The King's Speech

September 12

October 20, 2019

The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare

by David Seidler
directed by Michael Wilson

Playgoer’s Guide

Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York…

–William Shakespeare

Albert, Duke of York and second son to King George V, stands by quite helpless as his elder brother David falls hopelessly, stubbornly in love with Wallis Simpson, the American sociality and divorcée. In 1936 David’s ascension to the throne and to the head of the Church of England are viewed by most in the government as incompatible with his impending marriage to Mrs. Simpson.

Since childhood, Albert (“Bertie” to his family) has spoken with an incapacitating stammer, undermining his confidence in himself and from all those around him—except his wife, Elizabeth, Duchess of York, who understands the depths of her husband’s intellect and humanity. She visits Harley Street, seeking out an Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Logue’s practice soon reveals itself as offensive as it is unorthodox—both to the Duchess and to her husband, who abruptly terminate the relationship after a first session. Tormented by his struggle to speak, however, Albert returns to Logue to continue their work. Myrtle, Lionel’s wife, wants nothing but their return home to Australia. But as the threat of Nazi Germany looms over Europe’s sovereignty, the stakes grow infinitely higher—most of all, for the reluctant English king who must now lead his nation into way.

“I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” On his 327th day on the throne, Albert’s brother David, King Edward VIII, signed the Instrument of Abdication on December 10, 1937, becoming only the fourth king in English history to renounce the throne—the first to do so voluntarily. The following evening Edward delivered a radio address to his former subjects and the world; on December 12, Albert was proclaimed King George VI.

In the wake of a revolution in mass communication decades before television, the Internet, and social media, George V became the first British monarch to broadcast live on radio. It was Christmas Day 1932, as the King spoke to millions of his subjects around the globe in their homes, with words carefully crafted by writer Rudyard Kipling. His son Albert, King George VI, would soon face a world that demanded its leaders to inspire through their broadcasted words. The Royal Christmas Message has since become a tradition still carried on by George VI’s daughter Elizabeth, with the first televised address airing in 1957.

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