The compelling pathos of being a prince


I’ve never much liked the atmosphere surrounding royal visits. The anxiety many Canadians seem to feel about putting on a good show for titled foreigners and the press following them always strikes me as pathetic.

But by the end of Will and Kate’s tour, something else was at play. To me, it felt like our main concern had ceased to be about how Canada would come off, and shifted to being about how the young duke and duchess would perform. For instance, live news coverage yesterday left no doubt that everybody was rooting for William to speak well in his good-bye remarks in Calgary.

Why should we care? Maybe it’s because of a vestigial sense that if Will is to be king he’s somehow a stand-in for us. “The function of the king is primarily to represent, for his subjects, the unity of their society in an individual form,” Northrop Frye wrote in The Great Code. “Even yet Elizabeth II can draw crowds wherever she appears, not because there is anything remarkable about her appearance, but because she dramatizes the metaphor of society as a single ‘body.’”

You might reasonably protest that this antique notion of a mystical identification between the monarch and the people has long since died away, along with real royal power.

But Frye, with typical subtlety, saw how this isn’t necessarily so. “Other societies have other figures,” he observed, “but there seems to be a special symbolic eloquence, even a pathos, about the de jure monarch, whose position has been acquired by the pure accident of birth, and who has no executive power.”

So if watching Will felt, at times, like something more than the distraction of pointless celebrity, unearned wealth and random good looks, that might be because of the “pathos” Frye identified. If a prince without any practical purpose or actual power is to be anything, he’s got to keep on being a metaphor.

What job description could be more absurd? No wonder it’s hard not to hope he carries it off.


The compelling pathos of being a prince

  1. It’s not much of a life for ‘royals’…constant performing for the colonials, constant selling of British businesses, constant commemoration of wars, constantly visiting sick people…and an endless supply of ribbons to be cut.

    Their words are written by others, they can make no decisions, they have no privacy, and they are always on display.

    Worse yet, they had no choice in the matter.

    • At least they do have the choice to step down! 

      • Not really…another abdication could wipe out the monarchy altogether, and nobody wants to be the one to bring down an institution centuries old

        • Actually many Canadians want that or wouldn’t care either way.

          What polls have you been tracking?

          • I’m talking about William, not Canadians or polls.

    • Yeah, it’s not much of life being rich beyond your wildest dreams and in exchange occasionally having to blithely talk people, shake hands for a few seconds and cut ribbons with incredibly sharp scissors afterward. 

      How I grieve for the hardships of being a welfare king and queen. How ever do they cope with having gigantic castles wherein their privacy is respected almost all the time? A luxury that normal celebrities almost never have?

      • Ahhh yes, money, moola, dough, bucks….

        None of which mean anything in a life without choice, or privacy, or meaning.

  2. I think we may always see Will differently from other royals, simply because he’s a telegenic son of a telegenic woman in a telegenic age; we root for him because we still think of him as Wills, the adorable child who lost his glamourous and beloved mum at a tender age.  Nobody is swooning over Prince Charles, who indeed is the heir to the throne — he’s old and stodgy and we see no more opportunity or potential in him.  Nor did we swoon over him when he was young, or any of his siblings — not until Charles married Diana was the royal family sexy again. 

    We prefer to look for opportunities in those Royals who hold the fashionable attributes we so favour in our cult of celebrity: good looks with loads of white teeth, terrific clothes draped on slim, young bodies, and the potential for being broody and producing more adorable, photogenic babies.

    • By the time Will and Kate inherit, they’ll likely be 55…and no longer a glamour celebrity couple…and nobody will remember Diana enough to care.

  3. I can`t lie and say that I don’t remember the red hat on Canada day, but what stays in my mind from this visit is the people the royals meet.  I think particularly of their visit to a homeless youth shelter  – no idea what the duchess wore, but I do remember what the young people looked like.   
    I like the royalty for that.  Through them we see our people.  I doubt the homeless persons were staunch monarchist – some could 
    be separatists.  The royals reach to people in the the crowds – our politicians do that as little as possible,   Yes, they are glamourous and they attract the camera, but they willingly and skillfully lead the cameramen to the people they meet.  I won’t remember what the duchess wore, but I will remember her holding a bouquet of yellow flowers, squatting to speak to a little boy in a wheelchair.  The boy looks just like my son did at that age and the duchess looks so much more interested in him than in, say,  Stephen Harper.  What a great picture.  


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