On the evening of Sunday 5 April, 2020, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth broadcast a special message to her subjects. (In passing, this was aired about one hour before Prime Minister Boris Johnson put himself into isolation.)
Judging by the comments on YouTube it was heard by many more than her subjects. Judging by subsequent comments on social media it was warmly received. It was interesting how many of them began along the lines of, “I am a republican, but …” It seemed to drive home to many the value of a resolutely apolitical Head of State, especially one as wedded to duty as this one.
Before we dissect the content, it’s worth registering the decorum (if you clicked that link to my Glossary page, you might be advised to keep it open). HM finds precisely the right mix of calm authority and affection. This is less surprising when we are told that she gave her first broadcast in 1940. She is probably the only person on the planet who continues broadcasting after eighty years.
A bald opening. This doesn’t surprise me: HM has, to my delight, opened her Christmas broadcasts baldly for some years. If I am really picky I’d have liked a half-second longer silence before she began speaking, but that is down to the editor.
She is straight into anaphora, “disruption …”, and the second element in that repetition contains a triad. These devices have these terms because they were identified and codified by orators in Ancient Greece.
She pays tribute to those working through the disruption, but also wonderfully to those forced not to work, and while that is sinking in she hits the Unity button –
Together we are tackling […] united and resolute…
Shakespeare has Romeo reassuring Juliet, “All these woes shall serve for sweet discourses in our times to come.” It’s a theme that has served speakers well over the centuries, and HM echoes Winston Churchill’s “This was their finest hour!” when encouraging us to enable posterity to hold us up as a fine example.
HM would be breaking her life’s habit if she neglected to include The Commonwealth, because she is their Queen too. She doesn’t break the habit, and the inclusiveness is expanded in the words, “of all faiths and of none“.
It’s a nice touch (as well as a reinforcement to the decorum) to point out the potential opportunities of being self-isolated – “slow down, pause and reflect…” And it’s another triad.
The Unity button gets more work when “… we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour“, but she is saving the strongest till last. Drawing once more on the wisdom of the ancients HM’s peroration is a symploce, “We will […] again.”
The final element, “We will meet again” echoes of course Vera Lynn, and those words have deservedly become the Face of the broadcast. But my personal favourite phrase in the whole speech comes immediately before the peroration. HM speaks of “our instinctive compassion to heal”.
Thereby lies my optimism, my faith in humankind.