Well, everyone will have their own thoughts on the Royal Wedding, so I thought it worthy of a reddress post.
As several commentators have said this past week Will & Kate’s Wedding is about the making of history. It’s about locating the present in a particular history of the past and directing the pathways of it’s participants into a particular future. I read recently that a ‘ceremony’ is designed to maintain tradition, whereas ‘ritual’ is designed to transform it. As an neat summation of something complex that is a nice way to put it. The Royal Wedding was Ceremony par excellence!
Over and above the multitude of things that could be said there is one thing that stands out for me: it is clear that Women’s Liberation has completely by-passed the Royal Family. Kate and Will chose a form of Anglican vows which allowed for her to omit the word “obey” without messing to much with the oldest authorised marriage liturgy in the Church of England. (Note the irony of having a Royal Wedding Liturgy historically located in the Reformation!) You can check out the liturgy here, it’s a bog standard choice for any couple wanting a Church of England Wedding. However, substituting one word simply cannot stand up to the tide of patriarchal symbolism in the movements and actions of the service. Will is not supposed to look at his bride until Kate is ‘presented’ to him by her father. Mr Middleton stayed at Kate’s side until the deal was done and his ‘chattel’ is passed over from father to husband. In fact, during the exchange of vows the vulnerable bride is surrounded by men who all collude to seal her fate. Perhaps you think I protest too much, but there is also the very significant symbolism of the ring. It may be that some men don’t wear a wedding ring because they don’t like jewelry, but that is not the history of the tradition (and remember this ceremony in particular is all about tradition). The ring is a sign of ownership.
The fact that so many liberated women all over the globe, who would never dream of consciously choosing a subordinated marriage relationship, are willing to turn a blind eye to the patriarchal symbolism for the sake of a few moments indulging in archetypal fairytale romance, tells us that the heart’s desire for romance is very deep within the feminine soul. Is it merely the inherent beauty, the splendid garments and jewels, or more dangerously the fantasy of the perfect body image: ‘If I looked like Kate I’d be a princess too!’ I suspect the sacred elegance of the moment did sing us an alluring love song, however, I think it is more about the Prince. The desire for a Prince who will only have eyes for us. Someone who will look longingly into our eyes and tell us we are beautiful. Despite what we feel about ourselves (a ‘commoner’, an ‘ugly duckling’, a ‘cinder’-ella) there is someone who sees us only as lovely and good. (Note that the fantasy is actually about Love rather than marriage!) The fact that we are only ever moderately perfect and our Prince is only ever mostly blind to our faults is kind of beside the point! Fairytales tell us about our heart’s desires and there is no stopping the human heart’s desire for Love.
The Bishop of London was drawing on a very ancient wisdom when he remembered every marriage involves a royal Bride and Groom. It is the ideal picture of peace and harmony epitomized in a great variety of cultural mythologies, indicating some kind of universal human experience in the coming together of a man and woman. The ‘marriage’ of Adam and Eve represents the universal human experience of man and woman yearning for a relationship which completes them. Song of Songs alerts us to the mimicry of Divine Love in the aroused sexuality of lovers. Psychologists tell us that ‘falling in love’ is the experience of truly finding ourselves, recognizing ourselves in another, even as they are also, at the same time, our opposite. The soul’s desire works in tandem with the body’s sexuality to produce a driving passion!
So, don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Romance! But I found it in-credible that the Royal Family could not have chosen to navigate a route through historically embedded ceremony which would have more accurately portrayed the seeming reality of Kate and Will’s actual relationship, and hence directed our historical attention towards a less patriarchal future! It was as if the Queen’s long Matriarchal Reign is a mere hiatus in Royal Affairs and the feminine might be put firmly back in its place with a tight bodice and impractical skirt, that by their very design restrict movement and create an aura of dependence upon the man in practical pants and shoes! (Let alone a military man who which conjures up another whole level of power and control.) I do not read anything in the mythologies of Love – christian and not – that require the masculine to dominate the feminine. Instead it is the equality and mutuality of the Lovers that is celebrated! However, the Royal Wedding was laden with a diminutive and passive role for the bride. Similarly, the allusions to ‘chattel’ and ‘authority’ within the actions of the liturgy are totally at odds with the gratuitous nature of real Love. Hence, unsurprisingly, there was a strong note of Duty as the prerequisite quality for Love underlying the whole Royal Fairytale. Well, maybe Duty is the coupling chain between Love and Marriage but for me it was where the fairytale ended and the Royal Propaganda began.