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Shakespeare: King Lear

2. Act 1, Scene 1: The Division of the Kingdom

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About this Lecture


In this module, we explore the first half of Act 1, Scene 1, in which Lear decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, up to the point that Lear banishes his youngest daughter, Cordelia. In particular, we think about: (i) the opening lines of dialogue between Kent and Gloucester, who talk about Lear’s affections for his daughters’ husbands, rather than his daughters themselves (“I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall”, 1); (ii) Gloucester’s relationship with his two sons, each of whom (he says) he loves equally; (iii) the stature and standing of Lear as he enters the stage for the first time; (iv) Aristotle’s concept of the ‘tragic flaw’ and what Lear’s ‘tragic flaw’ might be; (v) Lear’s (and the audience’s) reaction to Goneril and Regan’s massively exaggerated (and totally disingenuous) declarations of love; and (vi) the themes of truth, knowledge and self-awareness.


In this twenty-five part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Shakespeare’s King Lear. We begin with a broad introduction to the historical, political and intellectual context of early 17th-century England. After that, we go through the play scene by scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes and motifs, language, symbolism – and more.

We use the Arden (Third Series) edition of the play. Students using a different edition of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2019, February 26). Shakespeare: King Lear - Act 1, Scene 1: The Division of the Kingdom [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Shakespeare: King Lear – Act 1, Scene 1: The Division of the Kingdom." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Feb 2019,

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