"What's Past is Prologue..."
Feuding families. Ambitious plotters. Shifting motives. The burden of the crown. If King Charles III seems familiar, it's not just déjà vu. Though Mike Bartlett's script premiered in 2014, its roots are firmly planted in the 1500's. Bartlett is drawing on the Bard himself: William Shakespeare.
The full title of the play is King Charles III: A Future History Play. Shakespeare wrote around 10 history plays (depending on who's doing the counting), including Henry IV (Pts. 1 & 2), Henry V, Richard III, and more. Bartlett's title clues us in that, like Shakespeare, he'll be taking a look at a fictionalized version of the reign of a British monarch. The difference for Bartlett is that this one hasn't happened yet! Bartlett isn't only drawing on Shakespeare's "real" kings-- he's picking up the fictional ones too, including Macbeth and King Lear.
The production is split into a familiar two-act structure, but Bartlett's script itself is divided into five acts, just as Shakespeare's plays were. Bartlett has also picked up Will's rhythm: much of the dialogue is written in iambic pentameter, giving it that iconic Shakespeare sound. The familiar pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables (repeated 5X per line) gives a classical poetic cadence to contemporary language.
"I'll so offend to make offense a skill..."
Bartlett's play has perhaps the most direct echoes of Shakespeare's history plays in the character of Prince Harry. He has a lot in common with Prince Hal from King Henry IV, Part 1- including the fact that their real names are both Henry! At the start of Shakespeare's play, Hal is notorious for his bad behavior: spending his time in a tavern, shirking royal duties, hanging out with lowlifes... sound familiar? Prince Harry's early reputation as a party boy allows Bartlett to draw parallels between the two princes.
Bartlett pulls on two particular aspects of King Henry IV, Pt. 1 to connect the Henry's. Prince Hal frequents a tavern, with a group of rough-and-tumble friends. Prince Harry is transported to a 21st century tavern: a high-end London nightclub. A notable feature of Prince Hal is his tendency to speak in prose, unlike other royal characters speaking in verse (iambic pentameter). The use of prose is designed to demonstrate the low station that Prince Hal has assumed-- when he passionately reclaims his princely role, and embraces his position, he switches to speaking in verse. Likewise, Prince Harry speaks in prose for the majority of the play, until he finally has a moment of great passion and maturity. Bartlett even slips a little meta-joke in to recognize this shift: Camilla tells Harry that she's never heard him speak with such "passion, strength-- and rhythm too!"
Where have I heard that before...?
Snazzy rhythm and Prince Hal's style aren't the only things Bartlett has borrowed for King Charles III. Looking through the script, other Shakespearean motifs appear:
- Ghosts: Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard III... Shakespeare loves a good ghost story. Whether they bring evil omens, words of encouragement, or unfinished business, Shakespeare's specters help drive the plots of many of his plays. Bartlett has honored this tradition by giving King Charles III a haunting of its own.
- Prophecy: A higher or even supernatural power offering predictions for the future is another recurring Shakespearean trope. Perhaps the most famous example is the witches of Macbeth, warning the title character to "beware Macduff," but that "none of woman born" can harm him, and that he will not be defeated until "great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him" (Act IV, Scene I). This.... doesn't end up working out great for Macbeth. Prophecies can offer hope or fear, but they often come true in unexpected ways. Bartlett's script features a nod to this idea as well, through the Ghost.
- Sleeplessness: Suffering from insomnia? Maybe you should examine your conscience. Shakespeare's characters frequently experience sleepless nights when they're on a destructive path, regardless of if they're aware of their own guilty feelings or not. Several of Bartlett's characters suffer from the same affliction.
- Heavy Lies the Crown: It's tough to be the King. If you're not defending yourself from foreign usurpers, your family might be tearing itself apart. Histories and tragedies alike tackle the burden of being royal, and King Charles III picks up right where Shakespeare left off, continuing to examine the existential angst that comes with the throne.
"London Bridge is Down"
With these words, spoken on a secure line, the British Prime Minister will learn that Queen Elizabeth has passed. The governments of the 15 countries for which the Queen is head of state will be informed, as will other member states of the Commonwealth. News organizations will begin to follow their strict protocol for reporting the news; the BBC even runs drills to practice their procedures. The death of a monarch is a monumental event, and tremendous thought goes into preparing for for the inevitable. The plans for the days and weeks following the Queen's death-- from funeral arrangements to government operations-- are collectively known as "Operation London Bridge."
Most of the funeral plans have been kept secret, but some details are known. Once her death has been formally announced, a footman in mourning dress will place a notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace, and a 10-day mourning period will begin. Funeral arrangements are always overseen by the Duke of Norfolk-- and have been since 1672. The banks and the London Stock Exchange will close for the funeral. The coffin will lie in state for four days in Westminster Hall, and it is anticipated that half a million mourners will queue up to pay their respects. Four silent soldiers will stand vigil for 20 minutes at a time. These will be staffed from all branches of the armed forces, except for one special time: The Prince's Vigil. During the Prince's Vigil, relatives of the sovereign will stand guard. For the Queen Mother's funeral in 2002, this guard consisted of Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, and the Viscount Linley. It is expected that the Queen's children and grandchildren will repeat this tradition.
It will be a tremendous moment of change for the country. There are estimates that 80% of the population in the UK wasn't alive when the Queen ascended the throne. In February of 2017, she became the first British monarch to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee-65 years of rule!
The King is dead, long live the King!
One thing that will not happen upon the Queen's death is the lowering of the Royal Standard flag. This flag is never lowered, because the United Kingdom is never without a monarch-- the next successor to the throne becomes the sovereign. Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles will immediately become King. An Accession Council will meet as soon as possible to make a formal proclamation. After a mourning period, a coronation ceremony will take place at Westminster Abbey, and Charles will be formally invested as King.
The phrase "The King is dead, long live the King!" has traditionally been used to represent the sudden transition of power in the monarchy. With the death of the previous monarch, the next in line ascends the throne instantly. The origin of the phrase is said to be French --Le roi est mort, vive le roi!--and to have been first uttered upon the accession of another Charles: Charles VII of France.
Monarchy in the UK
Despite having her face on the money, the Queen is not the head of the government in the United Kingdom. The UK is a constitutional monarchy, meaning power is shared between the monarch and a constitutionally established government. In the case of the UK, that established government is the Parliament, and at its head is the Prime Minister.
The powers split between the government and the monarch differ by country, but in the United Kingdom, the bulk of the power-- specifically, the power to draft and pass law--lies with Parliament. The Sovereign's role is largely ceremonial today. The monarch opens sessions of Parliament and meets weekly with the Prime Minister to provide counsel, but they are considered "politically neutral." In fact, beyond opening a session, the monarch almost never steps foot inside Parliament. Laws are given the official Royal Assent by the monarch, but this is considered a ceremonial step: no monarch has refused to sign a law from Parliament in over 300 years.
If the Queen represents the "monarchy" portion of constitutional monarchy, Parliament is there to represent the constitution. The UK is a parliamentary democracy, so just like the United States, the government has elected officials. Parliament is also an example of bicameral legislature, meaning that it consists of two houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The House of Commons includes 650 elected Members of Parliament (MPs). Just like Senators and Representatives in the U.S., the public elects MPs to represent their interests in Parliament. Parliament is made up of MP's from several parties, but two parties control the vast majority of the seats: the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. When general elections are held, the leader of the party that wins the majority of seats in Parliament is appointed Prime Minister.
Another powerful position in the House of Commons is the Leader of the Opposition. Like the title implies, this person is the head of the Official Opposition- usually the party with the second-most seats in Parliament (not dissimilar from a Senate Minority Leader in the US.)
There is also the Speaker, who chairs debates in the House of Commons. The Speaker is the highest authority in the House, and is expected to remain politically neutral-- in contrast to the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States.
The House of Lords works a bit differently. Unlike the MPs in the House of Commons, the members of the House of Lords are appointed, and these members are drawn from the peerage- essentially, the titled nobility of the UK. The number of representatives in the House of Lords is not fixed; currently there are about 787. While the House of Lords is considered the "upper" house of Parliament, this is not a comment on power- the Lords review legislation drawn up by the House of Commons, and can review, amend, and delay bills, but they cannot stop a bill from passing.
The Royal Family and the Press
The relationship between the Royal Family and the press has been a tumultuous one. The public fascination with all things royal has continued alongside the rise of paparazzi journalism and the 24-hour-news cycle. The invention of long-range lenses and tiny cameras have only made it more difficult for public figures to keep their private lives private.
Prince Charles in particular has had a rocky relationship with the press. When he was 14, a tabloid reporter caught Charles sharing a drink with friends, and the resulting story caused the firing of Don Green, the royal bodyguard and a close friend and ally for Charles. As a young man, Charles found dating difficult when the press aggressively pursued anyone he was rumored to be seeing-- Charles even gave a speech to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in which he pleaded for more "self-discipline" in the press.
Prince Charles isn't the only family member to tangle with the media. Prince Harry's younger exploits have made headlines many times. When he was 16, Harry reportedly visited rehab centers after he experimented with marijuana. In 2005, the prince was spotted at a private costume party wearing a Nazi uniform, sparking outrage and prompting a public apology from the then-20-year-old Prince. In 2012, a trip to Las Vegas (and a game of strip billiards) resulted in naked photos of the prince appearing online. Though recent media coverage has conveyed a maturing Harry, the "wild" prince was a tabloid favorite for much of the early 2000's.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, also faced a media scandal in 2012, when topless photos of her appeared in a French magazine. The photos had been taken with a long-range lens when William and Kate were vacationing at the private chateau of Viscount David Linley (Queen Elizabeth's nephew) in Provence, France. The British papers largely refused to run the photos, but with the aid of the internet the photos were still quickly and widely disseminated. In 2017, the magazine that ran the photos (and two of its staff) were required to pay the royal couple 190,000 euros-- about $226,000.
A Candle in the Wind
Perhaps the clearest representation of the relationship between the Royal Family and the press is in the life and death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Lady Diana Spencer met the Prince of Wales in 1977. Their relationship was a hot topic for the media from its beginning, and the press was a constant presence in their lives.
In November 1980, the Sunday Mirror ran a story that Diana had joined Charles for two nights aboard the Royal Train-- with a page one headline reading "Royal Love Train." Buckingham Palace insisted that the story was false, but the damage had been done. The family was concerned that Diana's reputation had been harmed, and it's believed that this story hastened the engagement between Charles and Diana.
An estimated 750 million people worldwide tuned in to the television coverage of the "fairy tale" wedding. The marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales did not, however, provide the happy ending the public had in mind. Rumors of Charles's infidelity with Camilla Parker Bowles dogged the couple. Diana struggled with mental illness, and received little support from the Royal Family. Complicating the situation was the ever-present press, reporting on every sordid detail they could get their hands on. Charles and Diana divorced in August of 1996. Stories continued to come about Diana, especially those that tracked her love life.
Throughout their relationship, Charles reportedly resented Diana's ability to use the press to her advantage. While he had always felt persecuted by the media, Diana was celebrated. She did much to reinvent the face of the Royal Family: warmer, more open, more in touch with the public. She was the People's Princess, and Charles had difficulty finding his own spotlight. During their troubled marriage and divorce, Diana often turned to the media as an ally. An explosive book by tabloid journalist Andrew Morton (Diana: Her True Story) and an interview on Panorama with Martin Bashir gave Diana the opporunity to share her views of the marriage and the Royal Family-- but Charles struggled to find a way to work through the media in a similar way.
Diana was killed in a car accident on August 31, 1997, along with her lover Dodi Fayed and the driver, Henri Paul. The ensuing investigation ruled that the accident could be attributed to the driver's speed and intoxication, but blame was also placed on the paparazzi, who had been aggressively pursuing the couple. The fatal accident came to be a symbol of intense, overbearing media scrutiny.
The Future King
Charles Philip Arthur George was born on November 14, 1948. He became the heir apparent in 1952 when his mother ascended the throne. As is tradition with the heir, Charles is the Duke of Cornwall, and he became the Prince of Wales in 1958. He is the longest-serving heir apparent in British history, having been next-in-line for over 65 years.
Charles was the first heir to the throne to be educated outside of the palace. He briefly attended Hill House in London, before transferring to Cheam Preparatory School. He attended Cheam for five years, and then moved on to Gordounston. Both Cheam and Gordounston were alma maters of Prince Philip; Philip thought the rough-and-tumble environment of the schools would do well for the sensitive future king. Though he later expressed appreciation for his time at Gordounston, Charles once called it "Colditz in kilts"- a reference to Colditz Castle, a famous P.O.W. camp in Germany. Charles was the first heir to enroll in a university for a degree, attending Trinity College, Cambridge before the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth.
The prince faced bullying and isolation from other children, but he had warm, mentoring relationships with both the Queen Mother (his grandmother) and Louis "Dickie" Mountbatten (his great-uncle). He was not particularly gifted at athletics, but developed a strong affinity for fishing and polo. In fact, polo continued to be a passion for Charles, which he eventually passed on to Princes William and Harry.
Charles met Camilla Shand in 1972. Rumor has it Camilla approached Charles with perhaps the greatest opening line in history: "My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather, so how about it?" The story about the line is apocryphal, but the statement is true-- Camilla's great-grandmother Alice Keppel was a favorite of King Edward VII. Camilla was confident, grounded, and sexy, and she and Charles quickly developed a deep friendship and romance. The relationship had a ticking clock, however, as Camilla was not "marriage material"- the conventions of the time required that Charles marry someone who was ostensibly a virgin, and Camilla had "a history." Charles inability to marry Camilla led to a series of relationships, and ultimately to Diana.
Though the media often painted Charles as a distant father, he has a strong bond with his sons. A private person, the Prince of Wales preferred to spend his time with his sons away from the prying eyes of the press, adding to his disinterested image. Despite the public's perception, the future king was said to be a very hands-on father, delighting in feeding, bathing, and changing the boys as babies. He enjoyed sharing his hobbies with the young princes, particularly his love of the outdoors. William and Harry took to polo just like their father, and one Christmas card even featured the three together, mallets in hand, on horseback.
A Passionate Prince
Charles has been styled-- for better or worse-- as the "Thoughtful Prince." By all accounts a sensitive soul, the heir apparent occasionally seems to be a man out of time. He prefers handwritten correspondence, loathes modern architecture, and chooses to have clothes mended rather than replaced. He still writes his personal notes and speeches by hand, and supports local farming. He is an introspective and spiritual man, with a passion for anthropology.
While the royals are expected to be neutral on public issues, Charles has never shied away from giving his opinion. The Prince is a passionate environmentalist, and has spoken out for years about climate change. He has led a charge for organic farming and against GMO's. He supports alternative medicine. Despite being the future Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Charles embraces a wide range of spiritual beliefs. His opinionated speech and political activism has occasionally caused clashes with other members of the Royal Family and members of Parliament. It's reported that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once told the Prince, "I run this country, not you, sir."
Prince Charles is also a dedicated philanthropist. In 1976, he established The Prince's Trust to help serve disadvantaged youth. The Trust has flourished over the decades; it's one of the most successful fundraising organizations in the U.K. and its work has been estimated to be worth 1.4 billion euros (almost $1.7 billion)-- in the last decade alone!
Charles has an artistic side as well. He loves classical music, and played the cello as a child. As a schoolboy he enjoyed participating in drama-- including playing the title roles in Richard III and Macbeth. He has had a passion for watercolor since he was young; over 130 of his original watercolors can be found on the Prince of Wales' official website. He prefers to sketch nature scenes, and the Prince has often found sitting outside with his sketchbook to be a welcome respite from the world.
Meet The Royals!
- King Charles III - the son of Queen Elizabeth II, heir apparent, and currently Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall
- Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall - Camilla Parker-Bowles, Prince Charles's second wife
- William, Duke of Cambridge - The oldest son of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales; 2nd in line for the throne
- Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge - The wife of Prince William
- Prince Harry - The second son of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Meet the Rest!
- Jess- A Socialist art student whom Harry meets in a club
- James Reiss- Press Secretary for the Royal Family
- Tristan Evans- Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister of Parliament
- Mark Stevens- Leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament
Glossary of Terms
- Abdication- the act of renouncing the throne
- Commonwealth-an international association consisting of the UK together with states that were previously part of the British Empire, and dependencies.
- Civil List- the individuals to whom money is paid by the government; until recently, this is where the Royal Family got their income.
- Leader of the Opposition- the leader of the minority party in Parliament
- Mother- In reference to tea time, the person who serves the tea
- Royal Assent- the monarch's approval of a bill that has passed both Houses in Parliament.
- Royal Prerogative- those privileges of law or authority that are reserved for the sovereign ruler.
- Tory- a nickname for a member of the Conservative Party.
- Trooping of the Color- a large ceremony performed by regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies. It also marks the British sovereign's official birthday.
- Prince Harry is currently 5th in line for the throne, behind Princess Charlotte. The Duke and Duchess are expecting another child in the spring of 2018; the birth of this child will move Harry to 6th.
- Queen Elizabeth II's path to the throne was a result of King Edward VIII's abdication-- which he did to marry American socialite (and two-time divorcee) Wallis Simpson.
- For coronations, the monarch is placed in a special chair. The Coronation Chair has been used in coronation ceremonies since 1308. In the base of the chair was designed to hold the legendary Stone of Scone: the stone believed to be the one on which Jacob rested his head at Bethel. (Genesis 28:18)
- St. Edward's crown, the centerpiece of the crown jewels, was made in 1661 for another Charles: Charles II.
- Queen Elizabeth has actually only worn St. Edward's crown once-- it is only used for crowning the new monarch.
- The Cullinan Diamond was the largest gem-quality diamond ever found, at 3,106 carats. 9 large stones were cut from the diamond. Cullinan I (the largest colorless cut diamond in the world) was placed in the Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross, and Cullinan II was set in the Royal Imperial Crown.
- The Queen is not legally required to have a driver's license.
- Last names can be a bit confusing. Those who are addressed with "Royal Highness" and/or the title of Prince/Princess do not use a last name. Princes William and Harry have at times used the last name "Wales." Other royal family members, or female descendants who marry. have the last name Mountbatten-Windsor.
- Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are third cousins.
- When she becomes queen, Kate Middleton will be England's sixth Queen Catherine.
- The Royal Family must always travel with an article of black clothing, in case of a death.
- Queen Elizabeth has a favorite nail polish: Essie's "Ballet Slippers."
- The Queen is said to enjoy a glass of champagne every night before bed.
- Traditionally, members of the same line are not supposed to travel on the same airplane, to avoid losing more than one heir at a time. William, Duke of Cambridge, has broken this tradition and traveled with Prince George.
- Both Prince Harry and Princess Charlotte share the colloquial title of "the spare;" this references an old tradition that monarchs should have at least two children-- an heir and a spare-- to ensure smooth succession of titles.
- Kate Middleton is the first royal bride with a university degree-- in art history!
- The Queen celebrates two birthdays! The first is the day of her birth: April 21. The second is her "official" birthday, which is celebrated on the second Saturday in June, to correspond with the annual Trooping of the Colour parade.
- Sally Bedell Smith's 2017 biography Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life contains an epigraph from King Charles III!
- "The Secret Plan for the Days After the Queen's Death" https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/16/what-happens-when-queen-elizabeth-dies-london-bridge
- "London Bridge is Down" http://www.theweek.co.uk/63862/london-bridge-is-down-what-happens-when-the-queen-dies
- Official Website of the Royal Family https://www.royal.uk/royal-family
- UK Parliament- https://www.parliament.uk/
- Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life by Sally Bedell Smith