The Madness of George III

April 13

June 12, 2011

in CST's Courtyard Theater

by Alan Bennett
directed by Penny Metropulos

Playgoer's Guide


Still stinging from the loss of his colonies in America, an eccentric King George III displays symptoms of a mysterious disease. Impatient members of Parliament—the Tories, ardently defending the monarchy, and the Whigs, campaigning to curtail royal power—bitterly argue among themselves as the future of England's governmental system hangs in the balance. The King's devoted Queen, the Prince of Wales—an eager heir to the throne—and an assorted menagerie of doctors wage their own battles over the control of the body and treatment, as the man himself struggles to maintain his royal role and identity.

Historical Cont​ext

George III was born into the German Hanover line, which came to the throne when Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, failed to produce an heir, and the English courts ruled that the monarchy should be Protestant and Hanoverian. He reigned during a time in which the monarch was expected to work closely with the two houses of Parliament as a trifecta of leadership. Upholding this duty is one responsibility that George III, in the eyes of many historians and politicians of the day, failed. Combined with his hesitancy to engage in war and his eccentric personality, he was attacked verbally—and physically—by his subjects. The Irish historian William Lecky wrote, “It may be said, without exaggeration, that George III inflicted more profound and enduring injuries upon his country than any other modern king.” As king during the period of England's great imperialism, not only did he rule over the American Colonies, but also those in the Caribbean, Africa and India. The loss of America was a great blow to his legacy, and it was not until the mid-twentieth century that scholars and historians began to view his reign in a more positive light. A king who always remained sensitive to the pressures of leadership, George III endured his first battle with madness only to succumb to it again at the end of his life.

In Pro​duction

The Madness of George III premiered at the National Theatre in London on November 28, 1991. Directed by Nicholas Hytner (now artistic director of the National), a tour of both the UK and the US followed its original run. Madness enjoyed a second production at the National just two years later in 1993 and was presented in Greece and Israel the following year. In 1994 Bennett adapted the play for the screen, and Hytner directed the film, The Madness of King George, starring some of Britain's best-known actors—Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, and Rupert Everett. (Bennett himself made a cameo appearance as an MP.) The film won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction and was nominated for three other Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay. Recently the play toured the UK for the first time since the original production, and this past summer it was part of the summer Shakespeare Festival at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. In a new incarnation—combining elements of Bennett's original script, a later version written for the play's American premiere, and his own screenplay— The Madness of George III finds a new home here at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Alan Bennett

A man who declined knighthood and an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, Alan Bennett, born in 1934, grew up in a modest home in Leeds, a city in the north of England. He attended public schools and was awarded a scholarship to Exeter College Oxford, where in 1957 he earned a degree in history. There he began writing sketch comedy with his friends and classmates Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook. In 1960 the four became famous when their satirical review Beyond the Fringe was so popular at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that it subsequently enjoyed successful runs on London's West End and Broadway. Bennett continued acting and writing sketch comedy for the BBC, and soon found himself in the midst of a career in film, television, radio and theater. A recipient of the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre, Bennett is perhaps best known for his play The History Boys (2004), which won three Olivier Awards and six Tony Awards, including Best Play, and was subsequently made into an award-winning film in 2006.

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