Millennibrum: The Great and the Good!

Article excerpt

SHAKESPEARE,

Man of the Millennium

By MARTIN BANKS

WE have all heard of Shakespeare. Many of us have studied him at school or seen his plays.

We might have seen a film loosely based on his life: 'Shakespeare in Love' or others based on his plays, such as 'Hamlet', 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Henry V.'

Without knowing it, we use or adapt phrases which Shakespeare was the first to present, including:

'I have not slept a wink' (Cymbeline) and

'We have seen better days' (Timon of Athens).

However, we know little about Shakespeare's life.

He was baptised on 26 April, 1564 in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon and died on 23 April 1616.

Traditionally, his birthday is celebrated on April 23.

He was educated at the local grammar school, got married at an early age and moved to London where he spent much of his time working in the theatre and writing the plays and poems which have transformed him into a cultural icon.

It is difficult to escape Shakespeare.

Our language is permeated with his influence and he has become part of England's tourist industry.

His image has appeared on banknotes, in adverts, on stamps and even on beer bottles.

Composers have adapted his plays into operas or into musicals as Leonard Bernstein did with 'West Side Story' which is based on 'Romeo and Juliet.'

Last year, listeners to Radio Four's Today programme voted for Shakespeare as their 'Man of the Millennium.'

He also features near the top of other lists of those who have had most influence on recent human history.

In Birmingham, Shakespeare's significance is recognised in the important collection of material devoted to him in the Shakespeare Library and the ground-breaking theatrical performances of his work which have taken place in the Repertory Theatre.

HALL OF FAME: The Bard himself, William Shakespeare, Brummie Jasper Carrott, lead singer of UB40 Ali Campbell and comedian Tony Hancock

Bracebridge Hall, Washington Irving's novel inspired by Aston Hall, author J R R Tolkien and one of the city's founding fathers, Joseph Chamberlain

St George, the man, the myth, the legend

ENGLAND'S patron saint actually had little to do with England!

St George was not English and there is doubt as to whether he even actually existed.

His origins go back to the Roman Empire and the early history of Christianity.

What did he symbolise then and what does he represent today?

The saint is based on a Roman soldier stationed in Turkey who protested about the persecution of Christians and was martyred for his courage during the rule of the Emperor Diocletian (284 to 305 AD).

As the cult of St George spread, a series of myths grew up about his life. He was allegedly born in Palestine, killed a dragon and even visited Britain!

The celebration of the saint reached its height at the time of the crusades, the wars waged in the Middle East by Christian Europe against Muslims for control of places sacred to both religions.

The fight with the dragon - for which he is perhaps best known - represented Christian conflict against alien forces.

George's saving of a damsel in distress from its clutches appealed to ideals of honour where knights dashed to the rescue of fair maidens. Returning crusaders promoted St George.

In 1222, the Church ordered that his feast day should be kept as a national festival and he became England's patron saint in the reign of Edward III ( 1327-1377).

The flag of St George began to be used at the same time.

The link between St George and England was cemented.

Shakespeare contributed to this development with Henry V's famous battle cry: 'God for Harry, England and Saint George.'

By MARTIN BANKS

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