King Lear Summary | Five Act Structure

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Five Act Play Structure for King Lear


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Activity Overview

Students can create and show a storyboard that captures the concept of the Five Act Structure by making a six-cell storyboard, like the one below. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the acts in order: Prologue, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.

Five Act Structure | 5 Act Structure
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Example King Lear Five Act Structure

Act 1: Prologue

King Lear, in his old age and wavering wits, wishes to give up his throne to his daughters so that he can retire with 100 knights for an entourage and enjoy the time he has left. He demands that each daughter tell him how much she loves him so that he can divide up their inheritance to them.

Act 1: Conflict

King Lear unwisely chooses his two older daughters, Goneril and Regan, over his youngest, Cordelia, because they flatter him while Cordelia believes in deeds over speech. The king disinherits her, and Cordelia goes off to marry the King of France instead. Lear banishes the Earl of Kent for defending Cordelia. Meanwhile, Edmund, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, is plotting to turn his father against his legitimate son Edgar, so that he can inherit the Earl’s properties.

Act 2: Rising Action

Goneril and Regan mistreat their father and show nothing but disdain for him. Kent returns in disguise, loyally serving the king to keep an eye on things. Edmund stages a fake fight with Edgar and convinces his father that Edgar wants to kill Gloucester. After Kent is put into the stocks by Cornwall for fighting with Oswald, the king arrives and becomes enraged. Goneril arrives, and she and Regan solidify their alliance by demanding that the king get rid of all of his knights. The king, in near tears and losing his senses with grief, gallops off into the stormy night.

Act 3: Climax

The King of France has called for a war against England. Gloucester goes after King Lear to help him, telling Edmund of his plans, who promptly betrays his father to the sisters. Out in the stormy night, King Lear, his Fool, Kent, and Edgar, disguised as a beggar and calling himself “Tom”, are sheltering in a hut. Gloucester finds them and smuggles the king to Dover because there are plots against him. Gloucester is arrested by Cornwall’s men, and Cornwall gouges his eyes out. One of Cornwall’s servants steps in and mortally wounds Cornwall before he himself is killed.

Act 4: Falling Action

Gloucester is in despair, but Edgar, still in disguise, saves him from suicide and takes him to Dover. Meanwhile, Goneril and Edmund have begun a romance, and Goneril wants her husband Albany out of the picture because she finds him to be weak. Cornwall dies, and she worries that widowed Regan will steal Edmund. Goneril’s servant Oswald finds and tries to kill Gloucester, but Edgar kills him instead. He retrieves a letter from Oswald from Goneril showing her plans to kill Albany and marry Edmund. At the same time, King Lear has been brought to Cordelia, who is nursing him back to sanity.

Act 5: Denouement

Edgar delivers the letter to Albany before the battle. Goneril and Regan are fighting over Edmund, who has pledged himself to both sisters. Edmund captures Lear and Cordelia in battle and orders Cordelia to be killed by making it look like a suicidal hanging. Albany reveals his wife and Edmund’s treachery. Albany challenges Edmund to fight, and Edgar arrives in armor, fights Edmund, and defeats him. He reveals his identity and the fact that his father is dead. Edmund kills himself shortly after finding that Goneril poisoned Regan and then stabbed herself. Lear kills the man hanging Cordelia but not in time, and he dies from grief. Albany surrenders power to Kent and Edgar.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of King Lear.

  1. Separate the play into the Prologue/Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the acts.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

Five Act Structure Template


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