L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

23 April 2009 Blog Home : April 2009 : Permalink

St George and William Shakespeare

Flag of St GeorgeToday is St George's day. His feast day is April 23rd because that was the day he was martyred in 303 AD by the Empreror Diocletian. St George is considered to be the patron saint of England, amongst many other places, depsite having no connection whatsoever with England during his short life. April 23rd is also the birthday of England's greatest playwright - William Shakespeare - who was born on this day in 1564.

In today's Wapping Liar, Roy Hattersley suggests we English (British?) should celebrate the latter and not the former.

That is why today we should not be celebrating the feast day of an obscure Roman soldier, but the birthday of the transcendental genius who helped to make us what we are.

I'm quite happy with celebrating Shakespeare's birth but I don't see a reason why the need to make this an either/or thing. Why should we not celebrate both?

Indeed it seems to me that those like Roy who want to dismiss St George probably have some kind of hidden agenda. Consider that St George was martyred for "Speaking Truth to Power" and being unwilling to compromise his honour in a lie about his religions beliefs. For those unfamiliar with the life of this "obscure Roman soldier", he was killed after the Emperor Diocletian insisted that all Roman soldiers should make sacrifice to pagan gods and renounce Christianity. George, who was a tribune in the army (roughly equivalent to a regimental colonel today I guess) and the son of one of Diocletian's counselors, refused and indeed said so publicly at the emperor's court. For this he was, after various attempts to make him change his mind, executed in the usual gory Roman way. Even if we ignore the legend of St George and the dragon there is plenty to admire about George as an honourable and competant soldier, loyal to his faith and his nation, rather than to a particular ruler.

William Shakespeare on the other hand is undoubtedly not only the greatest playwright but one of the better propagandists of the world. Were it not for Willy S, we might have less veneration for the Tudor dynasty and rather more for Richard III. I think it is good to celebrate Shakespeare's birth and legacy but we ought to recall the negative aspects of that as well as the positive.

It occurs to me that politicians would of course prefer that we celebrate a wordsmith to a soldier who refused to bow to governmental pressure. It seems to me that England today needs more people who have the stubborn integrity of St George and a few less pretenders to the governmental propagandist aspect of William Shakespeare.