O Kate, nice customs curtsy to great kings. Dear Kate, you
and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country’s
fashion. We are the makers of manners, Kate.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616), British dramatist, poet. King Henry, in Henry V, act 5, sc. 2, l. 268-71.
Seeing Kate Middleton on her first official engagements with Prince William this week made me think of this very question. A few years ago I, along with others, served at a lunch that the Queen and Prince Philip attended. Our boss was sent a list of do’s and dont’s ahead of the day so they knew how to behave and carry themselves throughout the morning. Women were asked to curtsy and the guests were given instructions such as when the Queen stops eating so MUST you, call her ma’am as in ham etc etc. I was younger and all rather excited and was caught up in the moment of it all and was outraged as a couple of the women didn’t curtsy and I was left thinking ‘how rude!’
But now I am older and I have totally changed my opinion. I wouldn’t curtsy to anyone and don’t feel in this so called ‘modern’ age anyone should be asked to do so. Why do I have a problem? The definition of a curtsy is ‘a formal gesture of greeting and respect made by women in which the knees are bent, the head slightly bowed, and the skirt held outwards’ which at first reading seems fine but I have a problem with the reciprocal nature of this as it’s only a one way gesture upwards in social class. I may curtsy in respect but I won’t get one back. I absolutely believe in showing respect towards others but I think there are better ways than a curtsy. I prefer a handshake. It’s equal, works across class and gender and is a good way to start a social intercourse however long or short.
I have no problem with Kate Middleton in fact I think she’ll be a breath of fresh air in the royal family and I hope the press leave her alone to enjoy her marriage with Prince William. But should I ever get the chance to meet her I will not be curtsying in deference to her higher social class. I believe we are all equal and would treat her with the same respect I would treat anyone I meet. I’d be polite, I’d shake her hand, should she want to but respect her if she did not, I’d make idle conversation with her as I have many people over the years. I am her equal and she is mine as are all members of the royal family who are only royal due to circumstance of their birth.
Manners are important but they have moved on since the days of Shakespeare where huge importance was placed on manners, knowing manners and displaying impeccable manners towards others. The Kate in Henry V is from a bygone age from history long ago. Our ‘Kate’ is a modern woman (though not in terms of having a career but that’s for another blog!) and I think we need to look to the future with a new and fresh outlook not harp back to a society that no longer exists.