How can one possibly understand the near ecstasy sparked by the royal wedding – the global fascination with the dress, the kiss, the love? Perhaps an archetypal reading can help. At any rate, it’s an interesting way of reflecting about the collective surge of feeling because alongside suggesting what is going so right for the newly weds, it has ideas about what might also go so wrong.
My sense is that it is Catherine, not William, who is the catalyst for the extraordinary mood. He was born to it. Her story, though, has the magic, the surprise.
It is, at the simplest level, that of romantic love – the young and beautiful woman who meets, well, her beloved. So the archetypal themes that are fired so strongly by the event must be those of the Lover. But the Lover’s story is special too. It is not the story of the regular girl who meets her guy, but has that fairy tale touch: her guy, it turns out, is a prince.
Hence, Cinderella is one myth to deploy. She scrubbed floors, which is to say earned her living, until the commoner was made royal. Further, Catherine also escapes the fear that dogged Cinders, of being a wallflower, of being unlovable. So Catherine shines because, her wedding says, this common fear is one she now need not fear.
That said, she will be compelled to attend constantly to her lovableness by a thousand cameras and commentators and, if wise, will encourage us to read her as more than just attractive, but as being lovely of nature too – something close to what the Bishop of London said in his sermon, in fact, about being a work of art for each other, thereby revealing their beauty as persons: love with a centre beyond themselves.
The ancient goddess of love perhaps reveals something of what we’ve witnessed too. Catherine is more Aphrodite than Eros, what with her intelligence and elegance. As the statue of Aphrodite above shows, this is a love that knows the playfulness of Pan, but knows too how to keep it tamed, and thereby discover and convey a deeper kind of love in life.
Her poise – her naturalness as Simon Schama noted – will be a great asset too, as people want intimacy from people who come across archetypally as the Lover, and that mustn’t degenerate into doing anything and everything to appease such insatiable desires. For then, she could lose her identity and know herself only in her image, a fate that seems to have befallen William’s mother, Diana. As the couple prayed: they must attend to what’s most real.
Convincing? Or how else to understand what happened today, apart from dismissing it all as excess and madness – which is, anyway, only another dimension of love?