The Madness of George III

by Alan Bennett

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In The Madness of George III, does Alan Bennett accurately portray the contemporary political circumstances?

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It is an undeniable fact that Alan Bennett's play The Madness of George III 's succeeds in terms of characterization, the fusion of history, and the accuracy in staging, dress, and even in the mannerisms of the characters at the time. The Stage (UK) goes as far as saying that 

(Director Christopher) Luscombe, a Cambridge English graduate, relished the process of research, especially when investigating the murky depths of Georgian politics, as featured in the play. But he is at pains to stress that The Madness of George III is not simply a piece of historical recreation.

“The play works so well because the audience gets right behind the king - it likes him and it shares his story. It shares his torment and such is their joy at his recovery that it becomes almost a celebration.

With this information, it is clear that Alan Bennet's play, backed by a directorial staff which is equally aware of the historical value of the period which it covers, has certainly portrayed the play within a very factual historical context. 

Some of the facts and historical names used in the play include:

  • The shallowness and inefficiency of the Prince of Wales, as well as his desire to get the crown from his father during the times of need.
  • The condition of porfiria that King George suffers, in bouts.
  • The loss of the thirteen colonies at the beginning of the play
  • The dire reputation of the English crown at the time of George's kingdom.
  • King George's reputation as "farmer George" complete with the quite tacky and somewhat odd family that he brights up.
  • His interest in instilling family values into his court (which, in turn, made it less fashionable).
  • The battle between William Pitt and Charles Fox to depose the king and establish a Whig government led by Fox under a Regency led by the Prince of Wales.
  • The reaction of the people when King George recovers
  • The way that his recovery brought a new found love and respect from the people of England to their King, even though he was, essentially, German (which caused resentment at one point)

All of these are true, historical facts that Alan Bennett cleverly and accurately includes in his play. He gives careful consideration and importance to the overall attitude of the audience, having as an ultimate goal that the audience responds the way that people did back in the late 1700s and then in the early 1800s: feeling compassion for a King which is once considered useless, but whose illness makes an entire nation realize the value and historical importance of the King in the overall psyche, as well as in the hearts, of his people. 

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