“The course of true love never did run smooth,” Lysander tells us in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Indeed, nothing goes smoothly in this episode, despite our characters’ wishes. Things are messy and emotions run high. Notably, despite Margaret Thatcher’ opinion on gender stereotypes, it is the men in this episode who drive the emotional narrative.
The idea of a leader’s emotional capability (or culpability), is an interesting one to explore, both for our current political environment and within the context of this show (in which Elizabeth rarely outwardly emotes at all). And to paraphrase something I read elsewhere, it’s interesting that culturally we’ve decided that anger is an acceptable emotion in political leaders and sadness is not. Indeed, Thatcher’s vow to wage war against the IRA is exceptionally emotional.
And the topic of emotion is noteworthy in the anticipated introduction of Diana, a woman who ultimately was almost nothing but outward emotion (which is largely why she connected so effectively with people). We first meet Diana when she’s dressed for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Charles is obviously immediately entranced by Diana, much like a nymph or fairy (as she’s dressed) is supposed to charm and lure mortals. As is implied, Charles’s destiny has already charmed her.
The structure of this episode is actually quite Shakespearean, with multiple references to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As in Midsummer, we have four intersecting storylines: Thatcher’s premiership, Charles’s love interests, Philip’s relationship with his children, and the fight for Irish independence. They culminate in Mountbatten’s assassination, which serves to tie everything together.
Additionally, four characters are profiled in the montage leading up to Mountbatten’s assassination, each hunting or stalking a sort of prey- lobsters, stags, upland game birds, salmon. Topically this is also very much on theme— Diana was the Roman goddess of unmarried women, the moon, and hunting. The Diana/Diana unmarried woman allusion is plain. As the moon, goddess Diana is referenced throughout Midsummer: “The moon methinks looks with a watery eye.” The hunting references should be obvious to anyone familiar with how this story will end; as her brother opined at her funeral, Princess Diana was one of the most hunted women in the world.
In true Shakespearean fashion, this episode is heavy in irony— the audience knows the fate of these lovers before they do. As in Midsummer, the topic of love- both it’s innocence and darkness- is explored this hour, with Mountbatten imploring Charles to seek a naive, innocent sort of girl, obviously unaware of the darkness this relationship will eventually bring. The idea that Diana is uncomplicated is almost sardonic— Diana and Charles’s relationship would prove to be one of the most complicated affairs for the royal family.
Ultimately that’s what each person in this episode seeks: something uncomplicated. An unobstructed political path, Cabinet members who don’t argue back, an easy return to equestrianism, a seamless romance, etc. As in Midsummer, identity and love are messy…there are no easy paths.
It’s not hard to believe that his may be an overarching theme of Season 4, that in Shakespearean and Greek fashion our characters err repeatedly, pulling destiny closer to them the more they try to change or control it. Family is complicated. Politics is complicated. Love is complicated. “Lord, what fools these mortals be,” Puck declares in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Indeed.