What a day this is?
One could almost propose the 23rd April as being the ‘Birth of a Nation’ day. After all two great leviathans of English culture fall on this day. The first of course, is our patron saint, St. George. That stalwart of Englishness (though of course he was actually Greek), a brave knight, slayer of dragons, protector of the innocent etc. The second, is William Shakespeare, as today is thought to be his birthday (23rd April 1564), coincidently, the 23rd April is also the day of his death in 1616. The birth and death of undoubtedly the greatest writer that ever lived.
Wow…literature, dragons, rich language, history, myth…what a potent combination!
Although those who know me, know that I’m not religious at all, and am not generally into the exploits of various saints, apostles and acolytes etc, I am, however, deeply fascinated with history, heraldry, and mythology.
We all know the wonderful stories surrounding St. George, more fiction than fact of course, but as with any great story, there are always kernels of truth. St. George has been England’s patron saint since the 14th century and his emblem, a red cross on a white background was adopted by Richard The Lion Heart and brought to England in the 12th century. However, his legend goes back far further than that. A Greek who became a Roman officer, St. George was born in Cappadocia, Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) in around AD 270 and was beheaded on the 23rd April AD 303 for his Christian views, by the Emperor Diocletian (245-313 AD), who led Rome’s persecution of Christians at that time.
As with any great figure and martyr, after his death his legend really began. Stories of defying death and fighting evil or the devil, often depicted as a dragon in those days, grew and spread throughout the old world as the new Christian faith took hold.
But for me St. Georges Day, not only represents the real arrival of Spring – swaying daffodils, tulips tentatively pushing up, snowdrops and crocus gone, the first cutting of grass, magnolia and cherry coming into bloom and buds of new life on the trees, it also represents our rich and varied history and our ties to the past.
Of course as a child, loving fantasy and loving dragons, the story of St. George had an instant appeal, although I always felt a little sorry for the dragon!
As a teenager reading the obligatory Shakespeare diet of Hamlet, Anthony & Cleopatra, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar and Romeo & Juliet, I was more than a little flippant regarding his literary genius. I remember calling out from the back of the class, in my best West Yorkshire accent (don’t ask me why), “Ooooh, Willie Shake or won’t he?” to a chorus of tittering friends. Ahem…I’d love to say I’ve grown up since then, but no, not much.
But of course my respect for this English literary giant has grown enormously. The sheer breadth of his work is staggering. The rich patois of his language. The ingenuity of his plots. The magical weaving of his storytelling. The profoundly deep soul he imbues in every sonnet.
William Shakespeare has without doubt enriched all of our lives. His words have fallen into common usage, his stories have been adapted and retold a million times and in a million languages. As much as I love Chaucer and Mallory, no single figure before or since, has had as much impact on literature and life and simply who we are as a species, as William Shakespeare.
Although I’ve never been a flag waving patriot, one those people you see with St. George’s flags and crosses adorning their houses or painted on their T-shirts or faces, I do feel very lucky and proud to be English and to be part of the rich tapestry that makes up this little country, this sceptred isle.
So, today on his birthday, I bow with reverence (dizziness allowing) and say a heartfelt thank you and Happy Birthday to the creative genius that is William Shakespeare. xx
Happy St. George’s Day and Happy Birthday Willie Shake!
Oh, and this post is featured in The Bedlam Media Daily under their leisure section! http://paper.li/bedlam_media/1315567686#!leisure