Balmoral Castle, in the Scottish Highlands, was Queen Elizabeth’s preferred getaway. For her, it was a place where she could hide from the press and I suppose, from the so-called “courtiers” that seem to dominate, possibly, through extortion, royal life. The beauty of Balmoral is that the guests are, by definition, “the members of the Firm” or, as they used to call them in France, “the princes of the blood”. As you may know I am a big fan of the Spanish Golden Age and Philip IV chose the Palacio Pardo and that tiny building decorated by Rubens and Velazquez called La Torre de la Parada within the hunting grounds. La Parada was the Spanish equivalent of Balmoral and the family did not behave as the owners of the place but as refugees running away from a life of total scrutiny that absolute monarchs endured all their lives all the time, 24/7. In Philip IV’s case, the spectators of that never ending spectacle were the courtiers because, for him, his invisibility was his biggest asset. A dynasty responsible for reinforcing the Eucharist as a Catholic rite surely knew that the secret of majesty lies on mystery and paradoxes. It is mystery what used to keep monarchies enchanted and magical even when theology conspired against them. The Windsors are, however, a paradox but of a different kind. It is the most famous and the most fragile royal house in the world because, no matter what the English say, Elizabeth II signed a pact with the Devil when, for her coronation, she allowed the cameras in the innermost sanctum sanctorum which is that cubic space, not too different from Mecah where every British monarch since Edward the Confessor has been anointed. The power of the British monarch is null but considerable for, like Augustus before them, they unite like no other monarch in the Western World the two dimensions of power; that of Caesar and that of Supreme Priest. She had to be really desperate to make that jump that, later, her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh completed by inviting a BBC TV crew into their tedious and apparently racist daily life.
King Charles, I always like because there was failure in him what made him human. The poor man was born and has lived in a trap that, at times, made him so desperate to get to the extreme of believing Tony Blair as a trustworthy ally. His first wife, Princess Diana was imposed on him and surely he liked her because of her ancient breeding. It is also possible that he convinced himself that her beauty would help him overcome his addiction to Camilla Parker Bowles. For this reason, I can only see the first book of his youngest son, the Duke of Sussex, as an homage to him. “Spare” (Random House), is the much anticipated, luridly leaked, and compellingly artful autobiography of Prince Harry. It is built upon one single feeling that his father unnecessarily felt: the inferiority feeling.
The book opens with a very visual account of the imbalance between the life of the heir and the spare. Among the fifty bedrooms, there is one known in the brothers’ childhood as the nursery which was unequally divided into two. William occupied the larger half, with a double bed and a splendid view; Harry’s portion was more modest, with a bed frame too high for a child to scale, a mattress that sagged in the middle, and rough bedding. It is on that bed that Harry received the news that would change his life for ever. In the morning of August 31, 1997, Harry, aged twelve, was awakened by his father, Charles, then the Prince of Wales, and told him “standing at the edge of the bed, looking down,” that his mother was gone but the way he describes him speaks of a source of inspiration that will haunt the whole book, Hamlet. In his own words, his father told him that in “his white dressing gown made him seem like a ghost in a play.”
Within the first few pages of “Spare,” Shakespeare’s play is alluded to more than once, something that coming from someone that confesses having read almost nothing deflects towards his ghostwriter who elevates his job to the status of art. The range of Hamletian references go from the joke “To beard or not to beard” to tragedy during the Duke of Edinburgh funeral in April 2021. On that occasion, Harry, William, and Charles met in Frogmore Gardens, on the Windsor estate, which includes the last resting place of many illustrious ancestors, and as they walked its gravel paths they talked with increasing tension about their apparently irreconcilable differences. to settle their differences, a few hours after the funeral. The meeting had been called by Harry in the vain hope that he might get his obdurate parent and sibling, first and second in line to the throne, to see why he and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, had felt it necessary to flee Britain for North America, relinquishing their royal roles, if not their ducal titles. Harry says that they “were now smack in the middle of the Royal Burial Ground,” Harry writes, “more up to our ankles in bodies than Prince Hamlet.”
There are a few points of no return. For example, he calls Camilla “dangerous” but in a witch kind of way. According to him, she sacrificed “me on her personal PR altar”. Kate is depicted as “cold” brushing off Meghan’s homeopathic remedies and who wouldn’t. William appears as too insecure to be a good king but the bitchy way Harry describes him is symptomatic that something that goes very deep: “his familiar scowl, which had always been his default in dealings with me; his alarming baldness, more advanced than my own; his famous resemblance to Mummy, which was fading with time.” If we take into account his bitching, there are two kind of people that are spared by the spare: his dad who appears always justified by his own upbringing and those with royal blood that do not belong to the intimate circle.
The book’s constant alusion to Shakespeare seem a veiled homage from the son to the new king and it is precisely that homage that makes it particularly Hamletian. Harry counts himself among “the Shakespeareless hordes,” bored and confused as a teen-ager when his father drags him to see performances of the Royal Shakespeare Company; disinclined to read much of anything, least of all the freighted works of Britain’s national author. (“Not really big on books,” he confesses to Meghan Markle when, on their second date, she tells him she’s having an “Eat, Pray, Love” summer, and he has no idea what she’s on about.) Harry at least gives a compelling excuse for his inability to discover what his father so valued, though it’s probably not one that he gave to his schoolmasters at Eton. “I tried to change,” he recalls. “I opened Hamlet. Hmm: Lonely prince, obsessed with dead parent, watches remaining parent fall in love with dead parent’s usurper . . . ? I slammed it shut. No, thank you.” Genius.
It is that level of genius in the side comments that constantly draw attention to the absent figure of the ghostwriter who is not other than J. R. Moehringer. The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter conflates biography, novel and war video game into one piece. novelist’s eye for detail, effectively deployed in “Spare.” That patched, starched bed linen at Balmoral, emblazoned with E.R., the formal initials of the Queen, is, of course, a metaphor for the constricting, and quite possibly threadbare, fabric of the institution of monarchy itself. In a way, Moehringer transforms him into what his father would have loved to be: the embodiment of literary engagement with the British canon. The language of Shakespeare rings in his sentences. Those wanton journalists who publish falsehoods or half-truths? They treat the royals as insects: “What fun, to pluck their wings,” Harry writes, in an echo of “King Lear,” a play about the fragility of kingly authority. During his military training as a forward air controller, a role in which he guided the flights and firepower of pilots from an earthbound station, Harry describes the release of bombs as “spirits melting into air”—a phrase drawn from “The Tempest,” a play about a duke in exile across the water. Elevating flourishes like these give readers—perhaps British ones in particular—a shiver of recognition, as if the chords of “Jerusalem” were being struck on a church organ. But they also remind those readers of the necessary literary artifice at work in the enterprise of “Spare,” as Moehringer shapes Harry’s memories and obsessions, traumas and bugbears, into a coherent narrative: the peerless ghostwriter giving voice to the Shakespeareless prince who becomes himself an empty construction or even better, spectral projection. If ghosts are memories the spectral in Harry’s Bare are screen projections aimed at captivating a shallow public very much like the women he loved the most.
CAÑETE’S ‘QUEER DARK MATERIALISM’: A SEMINAL REVIEW OF MY WORK BEYOND THE DAMAGING ‘HATE SPEECH’ ACCUSATIONS