Shakespeare would have understood instinctively all the complexities of Diana, Princess of Wales. She stitched into one personality the innocent flirtatiousness of Henry V's "fair Katherine," the vulnerability of Ophelia, and the common touch of Henry himself.

She moved in an all too brief incandescent arc from diffidence to self-centeredness to selflessness. Like the Bard's King Harry before Agincourt she captured the hearts of the footsoldiers of a nation, wandering among her fellow Britons and listening. And then, moving out from the hospitals and homeless shelters of the United Kingdom, she made herself (or was it each citizen's vision of her self?) available to champion causes in the larger world.

She never long outran the troubles of her personal life, but that only seemed to magnify the empathy so many tens of millions felt toward her as she resolutely shut out those troubles and, in turn, empathized with lepers, land mine amputees, AIDS patients, and the many variants of ordinary people in need.

Somewhere in the millions of words uttered in the world's media since last Saturday, a TV commentator close to tears remembered a scene that summed up Diana's impact perhaps better than her own self-chosen honorific, The Queen of People's Hearts. Said the commentator: "She made a little Cambodian girl who lost a leg to land mines feel like a princess."

Prime Minister Blair was quick to grasp that she had also made millions of Britons feel a sense of common purpose. After reaching Churchillian heights in World War II, that feeling was often elusive as the sun did set on the empire, class resentments were wrestled out, the decision to join a greater Europe stirred fractious debate, and the useful symbolic bedrock of the monarchy fissured. There was more than one annus horribilis for the royal family in an era of self-inflicted, scandal-sheet-exaggerated damage. It was in some respects worse than any thing Cromwell ever did to the monarchy. Trivialization is more ignobling than regicide.

Here, a word should be said on behalf of Prince Charles. Bright stars cast shadows. His reputation suffered unfairly as Diana's rose. He is a thoughtful man who has intelligently championed conservationist causes and challenged the blight of soulless architecture. He has performed well in his present sad role. His fellow countrymen can be assured that in Diana's absence he will rededicate himself to ensuring that their two sons are given added strength and the lasting comfort of family love. They certainly now have more than a full measure of popular support.

We can only speculate on what role Diana, Princess of Wales, might have played in the future of Shakespeare's green and pleasant isle. Good mother and shaper of a future king, certainly. Good listener to those in need. Bright symbol to a nation of much more than shopkeepers. Yes.

Nelson Mandela said it well: "When she walked into a room, she was so real and alive." There now seems little doubt that the sweet-sad fairy tale of this very real princess will be frozen in time in just that way. Diana walks into the rooms of history as a princess very real and alive.

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