NOW that the trials of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce are over, it
is obvious that they have brought disaster on themselves. It is
easy for commentators to gloat over their downfall, and to feed our
voracious appetite for scandal, especially where public figures are
concerned. But there is a tragic dimension to what has happened,
and we should allow that tragedy to have its dignity.
Both individuals have shown a capacity for dignity in the past
weeks. Telling the truth, as Mr Huhne did, was the right thing to
do, even if it was, in the end, the only thing that he could do. At
least he did not try to avoid humiliation by making excuses. Ms
Pryce's silence at the outcome of her trial seemed to indicate an
acceptance that there was now no escape from the consequences of
Tragedy, in Greek drama and in Shakespeare, is the result of a
flaw in character in those who are otherwise noble. There is, after
all, no real tragedy in a villain's getting his or her
come-uppance. Nor is it tragic, in the dramatic sense, when
disaster falls on the wholly innocent.
Dramatic tragedy requires tension and disclosure: the audience
needs to find the protagonists worthy enough to care about, to see
disaster approaching, and to wish that they had the insight that
would have led to a different outcome.
In the case of Mr Huhne and Ms Pryce, many of us have been close
to where they have been. The avoidance of those last three speeding
points is such an obvious temptation to anyone who is in a hurry
and has a job to do - from a driver to a nurse, a reporter, or even
a bishop. Any of these might have succumbed.
Every wife who has been brusquely and brutishly told by her
husband that her marriage to him is over can identify with Ms
Pryce. She was not expecting her marriage to fall apart, and did
not deserve her anger and grief to be exposed in such a fraught,
painful, and humiliating way.
The arguments to and fro about marital coercion missed the
emotional point. However powerful or eminent married people may be,
they are exquisitely vulnerable to the one to whom they made their
marriage vows. Bullying and revenge are the weapons of marital war.
The bitterness and mutual wounding are the consequence of love
betrayed. But it was love once.
So what nobility is left for these two? Their greatest test is
now. They can show their nobility by silent acceptance, as can the
rest of us by our compassion.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,
Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the
diocese of Oxford.