Like Hamlet, the Duke of Sussex is the epitome of the tortured prince. But as long as he remains an active royal, he can never dodge the media spotlight
To be or not to be an active royal, that is the question raised last week on behalf of Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. It was aired by a concerned media after Harry used the media his friend Tom Bradbys ITV documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey to discuss his bitter feelings about the media.
That circular progression forms the perimeter of the hole in which the 35-year-old prince finds himself trapped. He feels surrounded by the same intrusive lenses he blames for his mothers death and, like Diana, Princess of Wales, he has tried to break free from them with an emotional appearance on primetime television.
Are his complaints legitimate or a case study in the kind of spoilt privilege that is normally filed under the phrase first-world problems? Certainly the dubious optics of discussing his own struggles against the distressing backdrop of African deprivation did not go unnoticed by his critics. Nevertheless, what seems beyond doubt is that Harry is a genuinely troubled soul, a 21st-century tortured prince.
For many years he was known as the fun-loving brother, a walking-talking-drinking threat to stately protocol. If you were looking for one of the Queens grandchildren to be photographed playing naked billiards with a woman in Las Vegas or wearing a swastika armband at a fancy-dress party, then Harry was your man.
He was Prince Hal, the riotous royal without a role, a wayward but essentially likable young bloke who seemed to react to his weighty birthright with an irrepressible instinct for rebellion. But more recently, his anguished ruminations have suggested another Shakespearean hero Hamlet, the tormented prince who wants to avenge the death of a parent.
To hear him speak in Bradbys film, and indeed to watch his body language, was to see a man who, at least by his own lights, was taking up arms against a sea of troubles.
Part of this job, he told Bradby, and part of any job, like everybody, is putting on a brave face and turning a cheek to a lot of the stuff, but again, for me and again for my wife, of course there is a lot of stuff that hurts, especially when the majority of it is untrue. But all we need to do is focus on being real, and focus on being the people that we are, and studying up for what we believe in.
It may not have been a soaring soliloquy with an innate understanding of poetic metre, and you sense Harry has spent more time reading self-help books than the Bard, but it was clearly heartfelt and it expressed perhaps the only good advice given by Polonius, the chief counsellor in Hamlet: to thine own self be true.
But who is Harry? One of the things that the man who is sixth in line to the throne has always found difficult to accept is that millions of strangers, people hes never met, feel as if they know who he is and are therefore in a position to pass judgment on him.
When he was 21 and a cadet at Sandhurst, he gave an interview in which he said: Im never going to convince the general public of who I am or what I want them to think I am, because my image is always being portrayed as something else. I dont want to change. I am who I am. Im not going to change because Im being criticised in the press.
Though he is older and wiser, the conviction that he is routinely and deliberately misrepresented remains unchanged. This sense of being made a caricature is an issue, he has said, that also aggrieved his father in Prince Charless case as a hapless and ineffectual busybody. Its not hard to imagine that Charless obvious resentment of the media has helped inform his youngest sons suspicions.
The problem is that the media are vital to the monarchys survival, like a parasite on which the host comes to depend. If their visits, births and weddings ceased to be the subject of media attention, they would sink into irrelevance. Royalty the idea of a superior bloodline is a dying anachronism, but celebrity is alive and flourishing.
The Queen will very likely prove to be the last monarch to retain a regal distance from the outside world. She is the embodiment of Walter Bagehots famous maxim about not letting in daylight upon magic. But that era has passed, even if the Queen lives on. Harrys parents both appeared on television in separate discussions of their adultery. His uncle, a friend of a convicted paedophile, has been accused of sleeping with a trafficked teenager, accusations that have been strongly denied. The royal curtains have been irreversibly opened.
Diana was said to have been a modernising influence on the starchy ways of the Windsors. The peoples princess brought a populist touch to the dutiful business of photo opportunities. She was a democratising force, even if her approach was not always appreciated by the royal household.
Harry told Bradby that he wouldnt be bullied into playing the game that killed my mum. Its an understandable sentiment. His mother died in a car crash under pursuit from paparazzi when he was just 12. But its hard to think what other game is available to a royal who wants to maintain a high profile.
Harrys wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, has experience of the Hollywood kind of celebrity, a system controlled by ferocious publicists producing stage-managed interviews. According to a CNN report, based on a source close to the Sussexes, she seems to have believed she could play a role in reforming an antiquated institution to harness the value of a couple that has single-handedly modernised the monarchy.