Blow, Crack, & Rage

Being King Lear's Editor for a Day

I was privileged to be a member of the Folger Shakespeare Library's Teaching Shakespeare Institute 2008. As part of my work, I strived to create an in-class curriculum project involving primary source documents, the web, films, and students' own audio self-recordings.

Through King Lear, act 3, scene 2, students will be exploring both Lear's language and the effect that subsequent editorial intervention has had on it. Focusing specifically on punctuation within the King's famous "Blow winds" speech, students will learn to what degree punctuation affects one's understanding of the language and performance choices.

The goal of this activity is to have students become familiar both with Shakespeare's text and with the choices that can then be made to create completely different performance experiences. By looking at primary sources, viewing performances, and creating an audio recording, students will gain confidence and knowledge in all three mediums.

This lesson is 2 x 40 minute class periods. (If you choose to make homework happen in class, it could take 1-2 periods longer.)

What to do:

1.    Start the day with four statements on the board: a) I love you. b) I love you! c) I love you? d) I love: you.
2.    Ask students to read the statements aloud. What effect do the different punctuation marks have on the statements? What might be the circumstances surrounding each declaration?
3.    Divide the class into small groups to consider different punctuation marks. Ask them to come up with a physical action (preferably involving their whole body) for each of the following punctuation marks: comma, period, exclamation point, question mark, colon, semicolon. Have each group share their choices and explain why they chose the motions that they did.
4.    Now have each student individually write 3 statements about their day, then rewrite them without any punctuation or capitalization. They should then pass the unpunctuated version to a classmate, whose job it will be to make sense of the words by adding in punctuation that they feel is most appropriate.
5.    Once students are done, have them share what they’ve discovered. Did anyone feel misrepresented by someone else’s punctuation on their words? Did anyone have a hard time determining where the sentences broke without an end mark to tell them?
6.    Give students Handout 1: King Lear 3.2 (unpunctuated). Assure them that they do not need to read the speech with punctuation first; the whole idea is to come into the words “blind.”

For homework, students need to view the three clips of King Lear, located on For each written speech, they must punctuate the text as they feel the actor indicates in their performance. In addition, they should note any cut/changed lines. (While they should primarily focus on Lear’s words, they are welcome to indicate choices the Fool made as well.)

1.    Break students into small groups. Each group should compare their punctuated texts of the three versions of the speech, discussing any problems they ran across or unique choices they made.
2.    Return students to the larger group for a discussion about which version they felt was the most effective and why. (You may find it helpful here to show the three versions again.)
3.    Give students Handout 2: Primary Sources.
4.    Read aloud the FIrst Folio version, being true to the punctuation. Discuss with students the choices made by the editors of the First Folio. What words or punctuation are different? Did the actors in the clips follow this punctuation? Should they have? Who ultimately decides what punctuation goes into an edition—or script—of a Shakespearean play?

For homework, students will type up the lines from 3.2 with the punctuation that they think makes the most sense. They should attach a one page paper justifying and explaining their final choices. In addition, they need to make an audio recording of themselves (either on a recording device or through a website like Chinswing or Voice Thread) reading the speech as they have punctuated it.

What you need:

1.    Handout 1: King Lear 3.2 (without punctuation or capitalization)

2.    Three film clips of King Lear, 3.2

           Clip 1: James Earl Jones as Lear

           Clip 2: Michael Holdern as Lear

           Clip 3: Laurence Olivier as Lear

3.    Handout 2: Primary Sources (Facsimile of First Folio)

4.    Audio recording device or access to audio recording website 


How did it go?

Do students understand Lear’s message in act 3, scene 2? Based on their justification of punctuation choices, do they grasp his rage? Do students feel empowered as editors? Have they learned that no single edition of a play is “right,” and that no one knows exactly what Shakespeare intended? Does their audio recording reflect their final written text?


Prefer Word documents?

King Lear's Editor for a Day (R)