On 9 October 2018 Mark Gatiss visited the Royal Library at Windsor in preparing for his role as George III in a new production of Alan Bennett’s remarkable play The Madness of George III (known in its cinematic version as The Madness of King George) at Nottingham Playhouse. He viewed some of the most significant documents in the Georgian Papers which relate to the particular episodes explored in the play, as well as others offering particular insights into the character of the king, the royal family, politicians and others who feature prominently.
Mark Gatiss’s visit was made possible as part of the Georgian Papers Programme, a partnership between the Royal Archives and King’s College London, joined by primary U.S. partners the Omohundro Institute and William & Mary, who are working together to make the Georgian Papers held in the Round Tower at Windsor Castle available to a worldwide audience in digital form. His visit forms part of a programme of events and initiatives designed to share the work of the Georgian Papers Programme with the widest possible public and to demonstrate the interest and relevance of its findings to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. The visit was exciting, bringing as it did an actor about to take the stage in the most substantial and important theatrical representation of the King produced in the twentieth century together with George’s own papers.
In this virtual exhibition we have reproduced the documents which Mark Gatiss explored so that they can be shared with playgoers and those who have the opportunity to see the NT-Live broadcast of the production — and indeed with anyone interested in an introduction to its themes as exemplified in the remarkable archive that constitutes the Georgian Papers.
The exhibition follows a similar presentation of documents that can support an understanding of another important and more recent theatrical representation of George III, the appearance of the King in the hit show Hamilton: An Americal Musical, which was prepared for the actor Michael Jibson, the first to undertake this role on the London stage. (You can see that exhibit here.) A few documents appear in both exhibitions — but not only are the bulk of the contents distinct, reflecting the very different emphases of the two dramas, but even those documents which are shared offer different perspectives in these different contexts.
Bennett’s play is the work of a playwright who might easily have ended up as a professional academic historian, albeit of medieval rather than Hanoverian Britain (we write about Bennett’s historical training, and the historians who influenced his portrayal of George III, in the Programme for the Nottingham Production). Anyone reading these documents who knows The Madness of George III well will identify both phrases and occasions which either appear in the play or which are echoed in it; they will also come away with an increased appreciation of Bennett’s ability to ventriloquize the eighteenth century, his characters’ modes of speech capturing the ‘feel’ of the voices we hear through these documents speaking to us from almost 230 years ago.
Arthur Burns & Karin Wulf, academic directors, Georgian Papers Programme