The Inevitable Conflict Between Private and Public Personas

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The inevitable conflict between private and public personas is explored through King Priam of David Malouf’s Ransom and Queen Elizabeth II of Stephen Frears’ film, The Queen. Priam deals with the brutal murder of his son, Hector, and must watch his son’s body be brutally mutilated daily but as the King of Troy, there is nothing he can do about it. Similarly, upon the death of Princess Diana, the Queen must both privately comprehend the loss of her ex-daughter-in-law as well as meet the public’s expectations of her as the head of the monarchy. Both texts illustrate that tradition causes a divide between private and public personas, and often influences how leaders act, it is also shown that external factors can influence the actions of royal leaders. However, to an extent, leaders must also accept personal flaws to resolve conflict and engender change. As such, Malouf and Frears both demonstrate that to be able to navigate between private and public personas one must be open to change.

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Both texts demonstrate that tradition heavily dictates the expectations and roles of leaders, giving them ideas on how they must separate their private and public personas. After Hector’s death, Priam remains a “fixed mark” and “ceremonial figurehead” for Troy and is “tied to convention,” and so consequently he can do “nothing…but weep and sit stunned with grief.” Malouf reiterates that private feelings of grief and loss are conventionally second to maintaining a “royal image”, and tradition should be followed. This is reiterated by Frears as the Queen expresses to Blair that since Diana is “no longer a member of the royal family” they have no say in how the funeral will be conducted. 

Furthermore, she specifies that “no member of the royal family will speak publicly about this” and rejects the notion that “it might be denying the British public a chance to [grieve]'. In doing so, she upholds tradition and royal protocol without considering the “exceptional circumstances” and how it might impact the British people. Both Frears and Malouf use clothing to symbolise the idea that tradition creates a divide between private and public persona. On his journey to Achilles, Priam dresses in a “plain white robe without ornament. No jewelled amulet at his breast. No golden armbands or any other form of royal insignia.” 

This indicates to readers that he is no longer a “fixed mark” but “simply a man” by forgoing the traditional clothing attire for something more simple and humble. Similarly, the Queen begins the film constantly in formal attire and fashion, and as the film progresses, she is shown in bed or going for a walk in more casual clothing. This reinforces that she is beginning to deprioritize formal traditions for genuine private emotions and ultimately both texts show that tradition creates a drift between private and public personas while also heavily influences the actions of royal leaders.

Malouf and Fears both show that external factors have the ability to influence change in the way leaders navigate between their public and private personas. Ransom and the Queen both demonstrate that one must accept personal flaws and embrace private personas to be able to engender change. Societal values and public expectations may not always align with our personal beliefs, values or emotions. For the leaders and monarchs such as Priam and the Queen, when experiencing an unforeseen event, they feel pressured to act in a specific manner deemed fit by their people, causing them to grapple between their private and public personas. Despite this, both Ransom and the Queen show that conflict can be resolved by accepting change and a maintaining balance between personal values and the expectations and views of the public.    

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