Hamlet, Act I, Part V
“Thus the whole ear of Denmark
Is, by a false trial of my death,
Throughout her long reign, the late Queen Elizabeth II was held up as a symbol of continuity, permanence, stoicism and unity. After all, what good is a British monarch if not to be a walking synecdoche? And if this synecdoche remained enigmatic and silent, so much the better for it to serve as a receptacle filled with whatever its people would choose.
In his death, a most curious thing can be observed: the collective ritual of mourning had a curious personal tone, as echoed in the King’s Speech. People remember the death of their own parents and grandparents when she passed away, their own dear moms and dads suddenly shook off the woodwork to stain and balm the ship’s demise. We come together as families, swelling in a tide of memories. Where do we do?
What is this family, this Brittany, and how is she represented in her death? With all the magical pomp of his sick undertakers, the fierce snaps of thick, sickening layers of pageantry tie up the already rotten bird. People were still apt to be dazzled by the old ways, as if it were always so and always more so. But what is behind all this charivari, this bullshit, this wailing dysentery?
There is a part of Britain that sees its rightful unity in the appropriate display of grief, its black clothes, its somber messages, the stern and inflexible silence. The utter propriety of laying hundreds of tinsel in front of metal doors, of leaving marmalade sandwiches in the rain in a metropolis that grows hungrier and hungrier even as the rats get fatter – these are the correct and true actions of ‘a society that believes in viewing its wealth as supplanting the poverty of its constituents.
If the monarchy were serious – and we have to be serious because this is a serious moment, we are constantly told and reminded – if it were serious about its people, it would recognize that the millions of dollars spent on flowers, travel, honoring her, time taken, sandwiches (sandwiches! The fucking sandwiches!), toys and tchotchkes are a national disgrace. After casting off our grieving black people, we will wake up to the same things as before: a massive cost-of-living crisis, with the looming prospect of starving, freezing families in the months to come.
If the monarchy has any legitimacy (choke on my own words!), he is in obligation, in service, towards his people. This service cannot be an empty figurehead, but an example of the good, of the ideals we want Britain to be. What would it have cost them to say: Instead of leaving flowers, consider donating to charity. Instead of buying things to throw away after a week, invest in material support and well-being? How hard it would have been to say, “Please consider giving to those who have less.” How hard would it have been to say, “If you cared about her, take care of your friends, your neighbors and your community.
The ghost of it all will come back to haunt us. By counterfeiting this grief, what remains of Britain is abused. This will be the winter of our discontent. And perhaps the hungry will finally see that we have little need for symbols, little need for costume, when we gnaw at the void.
Featured image CC BY 2.0 Matte brown
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