‘Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband.’
-The Taming of the Shrew, 5. 2
There’s small choice in rotten apples.
The Taming of the Shrew, 1. 1
The last time I wrote about the royal family was in 1997. I had an article published in a Birmingham radical Afro-Carribean community magazine, about the death of Princess Diana. I commented, not a little pretentiously, on the way Diana’s body was brought back to British shores, draped in the flag featuring the Prince of Wales’ coat of arms. She escaped, all too briefly, the tyranny of the Windsor clan, only to be engulfed and wrapped up by them, by the Crown, by the Empire, finally, in her death.
Now Diana’s first born son and heir to the thrown is about to be married. And once again, I am struck by how the royal family marries its subjects to it, traps us in a bond we seem unable to escape. Kate Middleton appears on the face of it to be a willing ‘victim’. Unlike Charles and Diana’s, William and Kate’s relationship seems to be one based not on duty, but on love. They met at university. They lived together. They are the same age. Just as Diana and Charles seemed awkward, out of step, uncomfortable, so these two seem compatible, in tune, happy. But I think their union represents, as Diana and Charles’ did, a symbolic reinforcement of, not only the monarchy, but also of the institution of heterosexual marriage itself.
Kate Middleton couldn’t be more different from the ‘shrewish’ Kate in Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew. She may have the dark hair and strong figure, and Diana may have been more like Kate’s sister in the play, Bianca: blonde, demure, ‘angelic’ and dutiful. But as we now know, Diana actually demonstrated she was the fiery rebel, and the Windsors treated her as the ‘shrew’ that brought shame and trouble on their family. Kate Middleton it seems, has arrived at The House of Windsor ready-tamed. She has already placed her hand under Prince William’s foot, and will probably serve and honour him for the rest of her days.
There has been a lot of hoo-ha in the press (from the little coverage I have read) about the class differences between the two. How shocking that a ‘middle class’ woman would dare to marry the prince. I don’t have a window on The Queen’s mind, but I think that actually she may be quite relieved at her grandson’s choice of bride. Elizabeth has not had an ‘annus horribilis’ since ‘that woman’ shifted off this mortal coil. But she knows that the monarchy is never entirely safe from the republican threat. The culture of empire, inheritance and entitlement is being challenged in the UK, as symbolised by devolution, the peace process in Ireland, the reform of the House of Lords, and, in a small way, that paint-splattered car carrying Charles and Camilla amidst the student riots. Having a middle class woman marry into the monarchy is probably a good PR move for the Windsors. It shows them to be less ‘stuffy’ and ‘old-money’ and ‘aristocratic’ than they in fact are. It suggests ‘modernity’ and even ‘inclusivity’. And it means the people, though they may have been totally in love with the original ‘people’s princess’, have a chance to identify once more with the heir (to the heir) to the throne and his bride.
Because a royal wedding is not just a showcase for the royal family ( a family that needs some positive media coverage, as it still includes nefarious characters such as Prince Andrew and his dodgy dealings, and his hilariously dodgy dealing ex-wife). It is also a showcase for the institution of marriage itself. Marriage is on a steady decline in the UK. There is probably nothing anyone can do to stop this. And, if I were The Queen, or probably more significantly her heirs, I may be a little concerned. Because, as Shakespeare knew, the whole concept of being a ‘subject’, of serving your King or Queen and Country, is bound up with the concept of being a wife, or even a husband. If people can’t be bothered to show their allegiance to each other in a formal declaration endorsed by the state, what hope that they will give a toss about serving an old lady in a crown and a big house?
Enter the Gays, sashaying and swishing in their wedding gowns and tiaras. ‘Gay Marriage’ ironic as it may sound (to those of us who remember when ‘gay’ meant something vaguely radical) could actually be the thing that boosts the marriage stats. And all those queens who will I am sure, before too long, get their chance to be princesses for the day, may also actually bolster our respect and loyalty to the actual Queen and princes and princesses of this land. Remember Diana? Remember how popular she was with the gays? Yes it was because she showed compassion to people suffering from HIV/AIDS, yes it was because she was a diva in the gay melodrama sense. But also I think some gay people like the idea of being truly embraced by the establishment. Of being ‘subjects’. And Diana held out her dainty princesses hand and they took it. Kate Middleton is no Diana. But if Gay Marriage becomes legal anytime soon, I expect her marriage to William will be up there in the gay diary of great gay moments in history, along with Diana’s funeral (because lets face it the gays loved that more than her wedding), with Cabaret, with oh you know all the big gay moments by now.
Peter Tatchell, that well-known campaigner against the privileges of the few, and for the rights of many, has thrown his tiara into the ring. He has organised protests, not against the monarchy, or against the heteronormative oppressive institution of marriage, but to call for gays to be able to marry like Kate and William are. Tatchell’s statement, as part of the Equal Love campaign, demanding marriage and civil partnership rights for all couples (cross-sex and same sex) says:
“We wish William and Kate every happiness. May they have a joyful marriage and a wonderful married life together.
“The royal couple are lucky. They have the option to get married. Gay couples don’t have this option. They are barred by law from marriage.
“We urge Kate and William to support marriage equality: the right of same-sex couples to get married. Their support would mean a lot. They take for granted the right to marry. Marriage is something that many lesbian and gay couples want but cannot have.”
This is a clever move by Tatchell I think. If his goal is to achieve gay marriage rights, and the ‘heterosexualisation’ of homosexuality once and for all, how better to do it than to tie the rights of gay and queer people to the mast of the monarchy, the ultimate symbol of (heteronormative) power in Great Britain? Also it is a way of extending the ‘struggle’, so that, no matter how much ‘equality’ gay and LGBQT people achieve, if they can’t enjoy the same rights and privileges as the most privileged couple in the country, have they achieved true ‘equality’?
I write this when I am still feeling sickened by the news of a trans woman who was assaulted in McDonald’s in America, for entering the women’s WC. This assault was filmed by cheering onlookers and then uploaded onto youtube. I won’t link to the story as all the links include the video and I find that chilling in itself. Equally or even more chilling is the story of the Long Island sex workers who have been murdered recently, probably all by the same person. If Tatchell is looking for continued oppression of ‘sexual’ minorities, he might consider those women, rather than the wedding of Kate Middleton.
So I think Peter Tatchell has got his priorities all wrong. Foucault, a gay man who did not enjoy the ‘right’ to get married to the man he loved (if he had have wanted to – I do hope not) nor the ‘right’ to not die from complications arising from the HIV virus he contracted, said that it is the ‘fascist inside’ us that we need to be aware of and to fight, if we want to achieve some kind of liberated society. I think Kate Middleton represents quite well that fascist inside us. Mild-mannered, aspirational, insipid, respectable, that is how I imagine the fascist inside me.
And all I want to do with fascism is to kill it.