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For this paper, you are required to quote from at least two outside sources, at least one scholarly text (more are encouraged) about King Lear in your essay. You can use any texts you want as long as come from legitimate sources—the article or book must be written by someone with an academic position (professor of English, for instance) and/or published in an academic journal. In other words, Wikipedia or www.gradesaver.com do not cut it since that information is by definition common knowledge or meant for cheating. (Wikipedia is a good place to find academic sources in the References section at the bottom of the page.) I suggest reading a few articles to see what the experts have said about King Lear, and then choose a topic that appeals to you based on these sources. Or you can search for academic articles by using the regular CCSF library Links to an external site.search bar since the college subscribes to academic databases. Use keywords that interest you, such as “King Lear” and “feminism” or “madness” or “filial piety,” which are themes from the topics below.
Your other source(s) can be from newspapers, magazines, and credible websites and might be about the play or background information on topics that help explain a particular theme (psychology, political science, history, gender roles, etc). Avoid biographical info on Shakespeare since it doesn’t directly tell us much about the play.
The following are some suggestions of themes or topics to investigate. You should choose one and address it directly in your thesis.
1.Just about every character in the play undergoes a profound change or series of changes, directly or indirectly, as a result of Lear dividing his kingdom. Closely chart one character’s transformation—describe his/her important qualities when the play started, what events or ideas caused the change, and the extent of the change. Did the character learn from the change or did it destroy him/her or both? What is Shakespeare saying about human nature with this character and/or the impact of the Lear’s division?
2.Lear has three daughters; Gloucester has two sons. Explore each character as a father, and what Shakespeare might be implying about parent-child relationships and obligations in general. You also might look at how their offspring treat them. Form a theory about family relations (and/or filial piety) as they work (and don’t work) in the play.
3.Edmund, a bastard, believes that tradition and rules do not apply to him. How does this worldview affect his actions and his fate? What does Shakespeare seem to be saying about this new sort of self-made man (similar to the American entrepreneur)? Does anyone else in the play attempt to transform his situation in a similar way? Whose worldview seems to oppose his?
4.Form a theory about how Shakespeare treats insanity in the play. You can look closely at Lear’s mental state—did he truly lose his mind? If so, when? Did he regain it? Or did he have it to begin with? What might Shakespeare be saying about the cause of madness, and the effects it causes in the world? You can also look at the other characters who pretend to be insane. What use might acting like a “Bedlam beggar” (insane homeless person) or a fool have in the world Shakespeare describes?
5.Respond to this claim: “Lear brought on all of his problems and therefore deserves no pity.” You may want to look at what he learned or did not learn along the way.
6.Apply the following observation to character(s) in the play: “people don’t see those who are causing them pain when they are standing right in from of them.” You may want to track references to seeing, eyes, and blindness throughout the play.
7.Perform a feminist reading of the play—what might Shakespeare be implying about the treatment of women and what power does to gender relations. You can look at male attitudes toward women and the roles men are trapped in too.
Perform a Marxist or Freudian reading of the play.
Write your own question. Send it to me first.
Considerations:
You must quote the play or directly summarize scenes from the play at least five times. Students often get too far away from textual proof when making claims about Shakespeare.
You also need to quote or summarize at least two outside sources. At least one of these should be an academic article that focuses on the play. The other can be an article about your theme (insanity, filial piety, feminism, Marxism, Freudianism, etc)
Make sure your sentences are concise and not needlessly wordy. Cut out unneeded plot descriiptions.
Spend at least two paragraphs at the end of your essay, before the conclusion, stepping back from the plot and scene-by-scene analysis to synthesize all your observations. Comment on the big picture message of the play. What is Shakespeare saying here?
Use MLA to cite sources, even when they are assigned readings. You do not need to cite Act and Scene numbers, just pages.
Your essay should follow 2016 MLA format and be at least five (full) pages long and no more than seven.
Finding Academic Sources
The best method is usually looking in books, the paper or electronic kind—the criteria for getting something published in a book are often more stringent than getting something published in an article. Harold Bloom has written many accessible works on Shakespeare and edits collections of analytical essays. City College library has a good collection of ebooks and Google Books sometimes lets you see a few pages for free.
The library also provides access to scholarly journals through its website Links to an external site. You need to login using your student ID number. Click on the Articles tab above the search box.
Check out Google Scholar Links to an external site.: (scholar.google.com). Some of these listings have the full text of the article, but even the ones that do not have abstracts that might be useful.
Magazines and newspapers written for an educated general audience often have useful articles about King Lear and themes related to it. Search the websites of The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today, and The Economist.

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