The passing of Queen Elizabeth II, and all the pageantry surrounding her death made me think about the Queen Archetype.
What makes someone queenly? Why is Madonna the Queen of Pop instead of Kylie? Why do we talk of Drag Queens or Drama Queens? Exploring these questions invokes the archetype of the Queen… what are her qualities: positive and negative?
Queens are usually dignified, although what counts as dignified varies according to what kind of Queen she is! Elizabeth II famously went around in wellies and a headscarf. Madonna produced a book with a cover photo of her buttocks stuck all over with needles. Neither of these would be dignified if I did them. But within their realm, these queens made this work for them. This links to another aspect of the Queen archetype:
Comfortable in her Power
Queens know their realm, they know what they bring to the role. They have a sense of their own power, and of its limits. Simply, they are comfortable with the role. This is a great quality for anybody to have, actually. In order to be a good Drag Queen, the performer channels that confidence and power to make transgression into joyful entertainment. This is a far cry from the power of a Queen of England, yet important for all sorts of performers. As King Edward VIII is supposed to have said: “I’ve only ever met two women who are truly regal: my mother and (African-American blues singer) Bessie Smith.”
Not a People Pleaser
For any queen, there will be people that don’t like her. In order for her to sit comfortably in her power, she has to be OK with that. Let’s face it, the very fact of being a queen entails having people around who can insulate her from her critics. This allows the Queen to forge her own course as dictated by her own preferences and by the duties of her position, without worrying about her own popularity.
Shadow Qualities: Cold, Selfish and Ruthless
The shadow sides of the above qualities fit into the narrative of the Evil Queen, so recognisable from fairy tales. The shadow side of dignity is emotional coldness. This is explored in Netflix show The Crown, which highlights the distant relationship between Elizabeth II and some of her children. The shadow side of being comfortable in her power can bleed into selfishness and self-obsession, as it does with the evil queen in Snow White. She asks her magic mirror every day “who is the fairest of them all?” and doesn’t hesitate to arrange for someone fairer to be murdered in order to keep her status as the most beautiful.
Not being a people pleaser can easily tip over into a failure of empathy: ruthlessness, or a lack of compassion. This shadow aspect of queenhood is exemplified by Snow Queens (as in the Narnia Books) whose coldhearted rationalism must be overcome by the emotional clarity of children.
It can be fun to think of times that we inhabited our Queen archetype: in a gang at school, or in a meeting a work. Perhaps you had fun playing the Queen on a special day: your birthday or your wedding. This powerful role is one we can step into and out of. As long as we can restore ourselves to caring and humility, it can be quite eye-opening to play the queen once in a while.