WRITING & PUBLISHING
Pathos and Bathos in “The Crown”
1 : an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion
2 : an emotion of sympathetic pity
1 : an abrupt, presumably unintended juxtaposition of the exalted and the commonplace, producing a ludicrous effect
2 : insincere or overdone pathos : sentimentalism
One of my creative writing students recently mentioned the twinning of pathos and bathos in a book she was reading, and I realized I’d never given this twinning much thought. As soon as I did, however, I found myself thinking a lot about it in relation to The Crown, as well as to the documentary Diana: In Her Own Words and Stephen Frears’s 2006 film The Queen — all of which my husband and I have just finished binge-watching in one fevered gulp (thank you, Netflix).
The spell that these tales of royals cast over us mystified me even as we succumbed to it. Neither of us swoon at monarchy. Hard-core realists, we’re repelled by Disneyesque fairy-tales that spin sugared webs around the kleptocracy of kingdom. No surprise to us that every palace is a gilded cage, but not much pity, either, for the cage’s pampered occupants. Even the royals who “give up” the crown never quite seem moved to surrender their wealth and privilege, so what exactly are they sacrificing? The words that seem to me best suited to describe the institution of monarchy are archaic and theft. So, why was I unable to pry myself away from these latest windows into the lives of the rich and royal?
Pathos and bathos held the answer. We weren’t so much hooked on the underlying characters or historical events, I realized, as we were compelled by the masterful manipulation of the poignant and the vulgar in these stories about the crown.
It’s no accident that Princess Diana plays a pivotal role in all three productions. She embodied the moment in history when the Crown could no…