Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III at the Harmon Theatre for Performing Arts (directed by Studio Theatre’s David Muse) has caught a wave of popularity that draws on the American people’s innate fascination with anything having to do with the British royals. The play also exposes the very modern feminist yearnings of those queens, princesses and consorts of yore who, finding themselves mere ornaments in the royal pageant, yearn like Lady Macbeth to become “unsexed” and battle with men on an equal playing field. Likewise, Prince William’s wife, Kate Middleton (the Duchess of Cambridge), and Charles’s Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, must content themselves with acting through their husbands whom they must convince, cajole and bully to “screw their courage to the sticking place” and “ride the tide in the affairs of men . . . which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”
Now to the plot: after waiting around for the better part of six decades, Charles has been elevated to the throne by the death of his mother, Elizabeth II. In referential Shakespearean iambic pentameters, Bartlett’s Charles bemoans the shrunken self he has become during the long wait.
My better thoughts—they are
From scratch, slow cooked and brewed with time.
My life has been a ling’ring for the throne
Charles, however, is somewhat of a royalist Jacobin. He feels strongly about the freedom of the press despite the press’s having routinely savaged the royal family over the years. Having previously paid little attention to the flow of Parliamentary business, Charles is taken aback when the Prime Minister during his first audience with the King requests His Majesty’s approval of legislation passed by Parliament purporting to restrict the press from invading the privacy rights of individuals.
Charles’s refusal as a matter of constitutional principle to sign the press bill triggers a constitutional crisis as both parties coalesce to defend the Parliament’s supremacy against a King who has chosen to re-assert long abandoned royal prerogatives to nullify legislation — prerogatives that have not been exercised since the days of George III. Charles has consulted Walter Bagehot, a 19th century authority on the unwritten English Constitution, and is disconsolate to learn that his role is limited by precedent to being consulted, proffering advice and, in extremis, warning the government of the day when it appears to be embarking on precipitous action.
When the parties push back demanding that he sign the bill, Charles rallies and moves to dissolve Parliament and call for a snap election. Parliament refuses to dissolve itself. Riots break out in the major cities of the United Kingdom, and there is a fear that the rioters will storm Buckingham Palace. The King moves additional troops onto the Palace grounds and stations a tank in front of the Palace.
In the meantime, we are introduced to the next generation of Royals: Prince William (second in line for the throne) and his wife, Kate Middleton, the exemplar of good sturdy Anglo-Saxon stock; and William’s feckless younger brother, Prince Harry, who inhabits the demi-monde of swinging London, takes up with Jessica, an artist from the West Indies, and seems to want to have nothing further to do with his father and stepmother, Camilla.
The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition both come forward to demand an audience with Prince William and Kate. They are there, the politicians state, to reassert the constitutional prerogatives of the Parliament against usurpation by the crown. They drive home the principle that Parliament is “the decider” in the British constitutional system by threatening legislation stripping the Crown of whatever is left of its royal prerogatives unless Charles signs the press bill. It is at this point that Kate gives William a good spine stiffening, telling him that he is duty bound to stand up to Charles for the sake of both the crown and their son, George, who will someday be King. Camilla, for her part, counsels Charles equally steadfastly to resurrect and breathe new life into the fast vanishing royal prerogatives and urges him to not go all wobbly on his duty to the crown and its prerogatives.
Kate and William conspire with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to launch a coup against Charles. Kate pushes William into the “sticking place” of mediating the constitutional dispute between Crown and Parliament. When Charles is about to make a speech to the nation giving the rationale for his actions, Kate and William wrest the microphone from his hands, demand that he sign a letter of abdication and play the “grandchild card” to seal the deal (Charles realizes belatedly that he will never see his grandchildren again if he doesn’t sign). Prince Harry (like the Shakespeare character) gives up his dissolute ways, ditches Jess and takes his place as an heir to the throne. The play ends with the coronation of William and Kate and Charles slumping off despondently stage right.
As for the actors, Jeanne Paulsen as Camilla and Allison White as Kate have the requisite Thatcherite steel for their parts, but one wishes that Robert Joy’s Charles were a bit less wimpish. In keeping with his Shakespearean meme, Bartlett’s Prince Harry is clearly meant to evoke Falstaff’s companion, Prince Hal, but Harry White lacks the range required to transform Prince William from the louche rogue reveling in the world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll on the mean streets of London to something approximating the transformation that Prince Hal makes at his father’s deathbed when he realizes that he will soon be King with all the attendant responsibilities of 15th century kingship.
The play benefits from catching a wave in the affairs of politics that has thrust it into the midst of the national debate—both here in the USA and in Britain. When the play was first produced in 2014, it was considered a witty, but a counterfactual, send-up of both the monarchy and Britain. The conventional wisdom was that it couldn’t happen there (or here). But, first with Brexit and, then, the Tsunami that crashed into America on November 8, 2016, many playgoers now see the play as a metaphor for the “Age of Trump,” in which a new President, aided and abetted by the malevolent likes of Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, seeks to deconstruct and smash the old order, the Constitution be damned. In Mike Bartlett’s London, something akin to our emerging notion of the “deep state” struck back to wrest the crown from Charles and return the country to normalcy. Fifty days on into the new Trump Administration, is the same thing happening in America?
King Charles III ends its run at the Harmon Theatre Arts on March 18. If you can’t get a ticket or enough of the British royals, download the superb Netflix production, “The Crown,” for a reasonably close approximation of the history of the royals from the abdication of Edward VIII through the resignation of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his successor’s (Anthony Eden’s) Suez debacle. John Lithgow’s award-winning reincarnation as Churchill is not to be missed.
“The Crown” provides a flashback for King Charles III as it depicts a monarch, Elizabeth II, who comes to the throne believing she has some power, but finds out that it would be inappropriate to suggest to an old and doddering Prime Minister that it’s time to go. There is no power even, as she soon learns, to regulate her own domestic affairs as Elizabeth finds herself continuously overruled by various courtiers, cabinet ministers, Bishops and dowager queens who tell her that she can’t take her husband’s name, can’t take lodgings outside Buckingham Palace and can’t, as head of the church, sanction the marriage of her sister, Margaret, to a divorced commoner.
You have only five more days to see King Charles III during its current DC run. Not to worry, though, the American public have five more years to enjoy and dissect “The Crown” as it takes us through the last six decades of the second Elizabethan era, and many will eagerly be awaiting Netflix’s take on the Queen’s opinion of Donald Trump when she meets him during his proposed state visit to Britain, provided of course that he survives his current struggle with the Acela Corridor Establishment (sometimes referred to on this blog as “The Borg) who have furiously united to drive him from office.
What exactly does the Borg see so dangerous in Trump, notwithstanding his dismantling their Globalist grip? So he stomps on a few sandcastles, big deal right?
Americans are not so infatuated with the British crown as the bi-coastal think or want to believe. A good many Americans today see the heartache the British Crown has caused on a global scale, everywhere they went. The human slavery and servitude they wrought to achieve their Crown’s aims.
I for one am none too keen on Trump being so cozy with the British Monarchy, especially the way the current Queen robbed from her own poor to heat and remodel her castles, and when discovered by the British Citizenry caused such a consternation that her cronies in Parliament placed her robbing schemes out of the public view under the Official Secrecy’s Act.
I agree that the Borg’s consternation with Trump is mostly a “limited hangout” to reinforce that no one is coming to save our Liberties for us, and we huddle alone against the mighty Borg.
Can the Queen give Trump and his wife the title of Knight (Sir) and Dame outside the Commonwealth? Or is this is a too snarky remark?
I vaguely have Sir Sean Connery in mind here. Irony alert.
We elected Trump partly because we don’t want Royal Families here.
He can be knighted but won’t have the prerogative of being titled Sir. Just a GCB- Knight of the Grand Cross-next to his name.
Both President Reagan and Bush père have been given that honorary knighthood
It depends on who “we” are. We tend to forget that the revolutionary war was a civil war and, perhaps, as many as 40% of Americans supported the crown. One of my ancestors, John the Tory, the Attorney General of Virginia, sailed back to England at the beginning of the war because, among other things, he couldn’t break his oath of allegiance to the crown. His son, Edmund, joined Washington as aide-de-camp and, for his service then and in the future to George Washington, was appointed first attorney-general of the United States. Other ancestors, and many other Virginia tories, sailed to Halifax after Yorktown and became Canadians. Kenneth Roberts in “Oliver Wiswell” chronicles the story of the expulsion/emigration of many loyalist families.
But not all tories left; many were left behind and had to make their uneasy peace with republicanism. If memory serves me correctly, Col. Lang has written previously about the “tory strain” in American culture, politics and sociology, Perhaps, he will repost his essay. The soft-toryism of many Americans is reflected back to us in the continued obsession of many Americans with all things “royal”. I have a hunch that President Trump is also a “soft tory” (as well as a “wet”)and would like nothing better than a Knighthood from the Queen.
Literally scores, if not hundreds of Americans have been knighted by the British Crown. Many were military leaders who led the grand coalition to victory in World Wars I and II. Pershing, Patton, and Powell, Colin; Eisenhower, Bedell Smith, Bradley and Wild Bill Donovan. Later manifestations of this strain are Casper Weinberger and General Martin Dempsey. Even George C. Marshall accepted a Knighthood from King George VI. More recent honorees include Dean Rush, Senator Richard Lugar and Senator John Warner, but tend towards entertainers and philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates. Since Michael Bloomberg was knighted, the very competitive Donald will no doubt want a knighthood, too.
Thanks, Beaver. Maybe someone on the “Cherry Blossom Throne” does not need further ennobling matters? On the other hand wouldn’t it trump Obama’s Noble Prize? 😉
But no doubt the succession to the throne is a hotly debated topic in GB. … While Harry and his wife seem the more popular couple. Diana’s ghost? … From now on Charles on visit in Canada? That’s were you are. No?
But back to the play:
Mike Bartlett: How I wrote King Charles III
I wasn’t aware of Ken Campbell’s support of my favorite authorship theory. The actor turned writer is mine too. Careful, babble trap: Little Latin, less Greek, upstart crow … our feathers.
Maybe I’ll get myself at least the text.
One of the greatest graduates of the Institution attended by Col. Lang and this writer was Sir Moses Ezekiel, a “New Market” cadet and sculptor of the Confederate Memorial at Arlington Cemetery, among many other celebrated sculptural pieces. Sir Moses lived and worked in Rome after the war and was actually knighted by the King of Italy as a “chevalier”. He was also known at times as Moses (Ritter von) Ezekiel [“ritter” being the German word for knight. Although Chevalier Moses, perhaps, should not be addressed as “Sir” he is always referred to as such in VMI-iana. There are others on this blog, including Col. Lang, who have more expertise in the technicalities of “knighten-clature” than I do.
Ezekiel is buried at the foot of the Confederate monument in Arligton National Cemetery (his work). It is true that a non-British knight or chevalier should not be addressed or referred to as “sir.” That is a British custom, but as you say it is an old custom to refer to him that way at the In\stitute. His headstone says something like “Moses Ezekiel, Sergeant in the Corps of Cadets, Newmarket, May 15, 1864” His best piece I think is the seated statue of Poe on the campus of the University of Baltimore. I admire it greatly. Legend has it that he was living in Lexington in 1865 to finish his degree, the Institute having been burned by the miscreant David Hunter. Lee came to see Cadet Ezekiel in his lodgings to say that he had heard that he had been offered a wonderful position in Rome. Lee told him that he should take it and should make a grand effort so that THEY would not be able to say that WE were unworthy men. BTW I used to know an English baronet who would greet me by asking how the chevalier trade was these days. He was a fine fellow, a former Gurkha officer. pl
Well, “we” being tired of the Bushes and Clintons, especially the Clintons. I have to admit though I considered voting for Jeb Bush who I thought would get the Republican nomination.
“Col. Lang has written previously about the “tory strain” in American culture, politics and sociology, Perhaps, he will repost his essay.” Perhaps you could point me at this piece of mine? pl
Here’s a link to a black and white photo of Sir Moses’s seated Poe Statue referenced by Col. Lang. The good photos seem to be copyrighted, but they can be viewed on the web.
At the base is the inscription, taken from “The Raven”,which applies equally well to both artists:
To Dream Before
I have scoured the archives and am unable to find it. My apologies if I have mis-remembered the source of the post.
“We” would save a lot of money if we had a King. It is much cheaper to maintain that electing a president every 4 years.
As I recall, our American war against the British Crown was a war of ‘Independence’, NOT a ‘civil war’. It may have been viewed by the Tories as a civil war, but not to the rest who were giving their blood sweat and tears for American INDEPENDENCE from the cruel British Crown.
What I see today, is POTUS Trump wanting to join the British Crown’s – Commonwealth of Nations. If America has to swear fealty to the British Crown for Commonwealth of Nations membership in any way shape or form, then I for one want none of it.
Fealty to a crown of cruelty, never I say, never.
Colonel – In a previous thread I jumbled together some constitutional reasons why a hereditary Head of State was a good idea. I missed out the main reason which if you will permit I will set out here:-
The job of a Head of State is to be boring.
I grasped this essential truth way back in the dark ages at the age of six. The entire parish had spaced itself out along the main road to see the Queen Mother drive past. It was the only time she or any Royal ever did so we made the most of it. The atmosphere was electric. Subdued electric, of course, no one likes to make a fool of himself. Our tiny group waved loyally as the limousine swept past. A gloved hand waved back with that effortless reciprocal motion from the wrist that only Royalty can achieve. That was it. “How boring”, I thought, and went home well satisfied.
On any ceremonial occasion the job of the officiant is not to be there as an individual. Not to obtrude his or her necessarily limited human personality on the occasion. We seem as humans to need ceremonial occasions. No society manages without. The more the person comes to the fore on such occasions the less effective the ceremony. The soldier getting a medal pinned to his tunic doesn’t want a flow of wisecracks or easy conversation. That diminishes the occasion. He wants the job done formally. The job of a Head of State – how tedious it must be, all those miles of red carpets and acres of cut glass – is to be the embodiment of the community. No politician, with votes to gather in and opponents to conciliate or defeat, can achieve the requisite degree of remoteness. Imagine having a Mr Blair or a Mr Clinton in such a position. It would be like having some rogue of a second hand car dealer who’d just sold you some bodged up disaster officiating at a mass. Quite possible, if needs must, but better by far to divorce the ceremonial from the political.
All this, as a fiercely egalitarian deplorable even then, I intuited at the age of six. My continental friends, who know immensely more than I do about the Royal Family because the continental papers seem to be full of them, tell me of scandals that if a tenth of them were true would do credit to the less inhibited Roman Emperors. They leave me cold. No doubt the person behind the gloved hand makes all the mistakes and has all the faults that the rest of us do. So what. While it’s out and about and doing its job the gloved hand belongs to me and not to whatever human happens to be waving it.
Newmarket and Col. Lang:
Thank you for that bit of history of which I was previously unaware.
Here’s a link to the statue which has a back link to a story about it by Nathan Dennies
It’s no doubt a hard largely, but not only, ceremonial job. I do not envy her, or her successor. Am I correct that most Prime Ministers still see her regularly every week?
My continental friends, who know immensely more than I do about the Royal Family because the continental papers seem to be full of them, tell me of scandals that if a tenth of them were true would do credit to the less inhibited Roman Emperors.
Hope you don’t mind? Maybe in a certain type of publication? But outside of special events that’s not a rule from my perspective. Without doubt the stories around Charles and Diana got most attention, even in circles I never would have thought interested in such matters. …
Occasionally you can stumble across someone who supports a general cause that she/he claims Prince Charles supports too. Water? Indian background. Or Diana and the mines. … Among more curious family matters.
I recall that when I was a teen, my best friend’s mother had subscribed to a women’s magazine called Frau im Spiegel/Woman in the Mirror. Apart from other subjects I wasn’t interested in, it paid extensive attention on European nobility. Obviously the British Queen was and/is the absolute star among them.
But yes, our correspondents no doubt pick up on Royal matters in GB, or spin their stories around British media events. … Just as we too do have “experts” on nobility or the Royals more generally. And our public channels in the lesser viewed programs, I suppose, offer the occasional The Royals series usually looking into the historical context, but not only. Succession made it over here too. 😉
I do not recall I stumbled across it in the type of publications I read or had subscribed to. But one magazine, I never paid attention to apparently did. Didn’t even know it still exists. It refers to “the Crown” series linked above. The title reads: Three things you didn’t know about the relationship between Queen Elisabeth II and Prince Philip.
Die Bunte / The Colorful
Some new estimates that only 20% supported the Revolution!
Thanks Richard! Royalty a dangerous frivolity IMO!
J, a civil war is a war between citizens of the same country or polity. Although the thirteen colonies were not technically a country at the at the time of the declaration of Independence, war raged throughout the thirteen colonies between loyalists and insurgents/patriots and, as W. R. Cumming points out, there may have been more of the former. It is more accurate to call the conflict a civil war, although the version of the winners — a war of independence from Great Britain– has become commonly accepted.
My ancestors did not believe they were fighting in a civil war during the period of the late unpleasantness. They believed that they were either fighting in a war between the states or a war of independence by the the citizens of the Confederate States of America. The winners who have written the history of the period, 1861-1865, call the conflict a “civil war” and that nomenclature has become generally accepted.
Yeah, that’s a tough one. Having to see a British Prime Minister every week for ever. In that respect history has not been kind to her.
Die “Bild”-Zeitung. That’s the one. At every tube station, with a hopeful honour box beneath. Most of what I have forgotten about the Royal Family was gleaned from odd glimpses of the front page as I headed for the escalators. But most people I meet in Germany do seem to know an awful lot about the in-laws and such.
I can’t match your superb collection of Royalabilia but if you want to see some quite nice cut glass there’s this:
My main interest, of course, was in the washing up. Do you know they’ve been washing up the same crockery for centuries and apparently no breakages reported. That’s one place I’m not going to get taken on as a plongeur.
No “emoluments clause” fussing? Maybe OK once out of office…
These are honorary knighthoods and carry no emoluments with them and they have bee specifically ruled as not violating the emoluments clause so they can be accepted by military officers still on active duty. pl
Being a constitutional monarch is indeed an excruciatingly boring job – that’s why we’ve farmed it out to foreigners since 1688, especially The Germans!
I referenced the “emoluments clause” (poor choice of words) because that’s what everyone seems to be calling it now (to pile on Trump). I was actually referring to the prohibition on “Title” in the same clause.
I did not know/realize that these had been OK’d; so something new I’ve learned…
They are not allowed to use the title. In another context the issue of working directly for a foreign government does come up. When I was DATT in SA I had to deal with retired as opposed to former USAF people who wanted to work for “Saudia” the national airline. The problem was that that Saudia is a wholly government owned property that is part of the Ministry of Defense and Aviation. I had to get congressional waivers for each of these guys because a member of the US armed forces may not take service for a foreign government. Lots of retired military officers work for consulting companies in DC who do work for foreign government, including flag officer, but they do not work directly for the foreign government. pl
As you will know, we do have a spare.
Colonel – may I rebut the charge of frivolity your correspondent, the formidable “William R Cumming”, has raised – though I wouldn’t be surprised if he knows more about the ins and outs of the British constitution than we do here.
I wouldn’t say we’re entirely frivolous over here. More like laughing through the tears. Like some on the other side of the Atlantic did through the Obama administration and, I suppose, before. “LeanDer” raised the subject of the weekly audience the British Prime Minister has with the Queen, which must seem more like play acting than politics to those not used to it; but I can assure you it’s no play acting when it’s for real. As I said in a previous comment, look at the Prime Ministers she’s had to let into the house.
They’ve been going downhill since Churchill, and to be truthful the peace-time Churchill administration was at no great elevation to start with. Downhill all the way, maybe with a little break at Sir Alec Douglas Home, and after that, well, “downhill” doesn’t really do justice to the train crash that was high politics for most of the reign so far. More like falling of a cliff, really, when you get to Blair and son-of-Blair Cameron.
Imagine our unfortunate Queen having to make small talk with one of that pair. “I see you’ve been busy. Killing going frightfully well this week, they tell me.” “Is one’s economy totally wrecked yet, one wonders?” “They still vote for you, do they? Extraordinary. Your friends must be so pleased.” “Dear me, how time flies. So looking forward to seeing you next week.” Must be hard labour without the option, a regular audience and characters like that turning up. And no sick note ever, they say. Makes one proud to be British.
So not much frivolity here, for any of us. Not a lot of larking about on the decks of the Titanic. More staring ahead glumly and trying not to notice that the water’s closer than it was. But there are tales of a new prophet arising in the West, we hear …