STC’s ‘King Charles III’ Predicts a Future History

Shakespeare. He’s famous for more plays than we can name, including so many historical works such as The Tragedy of King Richard the Third and The Life of King Henry the Fifth. But as far as we know, Shakespeare never imagined a future history play.

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No, it was Mike Bartlett who created perhaps the first future history play, titled King Charles IIIcurrently being performed at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Penn Quarter.  King Charles III asks the question: What will happen when Great Britain’s current reigning Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, passes on?

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Obviously this play differs markedly from a Shakespeare original, but it certainly echoes not only the call for filial loyalty (which King Lear wanted from his daughters), but also some foolishness (like Antonio in The Merchant of Venice when he agreed to put up his flesh as collateral). Additionally, just as in Measure for Measure, there is the lack of a satisfactory ending.

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The play prompts audiences to think of the past is something to be honored, through mechanisms like choral songs, a ghost, and candlelight.  Reminders exist also that Royalty and Parliament are vital ingredients that define the United Kingdom… but that either element can be abolished.  Freedom of the press is also called into question in this play.

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All of the pomp and circumstance doesn’t mean, however, that the play doesn’t have its lighter moments. Prince Harry’s character, in particular, plays a comic foil, getting the chance to see what life is really like outside of the palatial walls and enjoying some nightlife fun… falling in love… ordering food from a kabob cart.

That certainly seems real enough.

Could this future history come true? What will happen when Great Britain’s current reigning Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, passes on?  King Charles III is running at the Shakespeare Theatre Company from February 7 until March 12.

UPDATE: King Charles III has been extended until March 18.  Additional performances will take place:

  • Thursday, March 16 at 8 p.m.
  • Friday, March 17 at 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 18 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 18 at 8 p.m.

*Images credit Kevin Berne for American Conservatory Theatre Company’s production of King Charles III.

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