As well as looking at how we’ve staged King Lear, which you can do in the Productions section, it’s important to think about what you would do if you were staging the play. And, if you can, to perform parts of it yourself.

We encourage you to look at the play, or scenes in the play, and think through the decisions a director makes with their actors:

  • Where is the play set?
  • How are the characters connected?
  • What do the characters want?

Here you can find some key things to think about before staging the play yourself. Even if you’re working towards an exam or preparing for an assignment, it’s important to think about different ways of reading lines or words and taking a look at the key decisions a director needs to make could really help your essay responses.

  • Key Decisions to Make

    There are certain things that every director and creative team have to consider when staging King Lear. The following key things will be discussed in every production, but the decisions that are made can create very different interpretations of the play.

    The Storm and Nature

    • How will you show a storm on stage? What effects can you use to create the image of Lear and the Fool exposed to the elements of a raging storm?
    • Lear feels that the storm is as much against him as his daughters, and speaks directly to it. How can you make the storm feel like a powerful force that is working against him?
    • Lear is led towards a ‘hovel’ where he meets ‘Poor Tom’ outside the entrance. While there Lear reflects on the state of the poor in his kingdom. How can you create this moment so that it feels really different from Lear’s court and the homes of his daughters and Gloucester?


    • Lear often talks about his mental state and reflects on it. Other characters also comment on his actions and whether he is ‘mad’ or a ‘fool’ to act the way he does with his daughters. Do you think Lear is ‘mad’? What does this look like?
    • What is ‘madness’? Lear is an elderly man so he could be experiencing memory loss or senility, or another mental health condition. Shakespeare would have referred to many different mental health conditions as ‘madness’. What do you think Lear is showing signs of and how might this impact your King Lear?

    Status and Structure

    • The families of Gloucester and Lear are both very influential families. How will you show the status of these characters in comparison to their servants and messengers?
    • Consider the lower status characters and the disguises that are used. Both Kent and Edgar dress as ‘lower status’ characters, a servant and a beggar, in order to protect themselves. How can these differences be shown? What makes their disguises convincing?
    • In Act 1 Scene 4 Lear’s ‘hundred knights’ and squires appear and take over Goneril and Albany’s house. How can you create the illusion of a hundred knights with only a few actors? How riotous are the knights? Is Goneril exaggerating or are the knights behaving very badly? Does she use them as an excuse to remove her father?

    Within each of these choices there are lots of key moments and scenes to explore.

    Going back through the Investigate section and looking at the different performances we’ve had at the RSC, think about those three areas:

    • Can you see how each director has staged the storm that Lear faces with the Fool? How has each design worked to show the power of nature?
    • How important is Lear’s state of mind and the journey he takes? How does his age affect him and how aware is he of his choices?

    To explore the play’s production history in even more detail, take a look at the RSC production timeline and the articles and background on the 2007 and 1962 productions.

Teacher Notes

This page looks at some of the key decisions a director makes.

Challenge your students to think about how they would want to tell the story of King Lear. How would they respond to the questions here?