Shakespeare is universally acknowledged to be the greatest English playwright, yet very few playwrights have the audacity to leap the cultural and historical chasm and try to imitate him. I get it.
First, there’s the dreaded high-school iambic pentameter. Who talks like that? We value natural-sounding speech. Well, Mike Bartlett goes full-on blank verse in King Charles III. Surprisingly, it works.
It turns out Shakespeare was onto something with his blank verse. First, the iambic meter is the sound of a heartbeat: comforting and full of vigorous life. Moreover, a line in iambic pentameter can be comfortably spoken in one breath. I.e.: It’s written for actors: To be or not to be. That is the question.
Bartlett does another Shakespearean thing: At the heart of Shakespeare’s Richard II, there is an odd scene in which we (and the queen) overhear the gardener diagnose the ills that the careless king has brought down on England. Much like the fool in King Lear, wisdom comes from the most unexpected places. It’s the ordinary guy who “gets it” when the elite are clueless.
Likewise, at the heart of King Charles III, we meet a kebab seller who diagnoses the ills brought down on England by a royal family who no longer know what they believe nor what they represent; an England that, in the age of multiculturalism and identity politics, is no longer sure what it means to be English.
“How many layers can be peeled away?” the kebob guy asks. “It makes ordinary people anxious to see layer after layer of Englishness stripped away.”
Can England survive without the monarchy? That’s the question at hand, but behind it loom all the other questions: Can England survive without the church? Can England survive without God? Can England survive without patriotism? Can England survive without the European Union? Can England survive without Western Civilization? What, in the end, does it mean to be English in a London where people no longer form orderly queues?
The elites don’t seem to be asking that question, which is why they should sometimes listen to the the gardeners, the fools, and the kebab guys. When they refuse, they get a Peasant’s Rebellion, or Brexit. Or Trump.
King Charles III runs through April 22 at Coronado Playhouse.