Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Cry God for Harry, England...

... and St George!

It's St George's Day today. Personally I don't think it matters that 'Saint' George - or plain old 'George' as he might be now - wasn't an English knight (if he was a knight at all) but probably came from Palestine. The current resurgence of interest in English national identity conveniently forgets that it was ever thus: we're a mongrel race and much the better for it; even the one untarnished jewel in our crown - the English language - is a wonderful hybrid of many different tongues, making it one of the richest languages ever to have existed.

In fact, I think we should celebrate St George precisely because he's not English. In doing so we're celebrating what really has made our nation great - an acceptance of everyone, a spirit of embracing the new, the different, whether that's in terms of peoples, ideas or of words.

Of course, today is also - splendidly, serendipitously and appropriately - the birthday of William Shakespeare (or St William, as he ought to be known for working such miracles with the English language). So here, in honour of both men is... no, not Henry V's rabble rousing speech at Agincourt - but this gem from the less-well-known (but wonderfully poetic) Richard II, spoken in Act 2 (Scene 1) by the dying  hero, John of Gaunt...

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, 
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, 
This other Eden, demi-paradise, 
This fortress built by Nature for herself 
Against infection and the hand of war, 
This happy breed of men, this little world, 
This precious stone set in the silver sea, 
Which serves it in the office of a wall 
Or as a moat defensive to a house, 
Against the envy of less happier lands,-- 
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

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