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The Final Curtain

State Funerals and the Theatre of Power


Harry Garlick

Death is the one subject about which our culture is still reticent. Consequently many ceremonies about death are not examined in an open, enquiring and direct way. The state funeral, that large, public, ritualized statement about death is accepted in our society, while its deeper significances remain unexamined because it is seen as something of an historical curiosity, a survival from an earlier age associated with the traditions of that society. This well-illustrated study of a number of state funerals - of the Medicis and the Habsburgs in the Renaissance, of the Duke of Albemarle in the seventeenth century, of the Duke of Wellington and Abraham Lincoln in the nineteenth century, and of President Kennedy and Diana, Princess of Wales in the twentieth century - and the mythical structures and traditions they represent, examines two aspects in particular: the strongly political undertones of the public statements, and the theatrical elements of the public ritual.