The Themes of Pride and Humility in The King’s Speech

maureen

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
The King’s Speech affirms Proverbs 11:2 & 15:33 which say that “humility precedes honor.” With a king for a father and a name like Albert Frederick Arthur George Windsor, Bertie has become accustomed to being treated with extreme deference. There are rules about how he is to be addressed, how far from him to stand, etc.  He is used to people adapting their schedules and practices to his expectations. He is firmly rooted in the pride of his position as Duke of Windsor, the Prince of his father King George V of Great Britain.

Royalty are usually trained to feel separate and above their subjects. One might expect that people who are in this sort of position of authority and power would have some trouble with pride. Yet submission seems to be a prerequisite to getting help, and Bertie needs help.

As a stutterer Bertie has trouble expressing himself in the public arena and as a father.  King George V has certain expectations and is impatient with his “defect.” Fortunately Bertie is second in line for the throne and doesn’t expect to have to assume kingly duties, so the matter doesn’t seem that pressing. When it becomes evident that Bertie is going to have to take the throne with the nation at the brink of war, the king’s speech becomes an even bigger issue. Bertie has to submit himself to a commoner, an Australian even, in order to get the help he needs.

Like Bertie, the biblical leader Moses was called upon to deliver inspiration and direction to the people he led at a critical time in their history. Moses apparently had problems with his speech as well: “I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you [God] have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled” Ex. 4:10. Perhaps this struggle added to Moses’ reputation for humility. Numbers 12:3 calls him the most humble person on earth.

Speech therapist Lionel Logue has some unorthodox methods which include psychology, physiology, and a firm conviction that in the therapy room everyone must be equal. His child patients call him by his first name. He insists on being on a first name basis with Bertie as well. He also insists that Bertie come to his shabby office. This is not how the Duke of Windsor is used to being treated. Psalm 18 says that God rescues the humble but humiliates the proud. Bertie sits in Lionel’s office on the threadbare sofa with the stuffing coming out and is eventually rescued.

In therapy Bertie constantly struggles against all his years of training. At times his pride gets the better of him. Bertie has a hard time allowing Lionel to treat him as equal. Bertie’s position as royalty has trained him to isolate himself and deny anything that might be perceived as emotional weakness. Bertie seems to think that his speech impediment must be viewed as purely physical in order for him to be considered worthy for the position he holds. He resists Lionel’s attempts to delve into personal areas that Lionel is convinced are key to his treatment.

Bertie’s view of how he is supposed to be as a royal person is a mixture of pride and a sense of responsibility to the position. Several times Bertie breaks with Lionel over what he perceives as Lionel’s lack of respect for his position, but each time he humbles himself and returns to therapy, putting the needs of his country above his personal pride. As his brother David gives in to what Bertie sees as selfish shirking of responsibility, Bertie measures himself against the demands of the position of king. It’s not a position he wants or feels equipped to take, but, out of love for his country, he agrees to David’s abdication. The weight of his need to communicate effectively becomes heavier.

While watching a film clip of Hitler, Bertie remarks on Hitler’s powers of communication. Bertie is keenly aware of the importance that his address has to the morale of the nation. He finally submits to Lionel’s treatment and shares humiliating personal details. It is through this very humiliation that Bertie begins to gain confidence in himself as a person.

Through his relationship with Lionel, Bertie not only develops better speaking skills but also sees the lives of those he rules at eye level. When Lionel’s lack of credentials are questioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury Bertie trusts Lionel’s results rather than demanding that Lionel occupy some sort of position that makes him worthy. As Bertie prepares himself to better serve in the position of king he learns that position isn’t everything. Bertie begins to understand the difference between positional authority and personal authority.

Personal authority is gained through character and experience.  It is developed through the submission that is necessary in the learning process. It comes from being able to admit need, and getting help. It comes from earned respect. It happens to the humble who speak out of the authority of principle and often hard-fought experience, rather than the power of position.

When Bertie addresses his subjects, he does so with the compassion of a king who has seen the inside of their homes and knows what they have to lose. He delivers it with the confidence of a messenger who is certain that his message is right. He delivers it with the humility of a king who has taken the position out of responsibility, rather than pride.


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