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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780

Class 26

Nov 28: Film Discussion, The Madness of King George (Orion, 1994)

    Post #13 Due - Group A

    Class Objectives:

  • Use student questions to analyze the film
  • discuss the ways in which the king's body is not his own
  • discuss the ways in which illness -- the body in crisis -- reveals the mythology of kingship

    The Madness of King George deals wiith an important episode in the history of England's government, the crisis of 1788 when the king appeared to be going mad. In fact he suffered from an inherited disorder called porphyria which caused intermittent signs of dementia. The movie is based on a play called "The Madness of George III" by Alan Bennett. It emphasizes the problems in the metaphor of the body politic, and so follows through on some of the central themes we have been looking at in this course.

    Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:

    Remember that your posts should respond to the discussion questions posted by your classmates. There are TWO assignments associated with this date in class -- the writing of discussion questions (for those of you who did not write on Restoration) and the weekly posts (group A). Some of you may end up writing two things, some may be writing neither.

    Because this British film assumes some knowledge of the history and workings of British government and royalty, you may want to look at a plot summary of the film before you view it. For useful information, see the IMDB entry for The Madness of King George.

    Some terms you will want to know in order to understand the significance:
    Lord Chancellor -- Thurloe -- the King's chief justice in law
    Prime Minister -- Pitt -- in this case, the leader of the majority in the House of Commons, and of the King's party (not the opposition)
    Opposition -- led by Fox -- in this case the party opposed to the "government" of the King, a minority
    Prince of Wales -- (George, played by Rupert Everett) -- the son and heir to the king
    Regent -- someone who exercises the powers of the king when he is unable to

    Some political background: in 1688 the Glorious Revolution established that parliament essentially controlled the government in conjuction with the king, and the king no longer had the ability to singlehandedly make decisions for government. Still, the monarchy was central to governing, politics and most especially the culture of England. Gradually the role of the monarch became increasingly less functional and more ceremonial. This movie illustrates the separation between the governing power of the king and the ceremony that attends the royal family. Note the contrast between the formality required in the presence of the king and how the people act when he is not there.

    Of medical practice at the end of the eighteenth century, Julia Epstein writes "Early physicians manually examined their patient only on rare occasions. They relied instead on patients' narratives and on observations without touch..." (161) [See notes for 11/30 for citation.] How does this information affect your view of the medical treatment the king receives in the film? What methods of diagnosis are used in the film and what type of "illness" do such methods elicit?

    Consider the fact that the Princes of Wales historically (not just George IV) have been at odds with their fathers, and being so have been political targets for the opposition. What is the reason for Fox and the Prince of Wales' relationship in the film? How does Fox really feel about the Prince? How do we know?

    Consider this representation of the king's body in contrast with the representations of Charles I we read about (viewed) earlier in the semester? Do you find any similarities? Any differences? What historical changes might contribute to this?

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