Welcome to Dividing the Kingdoms: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Teaching King Lear, a set of resources created by the faculty, staff, and students at Wayne State University as part of Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates, a micro-grant from the Folger Shakespeare Library and the National Endowment for Humanities. The goal of this site is to provide college educators with resources for teaching King Lear—as well as other Shakespearean texts—from a diverse set of pedagogical approaches while also taking advantage of the rich collections of the Folger, the Detroit Public Library, and Wayne State University.
There are five modules available on this site, each showcasing a different methodology for engaging with King Lear: Adaptation, Cultural Studies, Performance, Philosophy, and Text. A sixth set of exercises offers approaches for using the Digital Humanities to enhance students’ interactions with Lear. Every module consists of an introductory video clip that introduces the module’s theme and guiding questions, a set of three or four in-class activities, two longer assignments, and a service learning exercise that encourages students to share their new knowledge with middle or high school students. These modules are complemented by videos of acclaimed Shakespearean actor Larry Yando, digitizations of key texts (the Quarto and Fourth Folio versions of Lear, Shakespeare’s sources, and Nahum Tate’s 17th-century adaptation), and samples of student work.
These materials can be used in a number of different ways. Each module is designed to run for three or four class sessions before concluding with a capstone assignment and service learning activity, both of which give students the opportunity to engage with that particular methodology in more depth. Many of the assignments and activities dovetail nicely with exercises from other modules, allowing students to approach key themes in Lear through different methodological lenses. Students could spend an entire semester on Lear, working through each of the five modules. Alternatively, faculty members could pick and choose individual modules and/or activities to suit their needs. See the sample syllabi on this page for examples of both kinds of approaches. While the modules were written with an undergraduate audience in mind, every module can be adapted up or down, depending on students’ abilities.
King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s most profound works, but also one of the most difficult to teach at the undergraduate level. By taking a multimodal approach to Lear, Dividing the Kingdoms allows faculty and students to explore the many layers of a masterwork that remains perennially relevant to the human condition.
In the Adaptation module, Professor Chera Kee encourages students to analyze various adaptations of Lear from across the globe. In doing this, students will be able not only to track changing tastes and social norms but also the influence of medium, nation, and author on a text. In turn, students will also be able to identify what they believe to be the essential features of King Lear, those characters, actions, and elements that adapters from widely different eras and nations keep returning to when they re-tell this story.
In the Cultural Studies module, Professor Simone Chess provides two approaches that help students recognize how King Lear relates to early modern and contemporary culture. First, she has designed assignments and activities that focus on the play’s sources and reception so that students can begin to place King Lear within the wider cultural currents of its time. Second, Professor Chess asks students to consider how identity categories like gender and disability are represented in the text.
In the Digital Humanities module, Librarian Judith Arnold provides activities and assignments that take advantage of digitized versions of key texts used in the modules: early editions of Lear (the Quarto, the Fourth Folio), Shakespeare’s sources (the anonymous play Leir, Holinshed’s Chronicles, Sidney’s New Arcadia, Spenser’s Faerie Queene), and Nahum Tate’s 17th-century adaptation. These exercises are designed to either stand alone or coordinate with the other modules, and they encourage students to explore online tools (such as word clouds, data mining, and annotation) that can help them in their study of Lear or any of Shakespeare’s other works.
In the Performance module, Professor Thomas Aulino focuses on basic tools students might need on first encountering King Lear as a play to be performed: scansion, operative words, and the performable paraphrase. By encouraging students to learn how to prepare to perform Lear, this module asks students to embody the play’s characters and, in turn, to consider the characters and their motivations on a level that simply reading the text might not provide.
In the Philosophy module, Professor Ken Jackson explores not only the ways that Shakespeare thinks within King Lear, but also how the play likewise encourages audiences and readers to think. By examining how the play seems to fight the notion of certainty, Professor Jackson asks students to put the play into conversation with their own lives while wrestling with questions like, “Who is a king when he decides to stop being a king?
In the Text module, Professor Jaime Goodrich asks students to examine two editions of King Lear that vary dramatically in terms of their content, layout, and punctuation: the 1608 Quarto and the 1685 Fourth Folio. By considering the many differences between these texts and grappling with the difficulties of early modern print, students learn that there is no one, definitive version of the play but rather different traditions of editing Lear.
By the end of these modules, successful students should be able to:
|Dividing the Kingdoms was funded by
The Folger Shakespeare Library
The National Endowment for the Humanities
Wayne State University
Dividing the Kingdoms was created by
Jaime Goodrich (Coordinator)
The team would like to thank the following individuals and groups for
Digitizing Materials for the Site
Producing the Site’s Videos
Appearing in the Site’s Videos
Composing Music for the Site’s Videos
Providing Closed Captioning for the Site’s Videos
Creating Service-Learning Activities
Piloting Service-Learning Activities
Contributing a Syllabus
Contributing Sample Student Work
Leading the Lear Focus Group, Fall 2016
Participating in the Lear Focus Group, Fall 2016
Providing Logistical Support