The setting of King Lear

In this task, students combine their research and creative skills to come up with their own setting for King Lear. This task encourages them to consider the importance of setting, and the influence that the historical period in which the action takes place has on how we interpret the story.

The setting of King Lear is ambiguous; Shakespeare makes no explicit reference to a time period, and the setting of the action is often not described. This leaves plenty of room for creative reimagining.

  1. Make note of any indications you can find in the text of where the characters are at different points in the play (you might think about what country they are in, whether the action occurs outdoors or indoors, whose home the characters might be in, etc.) These indications might appear in the stage directions, or in the dialogue of the characters.
  2. The original King Leir (which Shakespeare’s play is based on) was set in Britain around 800 BC. Research pre-Roman, pagan Britain and list the key facts you can find. How did people live? What did men and women do? What was life like for children and families? How would people have dressed? What was the political/social structure of the time? What armour did they use, and how did they fight? What was the landscape like? Build a picture of what Britain would have been like at the time.
  3. Think of another country, place or time where you could set King Lear, if you were a director. What would that world look like? How would its people behave? Would anything in the story have to be changed? Think about what you are gaining and what you might lose, with your new setting.
  4. Imagine you are the designer for a production of King Lear. Determine how you would convey this new setting in a production using:
  • Set
  • Costume
  • Lighting
  • Sound

    Extension activity – Create a production poster for your version of King Lear. How would you convey your new ideas and setting in the poster? Present your poster to your class, and make a case for why this is a an interesting and relevant setting for the play.