Strong Women: Kate Middleton in King Charles III

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

By Shannon Stockwell

During A.C.T.'s 50th-anniversary season, strong women are navigating their way through traditionally male-oriented spaces. In King Charles III, running through October 9, Kate Middleton tries to establish her place in a kingdom run by men, both in the palace and in parliament.

Because of this, critics and audiences alike have compared Kate to Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. While playwright Mike Bartlett did not actually intend this likeness, the parallels are remarkable.
Left: Ellen Terry playing Lady Macbeth. By Window & Grove. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 
Right: Kate Middleton. By Nick Warner. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the titular character receives a prophecy that he will become king. For him to take the throne, however, the current king must die. Lady Macbeth, whom Shakespeare scholar Marjorie Garber calls “the strongest character in the play,” knows that her husband doesn’t have the courage to kill the king, so she pushes him to carry out the murder and then helps him hide the evidence.

Macbeth is largely a rumination on the effects of guilt, but in the beginning of the play, Garber says that we see in Lady Macbeth “rigidity, resolution, and the rejection of a restricted notion of a woman’s place.” Garber gleans this from lines such as “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty” and “Come to my woman’s breasts, / And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers.”

Lady Macbeth’s rejection of femininity casts a fascinating light on Kate’s soliloquy in King Charles III. Kate recognizes that her femininity dehumanizes her: she is a “plastic doll,” created by the male gaze, whose only purpose is to produce an heir to the British throne. But despite the effect her femininity has on the way she is perceived by the public, she ultimately embraces it. Because no one cares what she thinks, she realizes she can spend her time observing and learning how to be an effective queen. That way, when it comes time for her to take action, she will know exactly what to do and will “be a queen unlike the ones before.” Instead of calling upon masculinity to make her strong, as Lady Macbeth does, Kate accepts the position in which her femininity places her.

A.C.T.’s production of King Charles III runs through October 9. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about the relationship between Shakespeare and King Charles III? Click here to purchase Words on Plays.
 
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