The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Madness of George III opens in the autumn of 1788, approximately seven years after Great Britain’s loss of the American colonies, a loss that continues to weigh heavily on the fragile mind of King George III. Surrounding the king are those who would supplant him and his Tory government, including his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, and the Whig leaders Fox, Sheridan, and Burke, who conspire to overturn the Tory government led by Prime Minister William Pitt.

It is not long before the king falls ill with what the playwright depicts, following a future diagnosis, as porphyria, a metabolic disorder, rather than the play’s contemporary diagnosis of “madness.” The king is unable to control his language, yielding to incessant and nonsensical talking as well as insulting and obscene statements. He falsely concludes that his wife is having incestuous sexual relations with the prince, and he himself becomes obsessed with Lady Pembroke, the queen’s Mistress of the Robes.

The continuing illness prevents the king from providing the leadership that England requires, bringing the government to a virtual standstill. During the approximately six months of his illness, several political maneuverings are deployed simultaneously. Pitt attempts to keep the seriousness of the king’s illness from members of Parliament, thus maintaining the Tory government in place while awaiting the hoped-for recovery. Charles Fox, a former prime minister,...

(The entire section is 458 words.)