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Rhetoric (and a Wedding Dress) Fit for a Princess

April 28, 2011

Which designer will Kate Middleton wear for her wedding to Prince William on Friday? Fellow countrywoman Victoria Beckham? The ethereal, whimsical Marchesa? The celebrity-beloved Alexander McQueen?

Speaking of celebrity, Americans are probably more aware than ever of the difficult public roles that royals and their consorts play.  Between ongoing look-backs on Princess Diana, the recent Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, and the upcoming royal nuptials, British royalty has been making headlines just as fast as Prince William’s hairline is receding.

But do we know enough of Kate to talk about her rhetoric?

For starters, the rhetoric about Kate is much more extensive than what Kate herself has said. She’s been called (in)famously “Waity Katy.” She’s been compared to her fiance’s mother, Princess Diana, over and over. But I keep thinking back to the joint interview that the lovebirds did after their engagement announcement. Other than Kate’s brief snippets to the press, that interview is the most we know of Kate in her own words. So let’s take a look.

First up, what has Miss Middleton to say about her engagement ring?

Miss Middleton: It’s beautiful.

Tom Bradby: Kate, you’re going to be the envy of many.

Miss Middleton: Well, I just hope I look after it. It’s very, very special.

Yawn, yes? But if you were looking at that sparkler on your finger, you’d be pretty speechless, too. I’ll give her a pass on not saying something rhetorically spectacular.

Next up, the lengthy engagement!

Tom Bradby: He did take his time, it must be said. Did you ever want him to come on…

Miss Middleton: Well we’ve had our conversations, but I think it was….

William: We’ve talked about today for a while, we’ve talked about this happening so Kate wasn’t in the dark at all when we were planning it for at least a year if not longer, it was just finding the right time and that’s what most people say about couples, it’s all about timing. And I had my military career and I really wanted to concentrate on my flying and I couldn’t have done this if I was still doing my training, so I’ve got that out of the way and Kate’s in a good place in terms of work and were she wants to be and stuff and we both just decided now was a really good time.

Wait a second, Wills! The question was addressed to Kate! And this is where we start to see evidence that what Kate might say isn’t on par with the years-of-practice-doing-this-sort-of-thing prince’s. Not that this wasn’t a savvy move on Prince William’s part, since anything even vaguely or misconstruable derogatory that Kate might say could contribute to the “Waity Kate” moniker.

Neither Kate nor the prince can be a full parrhesiastes, someone who speaks the truth and speaks it freely (per Michel Foucault’s Fearless Speech). This is not only because they seem to be private people, but also because they’re close enough to power that they could speak truth to power. Although one could argue that Kate couldn’t possibly have anything dangerous to say—unless she laughs at that one time that Queen Elizabeth II had spinach stuck in her teeth and consequently starts World War III—danger is relative.

And Kate recognizes this danger, as well as her role to “take care.” Like her answer about the ring that she plans to “look after it,” she hopes to “do a good job” in the public’s eye.

Tom Bradby: This is a life in the public domain to a degree that you can’t escape, you both know that. You (William) obviously know it better than Kate does, you are obviously very protective of her.

William: Massively so. Of course. Her and her family, I really want to make sure they have the best sort of guidance and chance to see what life has been like or what life is like in the family, and that’s kind of almost why I have been waiting this long, As I wanted to give her a chance to see in and to back out if she needed to before it all got too much. Because I’m not trying to learn from lessons done in the past and I just wanted to give her the best chance to settle in and to see what happens on the other side.

Miss Middleton: I’m also glad that I’ve had the time to sort of grow and understand myself more as well so hopefully do a good job.

Kate must walk two steps behind her fiancé, and she’ll also be talking two steps behind him, at least at first. She might find herself having a great deal in common with Helena Bonham Carter’s little speech to Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. But regardless of Kate says or doesn’t say in public, congratulations to the happy couple!

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