In his role as Prince of Wales and as monarch, Charles III has often addressed the nation in the words of the nation’s most beloved poet. Shakespeare, alongside being a poet, was an actor-dramatist, meaning that he must have been deeply familiar with the language of plays in which he had performed. HM the King has performed in Shakespeare’s plays, from Macbeth to the Duke of Exeter in Henry V at boarding school in Gordonstoun. As patron of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Charles delivered Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy memorably in 2016 at the RSC Gala, alongside some of the nation’s greatest actors, including Dame Judi Dench, David Tennant, Paapa Essiedu, and Sir Ian McKellen.
Flights of Angels
On September 10th 2022, HM the King paid a loving tribute to his ‘darling Mama’ in a historic television address, a photograph of the late Queen Elizabeth II resting beside him on a mahogany desk. Pledging to serve the nation as his mother had done, the King again invoked Shakespeare’s Hamlet: ‘May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’. In Act 5 Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Horatio cradles the body of his friend, Hamlet, and acknowledges that ‘Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, / And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’.
A Pattern to all Princes
Charles III again invoked Shakespeare in his first speech to the UK parliament: ‘As Shakespeare says of the earlier Queen Elizabeth, she was “a pattern to all princes living.” As I stand before you today, I cannot help but feel the weight of history’. Again, HM the King drew aptly from Shakespeare’s canon in acknowledging the weight of history, specifically from Shakespeare’s collaboration with fellow King’s Men dramatist John Fletcher, Henry VIII, or All is True. The line is delivered by the character of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in Act 5 Scene 5. Cranmer speaks of a ‘royal infant’, the future Queen Elizabeth I, who is not only a guiding light for all living princes but also ‘all that shall succeed’, for ‘good grows with her’.
In paying tribute to Jordan during the nation’s centenary celebration at the Jordan Museum, Charles III spoke of this most ‘special of countries’ in Shakespearian terms: ‘I can only say, like Shakespeare, that “To me, fair friend, you never can be old”, and look forward to the next century of our friendship’. Here HM the King recalled Shakespeare’s Sonnet 104, in which the poet writes that, to him, the subject can never seem old, while also acknowledging that time cannot stand still.
Charles III's invocations of Shakespeare are testament to the relevance of his works throughout time, works that explore such themes as love, family, grief, friendship, and duty, which are as applicable today as they were to Shakespeare’s contemporary readers and audiences.
Find out more about HM the King’s connections to Shakespeare on our Charles III landing page where you can view an online gallery of items related to past coronations in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Collections.