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Theatre / King Charles III

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The Queen is dead.
Long live the king?

"Unlike you all, I'm born and raised to rule.
I do not choose, but like an Albion oak
I'm sown in British soil, and grown not for
Myself but reared with single purpose meant."
King Charles, to Parliament, right before dissolving Parliament

King Charles III is a play by Mike Bartlett. Premiering in 2014, the dialogue is notable for being written entirely in blank verse iambic pentameter, leaning on the tradition of Shakespeare's history plays (it's even billed as a "future history"). The narrative follows the royal family through the three months between the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the coronation of the next in line for the throne: her son, Prince Charles of Wales.

Eager to exercise his royal duties, Prince Charles clashes almost immediately with Prime Minister Evans over a new bill for the statutory regulation of the press - the Prime Minister is for it, while Prince Charles wants the Parliament to reconsider what effects the bill will have on freedom of speech. Prince Charles' refusal to sign the bill into law creates a schism between the elected officials of the government and the hereditary rule of the royal family which threatens to tear even the United Kingdom apart. Complicating matters is Prince Harry's budding relationship with an opinionated Republican.


Throughout the show, Prince Charles, Prince William, Duchess Kate, and Prince Harry make asides to the audience about their roles in the royal family, the institution of monarchy, the legacy they'll be leaving for future generations, and the nature of government. All must choose how they wish to see the traditions of the monarchy continued in the British Isles, and then convince the others that their course of action is the best.

Please note that at the time of publishing, HM The Queen is still alive and well.note  The play is merely speculation. And due to Time Marches On, the play has become somewhat Outdated by Canon.


King Charles III provides examples of:

  • 100% Adoration Rating: Prince William and Duchess Kate argue that their nigh-universal popularity makes them better suited to monarchy than Prince Charles, and indeed the only members of the royal family who can undo the damage Charles has caused to their reputation and royal brand.
  • Abdicate the Throne: The second half of the play sees various forces trying to get Prince Charles to abdicate before his official coronation. He does, when faced with the combined prospect of his sons publicly disavowing him and cutting off all contact with his grandchildren, and with Parliament stripping away the minuscule sliver of executive power left to the monarchy.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Subverted when Prince Charles hijacks the coronation by snatching the crown from the Bishop's hands. He ultimately places it on Prince William's head, but not before some scathing commentary.
  • Balcony Speech: Attempted by Prince Charles when the crowd of protesters surround Buckingham Palace. He even has a megaphone, but no one can hear him over the noise generated by the angry dissenters.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done periodically by Prince Charles, Prince William, Duchess Kate, and Prince Harry. They address the audience with their thoughts on the nature of government, the institution of monarchy, their role in the royal family, and the kind of legacy the'll be leaving for their children and future rulers.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Prince William does this to Prince Charles when he strongly suggests that Charles abdicate, confronting Charles over the damage he's caused to the institution of British monarchy on both the political and popular fronts.
  • Cool Crown: Subverted during the coronation when Prince Charles grabs it out of the Bishop's hands. He remarks on how heavy it is, before turning it over and revealing the empty interior, claiming it is "nothing."
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Prince Harry's character has got shades of this. He starts to believe that he'll be happy if he gives up his title and settles down with Jess, but by the end of the show he's unhappily committed himself to supporting William in upholding the monarchy.
  • Divine Right of Kings: Prince Charles argues that he was born and raised to rule the country — that monarchy and authority are an intrinsic part of his being. He claims that as the king he is answerable to all citizens of the United Kingdom (as opposed to the members of the Parliament, who are answerable only to their constituents).
  • Ermine Cape Effect: Used on multiple occasions (it's a play about royalty, what did you expect):
    • Attempted by Prince Charles when he moves to dismiss the members of Parliament - he's wearing a very large ermine cape, combined with crown & scepter.
    • And again at the coronation - the capes used are several meters long, and require an attendant to carry them into the church.
  • Hollywood Law: When Charles refuses to grant assent to the Media Regulation Bill, the Prime Minister retaliates by proposing a bill to strip the Crown of its power to grant assent to any bill, which in normal constitutional circumstances can't make much progress in Parliament without King's Consent since it affects the Royal prerogative.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Prince Harry, after dating Jess for a while. Towards the middle of the second act Harry asks Prince Charles to remove his titles and demote him to the status of a commoner. He changes his mind after Prince Charles is forced to abdicate and William is to be crowned instead.
  • Meaningful Name: The title — Charles's regnal name — clearly calls back to the reigns of Charles I and Charles II, both of whom historically clashed with Parliament over who got to rule between the authority of elected officials versus the divine right of kings. Charles I lost his head over the issue, Charles II arguably prevailed in the short term but merely delayed the inevitable in the long term, and Charles III falls somewhere in between, being forced to abdicate. In reality, many royal observers have speculated that Prince Charles actually intends to adopt a different regnal name precisely to avoid these Unfortunate Implications, but as this is fiction a certain amount of artistic license holds. .
  • Pen-Pushing President: Prime Minister Evans flat out tells Charles that his duty as a monarch is to sign bills into law whether he agrees with them or not.
  • Real-Person Fic: It's a play about the current (at least as of 2014) British royal family, so...
    • The roster of characters includes: Charles, Prince of Wales (as King Charles III), Prince William the Duke of Cambridge, Prince Henry "Harry" of Wales, Catherine "Kate" the Duchess of Cambridge, and Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall.
    • Also included: the ghost of Diana Princess of Wales and mentions of both Queen Elizabeth II (posthumously) and Prince George.
  • Rebel Prince: Prince Harry.
  • Reluctant Retiree: Towards the end, William and Harry corner Charles and threaten to effectively disown him, cutting off all contact with him (and taking his grandchildren with them) if he does not abdicate and put William on the throne. Charles reluctantly agrees, not wanting to be alone in life. That doesn't mean he likes doing it though. Quite the contrary, he openly weeps and his hand trembles as he signs the abdication document. He had waited to be King for literally decades, and his "rule" had only just started when it is taken from him by the people he loves the most.
  • Requisite Royal Regalia: Includes Cool Crown, Pimped-Out Cape, and a Scepter. See the Ermine Cape Effect trope above.
  • Royal Decree: Prince Charles' refusal to sign the bill could be seen as this - he even puts his royal stamp on the refusal and has his underbutler personally deliver it to Downing St.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Following the death of HM The Queen, Prince Charles wants the monarchy to take a more active role in government. The government wants him to be a Pen-Pushing President and stay out of their affairs.
  • Ruling Couple: Invoked by Prince William and Duchess Kate. Playing up this image is part of the reason they have a 100% Adoration Rating.
  • Sleazy Politician: Stevens, the Leader of the Opposition. He says one thing to Prince Charles in private meetings and another in Parliament. Also mentioned to be personally acquainted with members of the press who would be affected by the passage of the media regulation bill.
  • Time Marches On: The play premiered in 2014, and made use of the real people who were part of the royal family at that time. Since 2014, the following events have altered the royal family:
    • In 2016, Prince Harry began dating American actress Meghan Markle. The two would go on to marry in 2018, and later to have a son, Archie.
    • Prince William and Duchess Kate went on to have more children after the birth of Prince George (who does not make an appearance in the show, but who is mentioned as a factor in William and Kate's popularity). Their daughter, Princess Charlotte, was born in 2015. Their second son, Prince Louis, was born in 2018.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Prince Charles will do everything in his power to preserve democracy and especially freedom of the press, up to and including the dissolution of Parliament. It's clear that William and Kate are this in forcing Charles to abdicate, but it's clear that he will never speak to (or of) them again and hates their very existences.


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