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Theatre / The Madness of George III

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In late 1788, George III once again began showing signs of the mysterious mental illness that had first plagued him in the 1760s. Politicians, scenting the possibility of change, homed in for the kill. So, for that matter, did the king's much-disliked son and heir, the Prince of Wales. But in 1789, just as the Prince was on the verge of becoming Regent...the king made a miraculous (and mysterious) recovery.


A little over two centuries later, the playwright Alan Bennett turned this material into The Madness of George III (1991), which proved to be an international hit. Nigel Hawthorne starred as the King.

Bennett and director Nicholas Hytner adapted it to film as The Madness of King George (1994).

The play provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Pitt (whose intake was considered shocking even in the eighteenth century, when heavy drinking was relatively normal) drinks every time he's on stage; the script indicates that he should be drinking whether or not the stage directions explicitly call for it.
  • Deadly Doctor: Pepys, Warren, and Baker. Not out of malice, but because of the state of late eighteenth-century medicine.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Just about all of Sheridan's dialogue. Pitt and Dundas, on occasion. Even George III manages.
    George III: And too many ideas. Not like you, Mr. Pitt. You don't have ideas.
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  • Dysfunctional Family: The Prince of Wales vs. Ma and Pa.
  • Flash Forward: At the end, Ida McAlpine, responsible for popularizing the theory that the King suffered from porphyria, suddenly appears and explains the situation to Fitzroy and Papandiek.
  • Happily Married: George III and Charlotte. Thurlow and Dundas believe that their mutual fidelity is part of the problem.
  • Historical Domain Character: Virtually the entire cast of characters, except for Captain Fitzroy.
  • It Will Never Catch On: At the end, Pitt casually mentions the "minor disturbances in Paris," but he doesn't think they're anything to worry about.
  • Last-Name Basis: The politicians and doctors, with a couple of notable exceptions:
    • The Prince of Wales calls Fox "Charles."
    • In private, Dundas calls Pitt "William."
  • Oh, Crap!: Pitt's response when Willis' report to Parliament is too honest about the king's condition.
  • Royally Screwed Up: By porphyria, as explained by a combination of Flash Forward and Breaking the Fourth Wall.
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  • The Stoic: Pitt, although his hyper-rationalism can sometimes ascend to Straw Vulcan levels.
  • Those Two Guys: Sheridan and Burke.
  • Turn Coat: Lord Chancellor Thurlow spends the entire play looking out for the main chance.


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