Thursday, 2 October 2014

'Charles III': A Reflection of a Changing Society?

by Lara Spirit and Dom Baker

A week after Scotland declined division from the United Kingdom, twelve sixth form pupils travelled to London to see the critically acclaimed Charles III at Wyndhams Theatre. In the wake of the Queen’s death, Charles ascends to the throne and, even before his coronation, he is faced with constitutional conflict. Topically, Charles opposes proposed legislation which could see censorship placed on the press. The play explores the relationship between parliament and the crown, and asks whether the monarchy actually possesses any practical and legitimate power in today’s society.
The production did contain stimulating aspects of comedy, including the characterisation of Prince Harry as a blasé but ultimately unhappy member of the royal family and Kate as a manipulative puppet master to the ever-appeasing William. However, above all, the play raised serious questions about the public’s perception of the royal family. Whilst the recent Royal Wedding, Golden Jubilee and the birth of baby George have all appeared to inspire widespread support for the family, the picture is not so simple. In times of austerity, people may cite the increasing expenditure of the royals on hospitality, utilities and property management, and question whether this is worth the role they hold in our modern society. The notion that the Royals are hopelessly out of touch with ‘their people’  was also highlighted in the play, as Charles mumbles ‘I’ll make the tea myself… if someone would show me how it’s done…’. Public perception is often difficult to ascertain; however, when riots broke out as a result of Charles’ political interference, the king later abdicating to be replaced by his son, it was clear that there remains a question as to what the future holds for the royal family. 
Charles’ political interference and the consequent events also exposed the fragmented and potentially vulnerable nature of the monarchy in the British political process. The Prime Minister objects to compromise on the proposed legislation, on the grounds that the royal assent to finalise its passing is simply a matter of tradition and not an opportunity for involvement.  Unlike nations such as America and India, in Britain we do not have a codified constitution. There remains no formal document to lay down our fundamental rights and principles as a nation; in its place we hold a set of conventions and traditions. Whilst this allows flexibility and ability to change, it is also the cause of ambiguity. The role of the royals is a key issue associated with the absence of codification as the royal assent, the final stage in the legislative process, is considered a matter of formality by tradition. It is simply the monarch approving what has been democratically decided by an elected parliament. The audience is expected to understand this, and the Prime Minister outlines the reasons by which he would sooner bring the monarchy down then allow Charles a chance to change the bill.  The Queen's recent absence from the Scotland debate and reaction to Cameron’s revelation of her majesty ‘purring’ at the news of the No vote’s success could be interpreted as our society’s collective rejection of the royals from all that is political. Charles likens democracy to a satnav in the production: something that is there for advice and reassurance when in reality it would be possible to get by alone. In reality, with an elected and, supposedly, representative House of Commons, the royal assent appears to remain another symbol of the unentrenched and ultimately vulnerable set of conventions that exists in the absence of a constitution.

The play first and foremost amused and entertained us for the best part of three hours; however, it more delicately opened our eyes to the fragility and instability of the Royal family. In a modern, democratic society, the royals can appear as outdated and obsolete. Of course, they are loved and revered by many as a strong national symbol of pride and identity, but one would hesitate to place them at the top of our country’s hierarchy if we were to redesign the political institutions tomorrow.

(On a side note we’d like to thank Mr. Lemiuex for organising the trip and Mr. Frampton for accompanying us there)


  1. Love it. Great article

  2. Really interesting points. Wish I had seen it! Like the reference to the satnav...sometimes people end up driving through fields because their satnav told them to, despite evidence suggesting this to be unwise.


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