By Cynthia Wands
The role of a Queen has changed in our world.
I recently watched the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. I spent hours watching the crowds of people along the funeral procession, the rituals of a Royal funeral, with everyone looking at a family in public mourning, and it wasn’t a story that was close to me. And yet somehow I didn’t turn off the tv. No, I watched vintage clips of the young Queen riding horses. Wearing Crown Jewels. And videos of her forlorn Corgis now missing their mistress. I was looking for something. I was looking for an image that would tell me that this icon – this woman – this story – was done.
I had grown up with this image of a Queen – she was someone who, to my mind, seemed rather suburban, inscrutable, reserved and irrevocably Royal. (Also – she owned six castles). In my early theatre days I learned from Sophocles and Shakespeare, that the Royals are a magic class. They have the power and the resources to set things in motion. At least until the end of the play. Nowadays the idea of royalty intermingles with Disney merchandising of fairy tales and elite real estate portfolios of the Royal British Family. This Queen had no real political power, although she had “personal prerogatives”; her role was distilled down to three essential rights: to be consulted, to encourage and to warn. So it seems this Queen was a bit of an astrologer/weather consultant, and a national grandmother.
And yet, during the funeral broadcasts, more than one announcer referred to Queen Elizabeth as “the most powerful woman in the world”. Although it seems that her actual decision making were limited to bestowing knighthoods, approving Royal dress codes and lending out tiaras to her family for special events.
It was reported that this Queen had specific directions that were followed for her funeral (Code Name: Operation Unicorn. Really. Which sounds like something out of a bad James Bond movie.) But it seems her wishes and influence were supported in the days after her death. And for a woman with nominal political power, 37 million people in the UK watched her funeral. And worldwide, 4 billion people were reported to have watched her funeral. That is pretty powerful. I was one of the 4 billion in the audience. I was looking for an image that would stick to me, something that would give me a kind of bookend to this story.
I considered that – for those of us who create roles of women in power, women in history, women as Queens: the world had seen an icon pass on. Leaders as family figures. Family seen as Royalty. Mothers as Queen. It’s a curious template that we watch the roles played out in politics and history. More than ever, our world needs our women leaders, but do we need a Queen? The idea of a Queen?
I know my Irish ancestors might have some very spirited views on the role of a Queen. And my English family has complicated insights on this subject of Royalty and icons. I’m aware that I watch this turning of the page of history without having the idea of being a subject to the crown.
And still, after days of watching the gathering of the crowds, the ceremony of the funeral and the last bits of a life celebrated and mourned – I kept wanting to see something else. Something about the death of the Queen.
And then I found it.
© Image Provided by News18
The image that found me.
Yes I know. It’s not the image that I was looking for. There’s no women. And there’s Military uniforms. And no faces. No crowds. And the figures are swallowed up darkness. But I saw in this image, the kind of power that theatre can create. This spoke to me of the performances that playwrights and actors can bring about because they can create powerful rituals and awarenesses in their visual poetry.
A Queen is gone. Her influence has been felt.
Its time for new Queens and different influences and rituals. That sounds like the future.
Image: Mixed Media/Mosaic of images by Cynthia Wands
This is an image that came to me while I was writing this. Here’s to the future of new Queens and rituals.