A mad king: King Lear

A three-quarter length portrait of the elderly George III. He is seated at a table with his chin propped on one hand, wrapped in an ermine-trimmed silk robe. His face is in profile. He has a long, untidy beard and long white hair.

George III told Frances Burney that he was not a particular fan of Shakespeare, finding it ‘sad stuff.’ This did not prevent him collecting Shakespeare-related art and books. However, his most famous association with Shakespeare was undoubtedly tragic.

In 1788-89, during his first bout of mental illness, the king read King Lear in an adaptation by George Colman and was apparently disturbed by it. Later in life, when his illness returned, George’s identification with Lear was no longer under his control; instead, it was expressed in George Cruikshank’s cruel satire State Miners, which cast his recently deceased daughter, Princess Amelia, as Cordelia.

The spectre of Lear can also be perceived in the careful management of the king’s image when the Prince Regent had a print altered to minimise his physical resemblance to a wild-haired, white-bearded Lear figure.

Objects in this room