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He was the third Hanoverian monarch and the first one to be born in England and to use English as his first language. Among the papers was an instruction manual on Kingship written by George III's father for his 10 year old son. They had 15 children, 13 of whom reached adulthood. George III was the first king to study science as part of his education he had his own astronomical observatory , and examples of his collection of scientific instruments can now be seen in the Science Museum.

You can view George III's drawings and calculations of the Transit of Venus across the sun on June 23, and his — accurate — forecasts of further transits in and via the Georgian Papers portal. France was eager to retaliate against Great Britain following their defeat during the Seven Years' War. Various conflicts against Napoleonic France started in and led to the Battle of Waterloo in George III's accession in marked a significant change in royal finances.

One of the most cultured of monarchs, George III started a new royal collection of books 65, of his books were later given to the British Museum, as the nucleus of a national library and opened his library to scholars. During his reign, George III acquired the nickname 'Farmer George', in part due to his agricultural interests and in part as a playful pun.

After serious bouts of illness in and again in , George became permanently deranged in He was mentally unfit to rule in the last decade of his reign; his eldest son - the later George IV - acted as Prince Regent from Some medical historians have said that George III's mental instability was caused by a hereditary physical disorder called porphyria.

Olivier's star performance as Richard III, first seen on stage in , was reinforced by the film version released in , prolonging its influence. Peter Hall records that he was reading a proof copy of Jan Kott's book Shakespeare Our Contemporary as he travelled to the first rehearsal. It shows awareness of today's allusive fashion for modemising Shakespeare on stage and screen, and there is reason to suspect it is conscious of an earlier tradition of adapting Shakespeare which flourished in the Hanoverian period.


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Jonathan Miller has since pursued a career directing opera and classic plays and his book Subsequent Performances has an excellent discussion of the whole issue of modernising and adapting Shakespeare. He has been a friend of Alan Bennett since Beyond the Fringe and they live across the road from each other in the same Street in Camden. His recent work for the theatre includes a representation of the reigning monarch Elizabeth II in A Question of Attribution which is striking, by comparison with Shakespearean monarchs, for its detailed humorous depiction of human particulars.

At the same time we should note that the author's preface to the published playscript discusses patriotism and national decline.


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The Madness of George III takes further Bennett the historian's interest in the broad issue of the current British monarchy already touched on in A Question of Attribution, this time using the filter of Hanoverian culture. This play about King George III can properly be described as a modem History Play since it is concemed to reflect on contemporary political culture and is eclectic in its stylistic elements, owing most perhaps to modem British staged Shakespeare a remarkably rich field of fresh creativity for directors and designers as well as actors and to the diffused influence of Shaw and Brecht.

What particularly concems me here is the connection with Shakespeare: I hope that Bennett may prove a useful perspective on Shakespeare's presentation of kings, and vice-versa. As it happens, the historical Hanoverian politicians and cartoonists themselves displayed a remarkable interest in adapting Shakespeare, in the form of allusive quotation for satiric and ironic commentary on contemporary politics 5 : so much so indeed that when the King suffered a relapse into madness the London theatres were prohibited from putting on performances of King Lear for nine years, from to We may care to recall it in its original context, where it gains additional ironic point:.

Be more yourself, my Lord: consider, Sir : Were it but known a dream had frighted you, How wou'd your animated Foes presume on't. Hence, Babling dreams, you threaten here in vain : Conscience, avant; Richard's himself again. Yet Bennett's Hanoverian King is more likely to compare himself to some fictional, some Shakespearean monarch than to one of his own actual historical predecessors; and what is so striking is that the Shakespearean monarchs he alludes to have such troubling implications — Richard II, Richard III, and Lear — and that they were among the favourite sources for allusions to the monarchy and politics during George III's reign.

A primary pattern consists of parallels in persons and events, a secondary pattern consists of allusions, mainly quotations of language or incident from dramatic and literary works; the point of writing in this mode of allusion is that once a general structural analogy has been signalled between two main plots, and two historical moments, direction will be given for the decoding of the implications.

Today Shakespeare continues to be applied in this way — Hamlet having been the favourite text in the Eastern Bloc countries between and for making oblique comment on politics, as suggested in Stoppard's Dogg's Hamlet and Cahoot's Macbeth. Stoppard has recorded that he was inspired by a report of a Czech dissident's persecution by political censors. Bennett has remarked p. I think if I had deliberately made more of these it would have satisfied or pandered to some critics who felt that was what the play should have been more about.

Well yes, it is understandable, it is right, that the author should in the first place want recognition for the new thing his imagination has created; but after all in this play Bennett contrives that the madness of George III should acquire all manner of configurations; the king himself insists p.

Not mad-mad-mad-mad. Madjesty majesty. Majust just nerves nerves nerves sss. The Prince of Wales, on the point of declaring himself Regent, forcibly refuses his mother access to the King, and alludes to his father's tendencies, in madness, to lechery, when he tells his mother p. Now presumably the Prince of Wales is consciously quoting, knowing that his German mother will not recognise the ironic allusion; and certainly Bennett the playwright is quoting in the expectation that at least a proportion of the audience will get the allusion.

For those who do recognise the allusion, there is much food for thought. In Hamlet it is the son not the father who seems mad. In Bennett's play it is the reverse. In Hamlet it is the mother's taking a second husband that causes the son great suffering, whereas Bennett's Prince of Wales is cynical about his father's adultery and callous towards his mother, who remains faithful. But three parallels between the two plays remain obvious — a politically corrupt court, a frustrated heir to the throne, and the issue of royal madness. Bennett's play provokes thought about Shakespeare's depiction not only in Hamlet but also in Prince Hal of the psychological and political frustration of being heir apparent, which as the play says is not so much a position as a predicament.

Today's audiences are likely to appreciate an immediately contemporary allusion, to Prince Charles, but one should remember that his recent predecessors include Edward VIII, the abdicator, and Queen Victoria's eldest son, who as Edward Prince of Wales had to endure his mother's regal disapproval for so long, his only consolations being horseracing, mistresses and an ever-expanding girth. Bennett admits in his Introduction p.

Certainly the Shakespearean allusions work because Bennett makes the antipathy between father and son sharp, and this permits some close parallels to be made: in King Henry TV, the King on his deathbed rebukes the Prince of Wales for taking his crown away:. I stay too long by thee, I weary thee. Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair'. King George at the very end of the play p. This parallel is, again, not so straightforward in its implications.

Even the veteran opportunist Falstaff miscalculates the sheer tough impersonality, the difference, that royalty involves, learns the hard way that monarchy is proof against sentiment; and whatever sheer hard-hearted greed the episode may expose in Falstaff, it evenhandedly exposes a sheer sourness in the Prince also. The scene has wider implications than the persons themselves, it is interested in the laws of power, showing that the crown is pitiless in diminishing humanity, whoever wears it.

The complication in such a deliberate use of allusion as Bennett deploys in this play is that there can be no delimiting its implications: the nature of irony, its strength and its risk as a rhetorical mode, is its open indefinition. Evidently this is not the world of Shakespeare, and to stress the point that this is , Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks is playing. Furthermore, coming on top of the assassination attempt, the woman's prophecy is made to seem melodramatic, altogether un-British, quite foreign, in point of fact actually mad. Shakespeare in another play, Julius Caesar, had dramatised an assassination in which the killers conceal their intent by submitting petitions, and there the outcome is bloody enough to warm the heart of a Charlotte Corday; in Measure for Measure, however, Isabella is as ineffectual as the Mrs Nicholson who attacks George III, and, also like that Mrs Nicholson, Isabella is dismissed as merely mad.

In Bennett's play King George says of his would-be assassin p. It is not long since a madman tried to stab the King of France.

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The wretch was subjected to the most fiendish torments—his limbs burned with fire, the flesh lacerated with red-hot pincers, until in a merciful conclusion, he was stretched between four horses and torn asunder. Presumably George III has in mind his predecessor King James I, who decreed very similar punishment for the Gunpowder Plotters, ending in dismemberment without the use of horses a detailed description may be found conveniently in Richard Marienstras, New Perspectives on the Shakespearean World.

What neither the audience nor King George anticipate at this point is that he himself will soon be subject to torture, as sanctioned by the Royal College of Physicians, and that then the King will invoke the past, an Age of Faith, in a vain attempt to stave off being tortured in the name of Science.

King George III's Court may indeed be as dull and stuffy as that of the House of Windsor, yet it soon becomes clear that like every institution it generates oppression: it is not for nothing that Bennett has studied Kafka, for in this play he exploits Kafka's vision of bureaucratic menace. Whether subconscious or conscious, the parallel is close and associates the institutionalisation of madness with State bureaucratisation, and the development of State terrorism as an instrument of state policy — something featured in the Peter Hall production of King Richard III.

There are no good and bad kings; there are only kings on different steps of the same stairs. The names of the kings may change, but it is always a Henry who pushes a Richard down, or the other way round. Shakespeare's Histories are dramatis personae of the Grand Mechanism [ The designer of The National Theatre production devised a flight of steps running the full width of the stage at the rear.

Is it not tempting to think Bennett was subconsciously, if not consciously, influenced by Kott's reference here to the staircase of history? Jessner said his aim was not to offer historical realism but to place vivid symbols on the stage. The actor of Richard was instructed not to impress the audience with his personal magnetism but to perform as merely one element in the political allegory.

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The set had a high stone wall stretched across the entire stage, pierced at the centre by a small portai. Slightly behind the first wall another higher wall rose, forming a terrace for Richard's ultimate entrance to the citizens and Lord Mayor. Above the second wall, outlining it at the top of sight lines, was a narrow framework of sky — lit in a foreboding crimson. Action in the first half was all on the horizontal plane in front of the wall; only in the second half was there vertical action, enhanced by a flight of red steps rising to the throne; an eye-witness recorded how all the heightened movement there produced a memorable contrast when Richard slowly descended the red staircase at the end in utter lassitude 9.

Significantly Richard III himself, played by Ian Holm, avoided extravagant mannerism and gave an interpretation deliberately understating what Olivier had stressed, while at the same time bringing a new emphasis: Richard was clearly mad. He was progressively afflicted by sudden blinkings and twitches, credibly developing megalomania. The issue of madness dominated RSC productions in and Stanley telephoned nervously from a public phone box.

Richard did not make his famous offer of a kingdom for a horse, being hemmed in by machine-guns at the time. There is a pattern of visual allusion as well, the words also having a context of stage action. In Bennett's play at the point where the King's new doctor, Willis, begins his treatment he breaks Court decorum by daring to look at the King directly which Court etiquette forbade , then speak to him directly which was also forbidden , then he takes physical hold of the King's shoulder which was absolutely unthinkable.

The King first freezes rigid with anger, then goes for Willis but falls. He just stays sitting on the ground:.

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Must, must? Whose must? Your must or my must? No must. Get away from me, you scabby bumsucker. No, no.


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Leave me boys. Let me sit upon the ground and tell [ In fact these allusions are prepared for by an allusion to Richard II much earlier but which it is easy to overlook, because not tagged by a verbal quotation. The idea of deposition, coinciding with the stage business with the paper he is urged to accept, recalls 4.

All ours. A paradise lost. The trumpet of sedition has sounded. We have lost America. Soon we shall lose India, the Indies, Ireland To the theatre audience, of course, it is clear that the King is not exaggerating except about the pace at which the empire will dissolve , though it is impossible to gauge whether the King's insight is shrewd intuition or paranoid fantasy induced by his disease.