History of the Play and Moral
Androcles and the Lion is a piece of theatre that has attracted large audiences during its extensive career. Aurand Harris' version of this classic Aesop's fable was first performed in 1963 in New York. Androcles and the Lion was one of many fables written by Aesop, in Ancient Greece around 620BC.
Aesop was actually a slave who was captured and taken to Greece around the 6th century BC. Although not much historical information is known about the life of Aesop, we do know that he was famous for telling a type of story about animals known as fables. Each of these fables ends with a moral, or a lesson to be learnt from the situations of the characters involved. A moral is used to teach us something about human behaviour and the consequences of action.
The resounding moral of Androcles and the Lion is that ‘gratitude is the sign of noble souls', or a simpler meaning for students is, ‘you are seen to be a good person if you are thankful for what others do to help you'. The play also explores the morals ‘don't judge a book by its cover' and ‘what you give is what you will get in return'. These are important morals that many children are taught from a young age and their examples in the play can be used as an indirect way to discuss complex issues such as discrimination with students.
Ask students what other morals could be derived from Androcles and the Lion. For example, in the scene where Androcles is about to remove the thorn from the Lion's paw, he comments that "someone needs to be the first one to trust, even in the face of such different-ness".
How did Androcles feel when he first saw the lion?
What did Androcles think of the lion when he first saw him?
When Androcles got to know the lion did his opinion change?
Was Androcles' first opinion of the lion correct?
When students have answered these questions it is possible to talk about the moral of ‘don't judge a book by its cover' and relate this to discrimination issues in the real world.
To view a collection of Aesop's Fables, including Androcles and the Lion and also some useful links to lesson plans visit:
In 1912, George Bernard Shaw also adapted this fable. Shaw's play is heavily based on Christianity and martyrdom and was targeted at intellectual theatregoers. Harris' version is quite humorous compared with Shaw's intense play and is designed for a larger demographic. Aurand Harris' play is based on farcical action and it is written in a Commedia dell'arte style. The play is set in Italy during ancient Roman times and contains meta-theatrical conventions (ie a play within a play). An example of this is when the characters read the stage directions aloud from a scroll, on the actual stage. The characters in Androcles and the Lion continue to remind the audience that they are viewing a piece of theatre throughout the play.
Recommended resource for further information about George Bernard Shaw: