakespeare’s play.


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)

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Ioppolo, G. (2019, November 05). Shakespeare: King Lear - The Origins of King Lear [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Ioppolo, G. "Shakespeare: King Lear – The Origins of King Lear." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 05 Nov 2019,